Strict Standards: Redefining already defined constructor for class wpdb in /home/northfield_arts_guild/ on line 52

Deprecated: Assigning the return value of new by reference is deprecated in /home/northfield_arts_guild/ on line 36

Strict Standards: Redefining already defined constructor for class WP_Object_Cache in /home/northfield_arts_guild/ on line 389

Strict Standards: Declaration of Walker_Page::start_lvl() should be compatible with Walker::start_lvl($output) in /home/northfield_arts_guild/ on line 537

Strict Standards: Declaration of Walker_Page::end_lvl() should be compatible with Walker::end_lvl($output) in /home/northfield_arts_guild/ on line 537

Strict Standards: Declaration of Walker_Page::start_el() should be compatible with Walker::start_el($output) in /home/northfield_arts_guild/ on line 537

Strict Standards: Declaration of Walker_Page::end_el() should be compatible with Walker::end_el($output) in /home/northfield_arts_guild/ on line 537

Strict Standards: Declaration of Walker_PageDropdown::start_el() should be compatible with Walker::start_el($output) in /home/northfield_arts_guild/ on line 556

Strict Standards: Declaration of Walker_Category::start_lvl() should be compatible with Walker::start_lvl($output) in /home/northfield_arts_guild/ on line 653

Strict Standards: Declaration of Walker_Category::end_lvl() should be compatible with Walker::end_lvl($output) in /home/northfield_arts_guild/ on line 653

Strict Standards: Declaration of Walker_Category::start_el() should be compatible with Walker::start_el($output) in /home/northfield_arts_guild/ on line 653

Strict Standards: Declaration of Walker_Category::end_el() should be compatible with Walker::end_el($output) in /home/northfield_arts_guild/ on line 653

Strict Standards: Declaration of Walker_CategoryDropdown::start_el() should be compatible with Walker::start_el($output) in /home/northfield_arts_guild/ on line 678

Deprecated: Assigning the return value of new by reference is deprecated in /home/northfield_arts_guild/ on line 21

Deprecated: Assigning the return value of new by reference is deprecated in /home/northfield_arts_guild/ on line 508
Art Canary

Recent Posts




Fluctuating Spaces: A Review of Recent Work by Erik Waterkotte

By admin | February 11, 2009

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/northfield_arts_guild/ on line 74

Fluctuating Spaces: A Review of Recent Work by Erik Waterkotte

by Gina Hunt
Minnesota State University, Mankato
BFA major in painting and Art History minor

“My prints consider the disaster to be an uncanny space where time has collapsed: the inevitable has become the present and the remnants of destruction become evidence of the past and projections of the future.”

-Erik Waterkotte, quoted from Artist Statement for Disaster Tableau

Erik Waterkotte, a professional printmaker and currently Assistant Professor of Printmaking at Minnesota State University, Mankato, displayed his latest prints throughout this past year. From January 22 to February 8, 2008 he exhibited “Disaster Tableau: Recent Prints by Erik Waterkotte” at the Hemingway Gallery at Boise State University (Fig. 1). The prints explore issues of time, space, change, and our understanding of each, through imagery that constructs and deconstructs architectural design by means of disaster.

Waterkotte’s exploration of the medium is quite impressive in this exhibition. Through layering, texture, and the physicality of the paper, as well as the use of numerous printing techniques, the works cohere powerfully. Waterkotte has continued to expand his knowledge of printing techniques and technological advancements in printmaking, particularly photographic lithography, exploring and employing this research throughout the exhibited pieces. For those familiar with Erik Waterkotte’s work, this exhibition of prints attests to his determination to constantly educate himself, specifically in regards to his investigation of photographic methods in print. Waterkotte appropriates imagery from newspapers, photographs, and other sources, creating representations of architectural structures and sites of disaster.

In “Dual Cities/ A Perception of Shock Waves” (Fig. 2) two intaglio and mixed media prints are displayed next to each other, aiding the viewer in understanding the work as a depiction of landscape. The scale and the richness in information and marks contained within the two prints invite the viewer to closer inspection. But although careful and intimate attention to detail may initially give the viewer a sense of familiarity, this possible comfort is quickly disrupted by the chosen imagery. Most impressive is the manner in which Waterkotte’s work creates and/or re-imagines hypothetical and historical situations from multiple but comparable intertwined perspectives, suggesting a narrative constantly in flux.

Using images appropriated from his own photography, comic books, and newspapers, the artist plays with our ability/inability to distinguish fiction from fact. Those initial feelings of familiarity and comfort ease the viewer into contemplating loss and destruction, especially in regards to contemporary sites of disaster, such as Iraq. In fact, the explosions that dominate the skyline in “Dual Cities/A Perception of Shock Waves” are taken from newspaper photos of bomb explosions that shook Iraq. As he explains in the introductory quote, Waterkotte pivots between a time that is secured in the past, remaining proverbial and expected, and one that forecasts and contemplates potential outcomes. Color underlines this idea, for example by the way the architectural frame is represented through gray tones that reference newspaper articles, thus implying nostalgia. This nostalgic reverie is interrupted by an explosion of reds and oranges, which puts forth intense feelings of warmth and presence.

While discussing “Dual Cities/A Perception of Shock Waves” with the artist, he clarified his intent to create an environment that is devoid of a specific reference, intending the architecture to be associated with a place of destruction, but not a particular location. He elaborates: “I see this as being influenced by the pervasiveness of war and destruction… Like in Orwell’s 1984, the narrator explains that there is always a war going on outside of the city, but they don’t know where it is or who they are attacking, even though they can hear the bombings and see the smoke and atmosphere from the attacks.”

All of the prints in this exhibition deal in one way or another with the human figure, furthering the atmosphere of intimacy and simultaneous detachment. The presence of the human form differs from print to print, depending on the implied narrative. In “After the Empire…” (Fig. 3) few isolated figures remain, presenting an atmosphere of loss and possible regret, the architectural structures are exposed down to their bare elements. The few figures that remain have become dark and solid forms. By combining these images with grays, purples, and oranges, Waterkotte creates an environment that feels lost and destroyed, but still for the moment. By representing the human form, although each figure is devoid of individuality, the artist continues to play with our ability to completely understand the work as fact or fiction. The figures are scattered throughout each print and suggest a temporary existence because of their simple outline.
The work Waterkotte presented in the exhibition Disaster Tableau is a successful progression of concept, technique, and aesthetic for the artist. Most notable is the approach he takes to communicate different perspectives to his audience. Because of the uncertainty of time and space, discussed through means of destruction, the artwork remains relevant in signifying a world of fluidity and uncertainty.

Fig. 1. Installation View, Disaster Tableau: Recent Prints by Erik Waterkotte, Hemingway Gallery, Boise State University, Jan/Feb 2008


Fig. 2. Dual Cities/A Perception of Shock Waves, 23″ x 24″, Intaglio and Mixed media, 2007


Fig. 3 After the Empire…, 17″ x 24″, Intaglio and Mixed media, 2007


Topics: Erik Waterkotte, Minnesota State University, Mankato, Art Canary review | No Comments »

Jennie Ekstrand and Mary Overman: University of Wisconsin-Stout’s 2008–09 Bud and Betty Micheels Student Artists-In-Residence

By Charles Matson Lume | December 22, 2008

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/northfield_arts_guild/ on line 74

The following post is based on questions asked to, and responses by, Mary Overman & Jennie Ekstrand. These two students are currently the University of Wisconsin Stout’s 2008 – 2009 Bud and Betty Micheels Student Artists-In-Residence. The residency includes a cash award, exhibition, and art collection component. Below, in bold, are questions given to Mary & Jennie from faculty who currently mentor them. Following each question is the Artist-in-Residence’s response.


1. Who do you want your ideal audience to be? What decisions (both materially and conceptually) can you make to better reach your target group?

I’m not concerned so much with a target group as I am with making sure there is a balance between content and visual imagery. I don’t consider the target group, because I don’t intend on changing my work based on how a target group may feel about it. Instead, I believe it’s more pertinent to think about how well the content works with the visual imagery and if the viewer is able to understand my ideas without being too conspicuous.

Of course, I take into consideration how the viewer sees the work, but again, that’s based on finding a balance between those elements, rather than making work that one bracket of people could appreciate.

2. Where do we as viewers position you in relationship to your subject matter?

I don’t know where the viewer might think of the artist in relation to the work, but I can tell you where I see myself. My interest in cosmetic surgery initially arose from my mom having had a few procedures. The social interactions in the family because of them, was really fascinating. After one of her procedures, my mom gave my brother, sister, and I a call, crying, and told us what she had done. This really affected my younger sister who had had an eating disorder and was very responsive and vulnerable to these issues. I, on the other hand, couldn’t understand why she’d done it. Me being the older sister, I felt a parental anger at my mom for having gotten surgery without possibly thinking how it might affect my sister.

But those were the initial responses, and there is more than just the present. My mom had an insane childhood. Her mom was an alcoholic and verbal and physical abuse was severe, but a certainty. Her mom died when she was 16, and left behind 10 children, and my mom wasn’t the youngest. I’ve considered how those events might affect her internal reasons for making this choice. Through my readings on the psychological side of cosmetic surgery, I’ve noticed there have been postulations concerning a desire of love, of acceptance and of a physical normality felt through the changing of one’s body by people who have been abused.

Even more than that, though, I’ve simply become enthralled with plastic surgery as a whole. Those were my initial and personal reasons for choosing the subject, and although those thoughts still remain with me, my research is taking a different turn. As well as the psychological side, I’m studying the different procedures and how they are accomplished, the social interactions between surgeon and patient, the collective vs. personal view of identity, and what cosmetic surgery can implicate in terms of the direction of society and technology.

3. What role will titles play in the work… how leading/specific/ambiguous do you want to be?

I’ve been holding off on titling until I have a larger body of work complete. Titles are extremely significant, of course, and I need to visually understand how a group of my work will function together before I can title them. I’m doing this because I don’t want to be too specific, but I also don’t want the viewers to be lost in ambivalence; there is a specific concept that I want them to discern.


1. On one hand your paintings could be considered self-portraits, and on the other hand using oneself (artist) as subject can be interpreted as universal (“every woman”); talk about your decision to use your likeness in your work, how it affects the content, if the self-portrait adds to or diverts from your narrative and if you will use other women as subjects (why/why not)? 

I distort all the images I work from; none of them are self-portraits. In fact, all of them are fictional characters, which is one reason for changing the likeness of features. Distortions can add a peculiar beauty to a figure. Idealized distortions like the heavy eyelids from the renaissance, or the unusually high and rounded breasts of the 15th century are uncanny, but attractive. It’s the idea of this strange beauty, who overall is a Venus, but when looked at in segments, is slightly grotesque.

I also play with inconspicuous distortions, ones that cause a figure to look slightly off but without it being obvious why. It’s possible to make a slightly turned face isometric, which allows almost imperceptible enlargement of one eye. Eyes too close together give an overall odd appearance, and dainty lips in their “prettiness” can give an artificial impression.

I plan to use different models as a means to show gender and age, but also because the distortions made are guided not only by my final intentions conceptually, but by the genuine image of the model. Still, the models I work from, whether others or myself are inconsequential regarding who they are in reality. What’s significant is their transferred life; their personal and social conduct in a painting.

2. Why does/is the variation of paint application/technique become important in your work and how is it connected to your content, narrative and overall concept?

Application of paint, when it is used insightfully, can impart an energy and vitality on a painting. Thus far there is a lot of investigation into the reconciliation of a handful of different painting styles in one work. Our physical world is fashioned by a multitude of textures, and the question is, how can these textures come together in a world that exists in determined dimensions. Unless it is intentional or integral to the work, there needs to be a certain amount of harmony between the textures, the figures, and the background.

3. What have you discovered by utilizing distinctly different techniques and what is your central struggle regarding this approach?

The textured paint application is a narrative all it’s own. It’s distinct, but contingent upon the characters I portray. It very much represents the psychological states of the characters, but also creates a path to guide the eye through a painting. The backgrounds, more so than the figures, are meant to illustrate beauty in a fixed state of turmoil, emphasizing the questions that come with our contemporary ideals of beauty. Are they healthy or reasonable, and now that they are feasible, are they desirable?

Our physical world is fashioned by a multitude of textures, and the question is, how can these textures come together in a world that exists in determined dimensions. My struggle has been in the reconciliation between the handful of different painting styles used in one work. Still, I am investigating this, and exploring different techniques, integrations, and styles in order to find a successful way to convey my content.

4. How do you think about the use of imagery of women in your work? More precisely, how and why do (potential) feminist implications/perceptions connect with your content in an historical and contemporary framework?

Since I am a woman using cosmetic surgery to talk about identity and beauty, I realize the implications of feminism. It’s difficult to get away from that label, especially because thus far, my imagery has been principally of women. But I am not a feminist. I intend to incorporate more images of men in order to divert ideas of feminism. I chose cosmetic surgery because it’s an engaging way to talk about the transience of identity and beauty. Both are ever changing in their ideals and personal and social perceptions, yet both are ever lasting in the moments in which they are captured in a work of art. Most paintings, historical and contemporary, deal with images attached to a moment. If the imagery is not concrete, the medium is, hence that moment will last on that canvas forever.

Besides what I am thinking about in terms of content, I also chose cosmetic surgery because I am simply fascinated with the technical aspects. Our wealth of knowledge always amazes me, yet particularly in medical fields our lack of understanding is clearly visible.


1. Do you think visual pleasure plays a role your in paintings, either in the making of them and/or in looking at them?

The making of a painting entails visceral pleasure that, no doubt, transfers to visual pleasure for the viewer, but this can be one of the adverse effects of the medium. A beautiful painting can disrupt proper thought. It’s easy to get wrapped up in color, texture, light and overall imagery without being perceptive about the idea in the work. One of the questions I’ve been asking myself is how can I paint beautifully but still push content? I’m investigating a reconciliation between the two.

A good example of this is Jenny Saville’s paintings. Close up, her marks have an elegant disorder to them; they’re really lovely. Far away, they represent flesh in such a suitable manner that the viewer is able to see the image as a whole and isn’t easily distracted from content. Application of paint, when it is used insightfully, can impart an energy and vitality on a painting. Thus far there is a lot of investigation into the reconciliation of a handful of different painting styles in one work. Our physical world is fashioned by a multitude of textures, and the question is, how can these textures come together in a world that exists in determined dimensions. Unless it is intentional or integral to the work, there needs to be a certain amount of harmony between the textures, the figures, and the background.

2. What other artists/painters’ art traffics in issues about the flesh? How might their art shape your approaches both in paint application and conceptual consideration?

Orlan is a French artist who does what she calls “carnal art”. She has a series called “The Reincarnation of St. Orlan”, in which she took features from women in art historical paintings, such as Botticelli’s Venus, and da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and had them surgically reproduced on her face. These were performance surgeries where she was given local anesthetic and viewed live from galleries all over the world. She talks about not being interested in the final result, but in the constant modifications and the indefinite nature of identity. She says that her work “is not a stand against cosmetic surgery, but against the standards of beauty, against the dictates of a dominant ideology that impresses itself more and more on the feminine.flesh.” She speaks about cosmetic surgery and identity in a unique and powerful way. The stigmas attached to cosmetic surgery are something I seek to avoid. Like Orlan, I don’t intend to protest cosmetic surgery, but instead to question the ideals it makes possible, the new ideals it creates, and the impact this has on relationships, identity and society.

Cosmetic surgery is a field all it’s own. It’s the only field in medicine that doesn’t deal with diagnosis, treatment or prevention of disease.and is, in fact, all about harming the body. All cosmetic procedures entail deliberate trauma and involuntary restoration. When discussing his pharmaceutical pieces, Damien Hirst talks about medicine evoking “an idea of confidence, of trust in minimalism”, and adds, “there’s something dumb about it”.

There is a confidence in medicine that often exceeds logic. Patients have credence for Doctors and what they say, and in their trust or desire, forget the Doctor’s fallibility. Cosmetic surgeries are serious procedures that defy the definition of medicine. They don’t deal with disease, but they still carry the idea of cheating death; even while the biological factors are still in play.

Jenny Saville’s use of paint is luscious and expressive, yet frank. Simon Schama said about the way she handles the medium, it “is really about the anatomy of paint as it construct the body.” Her mark making and exploration of contemporary bodies are often referenced in my own exploration. She deals with identity from the outside vs. the inside; how society views a body type contrasted to the individual’s view. She’s exemplifies the use of this medium as a way to transform the repulsive into the resplendent.

3. In what ways can paint “be” flesh and “represent” it? And can it be done simultaneously in one painting?

Paint can “literally” and conceptually be flesh. Literally, it can be shown figuratively, it can be represented as actual flesh. Through the tactile application, light, color and texture of paint, it can conceptually embody the idea of flesh. The myriad textures, forms, and colors pose multiple levels of formal investigation into anatomy, pigment and paint. It can be done simultaneously.


1. What is the role of memory in the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) movement? How do the concepts of “memory” and “modular” inform each other?

The Do-It-Yourself (DIY) movement has influenced memory just as anything can influence the memories of people that participate in it. By completing a variety of processes without the help of professionals, a person can gain a greater connection to the items and spaces around them. By fixing up a home on your own, you gain a greater sense of ownership to that home. You have put a great amount of your time and effort into that space, it is now more than a space you occupy, it is a space you helped to create. The DIY movement includes more than just the home; it has touched everything from photography, to cooking, to fashion. Because of this I think that DIY given people a sense of self-accomplishment. With the accessibility to the Internet and information being at our fingertips, a person can learn to do ultimately anything; a person can become an “expert” in anything they choose.

Modular can describe memory as memories are always small parts of a larger all encompassing whole. Just as a modular structure is made of smaller modules, our lives are innumerous events creating memories we keep whether we choose to or not. The many events that occur throughout a person’s existence create a life. The concept of modular can inform everything in our lives, there is always something bigger and that something bigger is a part of something even larger. I think it is interesting to think of these concepts and how they can connect my previous body of work and my more current body of work. Everything is connected; there is so little way around it. As humans we make connections and we create modular structures literally and figuratively.

2. Considering previously discussed interventions such as “Pimp-My-Billy” and Aisle Studio Project, how does art involving the DIY process affect consumer perceptions of the big box shopping experience? How can DIY art change/enhance/enliven my daily to-do-list?

The “big box” shopping experience offers a consumer quick, easy, and inexpensive options for home decoration, design, and home improvements. They are similar to fast food restaurants, where a customer can quickly get a meal “their way,” yet it’s just like every other meal that leaves the drive thru window. Art dealing with the DIY process could possibly affect consumer perceptions of the “big box” shopping experience by offering alternatives. An artist dealing with these issues turns sources of conformity and sameness into a source of creativity and change. By dealing with these topics, a more all encompassing questioning occurs; our culture is questioned. America is a place to be free and unique yet it is far too easy to fall into norms, each person wants to stand out but not too far.

Although these ideas come through in work dealing with the DIY process and making use of objects easily purchased from big box stores, it also speaks of art history and the use of the ready made object. By purchasing objects from Ikea, I take an already existing and successful aesthetic, and give it a new purpose and author. By placing manipulated Ikea made objects into a gallery setting, they no longer fill a necessity within a home; instead, they become a cultural object with little function that they once held. DIY art can change, enhance, and enliven a person’s daily to-do-list by simply calling into question certain ideals, perhaps freeing people from their mandatory daily to-do-list. Big box stores like Target, Walmart, Home Depot, and Ikea ultimately enhance a person’s daily tasks; they are little helpers making our lives so much easier and so much more stylish. I do not wish to suggest that these institutions are a completely negative thing. Instead, I wish to appropriate the objects available to a consumer through these stores and make use of an already existing aesthetic.

3. What things in life require reading directions to accomplish? Which labels/directions do people usually skip (or gloss over)? Can passed-down generational wisdom be considered as “directions”? What things in life do you wish came with directions?

Things in life don’t really require reading directions to accomplish. I think that everything could be self-taught. However, directions provide a stepping-stone and a help in accomplishing tasks with greater easy. Often times, people don’t read directions and do not want to be directed. There is something about the Ikea instructions, and are often more confusing than informative to the assembler. They completely avoid the use of the written language to help a consumer assemble their products; they are entirely visual and become interesting drawings on their own.

People tend to skip or gloss over almost every label or direction. The public more often will choose what they want to pay attention to. When it comes to written directions a person would more likely skip over the written, step-by-step directions and refer more so to the images. In this way Ikea plays to that tendency in people. However, the problem with this is that there are always things lost in translation between the visual and the written language.

Everyone has moments where they wish they had directions to get them through. I don’t know that in the end that would be the most helpful option. I do sometime wish that art making came with directions. However, the challenge of it all tends to be my motivation. I wish to overcome the confusion I encounter while trying to convey my ideas and understand ideas of other artists. I think the struggles we come across in our lives are important to a greater understanding.


1. What do you hope to achieve by making art?

There are a great number of things I hope to achieve by making art. Making art is a great vehicle to question. In our culture it is easy to become complacent and art doesn’t allow that. Because of this, making art helps me to question events in my life as well as the culture I am a part of. I hope that by making art, I can create in people a questioning as well. I also hope to achieve a greater understanding of a variety of topics including art in general.

2. What is the motivation behind your practice?

I am a student and I am an artist. I am motivated by a constant want to understand and be understood and be believed. I want to create artwork that I can believe in and that others can believe in too. I am constantly searching to understand art making and the reasoning behind the art I create. I am motivated by the desire to learn how to best communicate my ideas visually and intellectually. I am also motivated by something completely unknown to me. I have a desire to make, and I think it is something that artists have in common. When not making or not researching in some way, I feel as though I am not contributing. This sensation motivates me to keep creating, researching, and critically thinking.

3. Do you think about the audience when making art? The audience is extremely important to me when making art, without the audience there is virtually no point to making art. To make art for no one completely removes a purpose to the act of art making. Making art is to convey some kind of idea or message to an audience, I think it is dangerous to not consider an audience whatsoever when making art. That said, I do think about the audience when making art, I think about how my work will be seen and how it will be interpreted. I think about how I want my art to be seen and interpreted.

4. What is the role of memory or nostalgia in your work?

Memory and nostalgia played a greater role in past work, dealing with the death of my father and attempting to understand memories as well as the person my father was and what that has made me. I haven’t completely come to understand how memory and nostalgia will play a part in the work I make for the artist in residence grant, but I think it is important for me to consider if I wish to find a common thread in past work and future work. I don’t think that I need to continue in that way but naturally, the art I make will have those elements because I feel past experiences and memories will influence my work whether I choose to make that a main element of my work or not. It’s just a matter of me finding these more subtle elements. My previous body of work dealt with memory and nostalgia more literally, I think the role of these themes will play a much more abstract and subtle role in the work I am creating at this time.

5. How do you create a sense of universality between yourself and the audience?

I hope to create a sense of universality between the audience and myself by using materials and a language that are relatable and simply by conveying ideas that are encountered by most people. In the past I addressed ideas of memory and loss, ideas that affect everyone in a lifetime. In my current body of work I hope there will be a sense of universality by using materials that people encounter on a daily basis in there homes, media, and stores. By using Ikea specifically, I am using a language that is quite established within our culture with the Ikea catalogue being distributed to well over 100 million homes. Ikea even speaks about diversity, their goal is to supply furnishing solutions for our diverse way of living today. I think by using an already established aesthetic creates a great sense of universality.

6. On what criteria do you judge the relative success of one of your pieces?

I judge the relative success of my work on a criteria based on understandability and believability. Does my audience trust in that I am a reliable source and does that audience understand what it is that I am trying to convey? One of my pieces would be successful if it is expressing the ideas I want to speak to and that it is clearly stated. I also judge the success of my work on my understanding of it. If I don’t understand it yet, I have little control over my audience and the work, leaving it lacking a power I’d want it to possess. Success also comes with finding a unique way to convey certain ideas. It is a daunting task to create something “new,” but I think it’s still possible to find somewhat unique and interesting ways to make art and communicate. I would also consider my work successful if I had some amount fun making it. I often find myself stressing over every bit of my process, I’ve found that if I’ve enjoyed the process it has felt more successful. Of course it helps if my peers find it to be a successful investigation. I am human, and tend to need the encouragement of others, I think that’s a natural part of art making. We all want to be accepted.

7. How would you describe the process of your art practice to somebody with no artistic background or knowledge?

Honestly, to be successful in describing the process of my art practice is a challenge when explaining it to a person with no artistic background. It is incredibly difficult to explain how almost anything can become art. I try to explain my art practice as a way of communicating my ideas visually. I think this is simply what art is and I’m not doing anything different than a painter, I’ve simply chosen to not limit myself to a certain material.

Images by Mary Overman:




Images by Jennie Ekstrand:




Topics: UW-Stout Art Event | No Comments »

Daylight my Darknesses

By Charles Matson Lume | May 6, 2008

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/northfield_arts_guild/ on line 74


Daylight my Darknesses[1]

An Essay on the Illuminated Perception Acquired Through Travel

as Modeled by Vincent Van Gogh

By: Mary Overman


These essays are reflections on travel and understanding, which were concurrent elements throughout van Gogh’s life and my own. Van Gogh’s location often provoked certain behavior and influenced his subject matter, and it’s important for artists today to remember that our environments are an important part of what we do and how we are shaped. There is a connection between artists that time cannot constrict. With the knowledge offered to us from the past, we are presented the opportunity to progress to much higher levels of comprehension and awareness.

ART IS THE WATER IN A BROOK that, little by little, flows to the vast ocean. It touches every shore. What it cannot reach it touches by means of rain in a repetitive cycle of being brought to the heavens and tumbling down…brought to the heavens and tumbling down. It’s in this way that art exists; being brought to the people, who enjoy it, who denounce it, who ignore it, and so forth, through time. However, art does not fall the same in every sea, and it’s the distinct role of travel to direct a foreigner to a more reflective understanding of our world and the art it contains. For the perseverance of his art and preservation of his mind, van Gogh was constantly on the move, going where art called and his mind required.

Art dealing was a customary family trade for the van Goghs. Thus, Vincent got an early start in the field. At age sixteen, he was apprenticed at the dealership Goupil & Cie in The Hague. His good reputation was the catalyst for his transfer first to Brussels, then London, and later to the Paris branch. However, seven years later, because his “fractious advice to purchasers, suggesting they buy cheaper art”[2] tended to diminish his sales, he was dismissed- but not without being acquainted with the teeming art of these lively metropolises. With the knowledge of foresight, we can see the lasting impressions left by Vincent’s early dealings with art; it started as an avocation and lead to a profession.

Before Vincent turned to the easel, he tried his hand in the other family trade: clergyman. He moved to Amsterdam to study theology, but it was short-lived. “His own restlessness- both in terms of geographic location and within himself”[3], prompted him to turn to his ultimate vocation of art. By 1880, Vincent was revived with the conviction of his true calling and unhesitant in his commencement and dedication to this new endeavor.

Jean-François Millet and Jules Breton were favored artists of the day, and ones that Vincent chose to emulate. Some of van Gogh’s first motifs were those of coal miners: the proletariat that reflected the recently agreeable theme at the time. Hence began his pursuit of the plebian, a subject which would fade from his work, but return with a new artfulness later in his life.

Autonomously, Vincent was a devoted student of the arts. He was continuously referring to past works and produced a considerable amount of reproductions (Figure 1); often more than once, and in time he even recreated some of his own works.

Vincent began painting in The Hague, and though he was making progress in that setting, he decided to make a move to Drente, “a (remote) region of Holland that had preserved a plain and melancholy mood”[4]. This regional mood reflected his own. Vincent had just left a woman and her two children, and the realization of the improbability of a family life had set in and left him despondent. For a time in 1883 he focused primarily on painting peasants. These paintings had “the intensity of purely subjective sadness”[5]. Vincent found an atmosphere that reflected his own state of mind and compelled him to lay hold of his feelings and integrate them into his art.

Vincent moved to Nuenen. He remained there for a stretch, longer than anywhere else in his life as an artist. He continued to investigate his past subjects: landscapes, genre paintings, and still lives, and created one of his most well known works: The Potato Eaters. His compositions were continuous reworkings of his skill. Vincent moved from painting portraits to painting interiors, and, as can be observed by the various distinct versions (including studies) of The Potato Eaters, he continued to explore different applications of paint (Figures 2-3).

From Antwerp to Paris, Vincent’s competence and capability in painting expanded. After his stay in the smaller towns, its no doubt Vincent made such leaps in expression through his painting during this period. Previously, he “remained a realist in his use of colours…a look at the subject would suffice to guide his use of the palette.”[6] Again, Vincent’s change of physical location paralleled his development as an artist. He began to expand his palette, simply using more color: increasingly saturated and exquisitely vibrant (Figure 4).

The nearly 230 paintings Vincent created in Paris is a record of his diverse ability and persistent experimentation in painting. Along with his color, Vincent’s themes began to change, reflecting his urban setting. He no longer played with the motif of the peasant, but began to paint urban landscapes, still lifes of flowers (for practice in color), and began a series of self-portraits (Figure 5).

The 1867 Paris World Fair would prove to bring an unexpected catalyst of change to Western society: Japan. After centuries of seclusion, Japan approached the modern cultures outside its borders in an act that would reshape the meaning of modernity. Vincent indulged in this new and in vogue art with enthusiasm, even declaring in a letter written in 1888 (Letter 510), that his “whole work is founded on the Japanese, so to speak” (Figure 6).

That same year, Vincent made a move to Arles. Along with the new views that Japan offered, also came the idea of a better world. In this lay Vincent’s attraction to the South: “I can still remember vividly how excited I became that winter when traveling from Paris to Arles. How I was constantly on the lookout to see if we had reached Japan yet.” (Letter B22).

Van Gogh came to emulate Japan’s feeling that “art was always to have its everyday use: thus the Japanese motto, in accordance with which pictures had a decorative function in interiors”[7]. In April 1888, he painted the orchards in blossom (Figure 7), which were reflective in their Japanese influence and maintained a decorative quality in the capturing of the season.

His time in Arles, again, saw a refinement in color and brushwork, and the van Gogh that we know today began to emerge. Here he painted The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night (Figure 8), the still lifes of sunflowers, and continued making reproductions toward the advancement of skill. The dazzling ambience of the South seemed to stimulate his artistry in a distinct way, but along with his hospitalization, that force would alter in expression.

Vincent’s paintings became claustrophobic. He was literally confined to the Hospital grounds, but his compositions reflected enclosure (Figure 9-10). Lacking the vast repertoire of subjects that were normally at hand, Vincent began producing reproductions of his own work. He “was to pursue the use of vivid close-ups and copies in particular; both kinds of work held a promise of trust and intimacy, bridging the gap between the world outside and the world within”[8].

Van Gogh admitted himself into Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, an asylum in Saint-Remy, near Arles. As in past times, the undercurrent from the atmosphere was visible in his paintings. He continued to harbor feelings of isolations and confinement as he had done at the hospital at Arles, but again, his palette underwent a change.

Vincent’s tireless flirtation with paint didn’t go unnoticed. In a letter written by his brother, Theo expressed Vincent’s attention to color: “Your latest pictures have made me think a great deal about your state of mind at the time when you painted them. All of them exhibit a forcefulness in the use of color that you never achieved before” (Letter T10). His brushstrokes became a mesh of powerful undulations, which, without this “transformational handling of paint, the motifs alone could not be so expressive.”[9]

At Saint-Remy, he created Starry Night (Figure 11), and painted the scores of olive trees, so symbolic of God. His self-portraits reflected a despairing, almost wretched man, and his landscapes continued to evoke juxtaposition between a comfortable and threatening atmosphere. As throughout his artistic life, he continued painting wholly stylistic reproductions, some of them paintings by Delacroix, Rembrandt, Daumier, and of course, Millet (Figure 12).

Vincent eventually left the asylum and made his way back to Northern France, moving to Auvers-sur-Oise, a town that lay on “the outskirts of Paris, yet had that rural character he had left behind in the south”.[10] Though acquired past techniques were carried through to his Auvers days, his paintings at this time displayed a pleasantness not present in many works done at Saint-Remy. Life in Auvers seemed to compel harmony, and it appeared as if Vincent was progressing towards a personal reconciliation with himself and his art; but as it happened, Auvers was his journey’s end.

Van Gogh’s travels were not expansive, but they were numerous and varied. Every environment radiated a unique ambience that left a specific impression on him and his art. Though many of his Darknesses remained cast in shadow, his perceptions were no less illuminated by the experiences and accomplishments managed in his lifetime.


Metzger, Rainer, and Ingo F. Walther. Van Gogh. Köln (Cologne), Germany: Benedikt Taschen Verlag GmbH, 1998.

Suh, Anna. Vincent van Gogh: A Self-Portrait in Art and Letters. New York, NY: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc., 2006.


Figure 1. Vincent van Gogh. The Sower (after Millet). 1890.



Figure 2. Vincent van Gogh. The Potato Eaters. 1885.


Figure 3. Vincent van Gogh. The Potato Eaters. 1885.



Figure 4. Vincent van Gogh. Head of a Woman with her Hair Loose. 1885.


Figure 5. Vincent van Gogh. Self-Portrait with Straw Hat. 1887


Figure 6. Vincent van Gogh. Jasponaiserie: Flowering Plum Tree (after Hiroshige). 1887.


Figure 7. Vincent van Gogh. Blossoming Pear Tree. 1888.



Figure 8. Vincent van Gogh. The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night. 1888.



Figure 9. Vincent van Gogh. Two White Butterflies. 1889.



Figure 10. Vincent van Gogh. A Field of Yellow Flowers. 1889.



Figure 11. Vincent van Gogh. Starry Night. 1889.



Figure 12. Vincent van Gogh. Pieta (after Delacroix). 1889.

Personal Reflection on Travel
Travel is unique in the gifts it grants. It’s also distinct in the knowledge it brings and the understanding it leaves behind. To those with an open mind, travel presents the opportunity for remarkable learning and personal, social and intellectual development. Perhaps most importantly, the memories travel creates a seemingly life-long reserve of smiles and even friendships.

I was fifteen the first time I went abroad without my family. I stayed with another family in the Catalonia region of Spain. I remember learning so much: new food, language, culture, and simply, a new way of life. I returned to Spain six years later and this time, living in the Andalusia region, I learned new things about the Southern way of life. Though both of my stays presented new experiences and understanding, I learned that through time I was able to pick up a more detailed picture, one that could only be fully recognized with age, familiarity and education.

I was twenty the first time I really traveled alone. Without other people my age, family, or friends, I was a bit apprehensive at first. That faded quickly. I was on my way to Thailand; my second trip there. Through the remarkable people I had met there- on a trip with my university the year before- the possibility of teaching English presented itself, and I was not bound to decline such an excellent opportunity.

It’s no doubt this trip entailed the most wonderful lessons in adaptation I’ve had in my life thus far. I’d already spent some time in Thailand, for which I was grateful, since this time I would not be going as a tourist, but as a teacher. I was familiar with the instinctive yet reasonable necessities required of me by the people I’d be living and working with, which was basically to simply know the culture - not such a simple thing. It’s not quite that difficult to pick up on and learn the common behavior in a foreign Western country, but in an Eastern country, everything’s different.

I had never had much trouble with adaptation in the past, and though I didn’t come across excessive difficulty in Thailand, my skills in adaptation improved tenfold, and my comprehension and ability to perceive burgeoned. I can’t say that I ever made a connection with the language, though I tried. I picked up on easy phrases, but I learned I had two dead ears. Thai being a tonal language, there was many a time when I said I had a “confused bite” instead of a “mosquito bite”, though both kinds seemed to pertain.

Each experience with travel was a personal and social discovery. It’s easy to take the past for granted, but reflecting on it now, I can recall the person I once was and the person I have become, and much of it has to do with my journeys abroad. Opportunities seem to be in a constant state of dissolve and emergence, and if one will not materialize at some point in my future, it’s good to remember that opportunities are like prey and if one pursues them enough and lays the right traps, they’re ultimately bound to be caught.

[1] Raymond Souster. “Prayer”, Collected Poems of Raymond Souster, Vol. 5: 1977-83 (Ottawa, Canada: Oberon Press, 1984.): p. 184. [2] Rainer Metzger and Ingo F. Walther. Van Gogh (Köln (Cologne), Germany: Benedikt Taschen Verlag GmbH, 1998): p. 12. [3] Rainer Metzger and Ingo F. Walther. Van Gogh (Köln (Cologne), Germany: Benedikt Taschen Verlag GmbH, 1998): p. 14. [4] Rainer Metzger and Ingo F. Walther. Van Gogh (Köln (Cologne), Germany: Benedikt Taschen Verlag GmbH, 1998): p. 33. [5] Rainer Metzger and Ingo F. Walther. Van Gogh (Köln (Cologne), Germany: Benedikt Taschen Verlag GmbH, 1998): p. 37. [6] Rainer Metzger and Ingo F. Walther. Van Gogh (Köln (Cologne), Germany: Benedikt Taschen Verlag GmbH, 1998): p. 58. [7] Rainer Metzger and Ingo F. Walther. Van Gogh (Köln (Cologne), Germany: Benedikt Taschen Verlag GmbH, 1998): p. 101. [8] Rainer Metzger and Ingo F. Walther. Van Gogh (Köln (Cologne), Germany: Benedikt Taschen Verlag GmbH, 1998): p. 176. [9] Rainer Metzger and Ingo F. Walther. Van Gogh (Köln (Cologne), Germany: Benedikt Taschen Verlag GmbH, 1998): p. 183. [10] Rainer Metzger and Ingo F. Walther. Van Gogh (Köln (Cologne), Germany: Benedikt Taschen Verlag GmbH, 1998): p. 223.

Topics: Vincent Van Gogh | No Comments »

“Feedback Junkie” New Work from The Interns and Apprentices

By Caleb Hendrickson | May 2, 2008

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/northfield_arts_guild/ on line 74

Once again the Northfield Arts Guild is host to the annual exhibition of new work from Carleton and St. Olaf alumni, on display now. Both colleges offer fifth year programs providing the space, facilities and environment for recent graduates to develop their artistic practices. This year’s exhibitors are Megan Fitz, Rebecca Gramdorf, Stephanie Rogers, Brian Kehoe, Sophie Eisner, and Jenna Erickson.

The Carleton artists show a dedicated and disciplined pursuit of technique. Sophie Eisner offers a body of ceramic work ranging from small plates to larger platters and two busts. Family and friends are carefully carved out the clay. Megan Fitz’s series of large scale prints are explorations of two images: a portrait and a bee. Shadows Converge 1-5 are the progression of a portrait under the changing tones and values of light. Color gradually washes over the features of the face. Her larger prints are prompted by an ecological trend among bee populations called Colony Collapse Disorder. In cooperation with the work of Stephanie Rogers, who also takes up the subject of the bee and the beehive in what may have been collaboration or may have been coincidence, the bee-works address themes of degeneration and labor. Fitz’s low-color prints are heavily labored images, each one depicting the shadowy figure of a bee among a storm of chaotic marks.

Rogers’ pieces evoke the work of domesticity with delicately sewn textiles. These small comb-patterned wall pieces reward the attentive viewer with tiny images of bees printed onto the individual hexagons of the fabric. Juxtaposed with these are nine Found Supers, the wood frames used by beekeepers to hold the combs where honeybees store honey and rear their young. Also displayed are two pieces of cross stitching in separate small folios, the cover of each adorned with images of the artist’s grandmother.

Brian Kehoe uses the methods of politics and protest: stencils, spray paint, appropriation. A group of six Guns are assembled together on the wall. On six plywood boards stenciled images of an automatic machine gun are layered over collaged photographs of international war and politics. Adjacent to this is the sculpture Tut, Tut, It Looks Like Rain. Here, a torrent of cast bronze bullets rain down from the ceiling; they are suspended in midair over a bucket bearing the stenciled image of a bomb and holding a pile of bronze grenades. This piece is a caution and a forecast: a hard rain is going to fall.

The gallery’s south wall is hung with twenty four small scenes that read as painterly cabinets of wonder. Jenna Erickson’s contribution is a continuation of her previous exhibition at St. Olaf College in January, which found a fertile subject in the history of a Minnesota orphanage. Within each of these cigar box-like frames hangs a small rectangle of canvas. Erickson goes about decorating these canvases with stitching, hanging photographs of forgotten orphans and small paintings of forsaken wooden chairs. She titles each of these a Remnant, in reference to their character as “left-overs” (in a sense) from her larger works and to the orphan as a survivor or a cast-off.

Lastly, Rebbeca Gramdorf projects her transparent collages on either side of an outcropping wall. You Your Best Thing #1 invites the viewer to co-create a projected image by adding, removing and layering sheets of transparent collage on the lens of an overhead projector. On the opposite side of the wall, a slide projector clicks through a carousel of Gramdorf’s pieces. This monochromatic parade of birds, Americana, families, and grainy spaces create a film-like narrative for the viewer to try her best to follow.

Feedback Junkies is on display at the Northfield Arts Guild gallery until May 17.

Topics: Brian Kehoe, Sophie Eisner, Jenna Erickson, Stephanie Rogers, Rebecca Gramdorf, Northfield Arts Guild, Megan Fitz, Art Canary review | No Comments »

“Coming of Age: Photographing the Journey” at the MMAA

By Christina Schmid | May 1, 2008

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/northfield_arts_guild/ on line 74

By Josh Grubbs

“Coming of Age: Photographing the Journey” is a photo exhibition currently on view at The Minnesota Museum of American Art. It showcases seven local contemporary photographers, some born in Minnesota and others who have had a connection to the photography scene in the Twin Cities. The themes connecting the photographs from these seven very distinct photographers are children’s journeys into adulthood, rites of passage, and the pressures teens are faced with in defining themselves today.

The photos that grabbed my attention at the opening are from the youngest photographer in the show, a recent graduate from the College of Visual Arts, Evan Baden. His photographs, from a series titled “Illuminati,” depict isolated teens in dark environments with a variety of digital devices whose cool blue and green light illuminates their blank stares. The dramatic lighting in these photographs is reminiscent of 17th-century paintings by Caravaggio and Rembrandt. Baden’s photos may give the old masters a “nod” yet his pictures reveal the most critical and contemporary view of our youth and their coming of age story.

The “slickness” of his images combined with their presentation look like iconic advertisements for our digital culture. The images are face-mounted to plexiglass, which gives the photos a very seductive surface quality that is very different from a framed photograph. The affinity of these images with advertisements contrasts with the blank, emotionless, and isolated stares the figures have. The isolation that is portrayed in the images draws attention to the multiple possible critiques of our ever-expanding digital world. The claim that these devises would connect societies around the world and bring people together has fallen short of its promise. In many ways, we are becoming more disengaged, more removed, and less equipped to connect with one another.

Another important issue these photographs raise is the fact that these types of devices are so heavily marketed to our younger generation. These products are sold with the promise of a fantastic lifestyle attached to them. Teens are coaxed into thinking that in order to fit in with their peers and to live in this culture, they need to own the latest and greatest version of these products.

In contrast to Baden’s topical and up-to-date photographs you have photographers like Todd Deutsch, Brian Lesteberg, and Katherine Turczan producing images of children and young adults in universal and timeless coming-of-age stories. These photographers images do not include prominent signifiers that would lead the viewer to immediately place them in a distinctive point in history. Instead, they have an ageless aesthetic to them, which allows a wider generational range of viewers to relate to these images.

Todd Deutsch photographs his own children doing what many boys do growing up. He photographs them in the midst of their imagination, playfully immersed in games of make believe: dressed up in costumes of their favorite super heroes; puffing out their chests in front of a mirror with a figurine of The Flash in the foreground; a little boy wearing comfy pajamas from head to toe, with a large Darth Vader helmet on, while holding the all-important lightsaber. The scenes have such familiarity to them that it is hard not to look at them without remembering your own childhood. Imagination, make believe, heroes, idols, family, safety: these are the themes Deutsch has captured with his images.

The show’s strength is the contrast of the ideal or nostalgic view of growing up versus the critical eye of today’s reality and the pressures teens face. Both of these views have important roles in our understanding of what it means to be growing up today. These contrasting viewpoints help answer the very questions that arise in the work of their respective counterparts.

Topics: Uncategorized | No Comments »

My favorite part of the 2008 Whitney Biennial was when I got to leave

By Christina Schmid | May 1, 2008

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/northfield_arts_guild/ on line 74

A review of the 2008 Whitney Biennial by Garrett Perry

The Whitney Biennial is exactly what its title promises: it is an exhibition that happens every other year at the Whitney Museum of American Art. For the 2008 biennial, three curators– Henriette Huldisch, Shamim M. Momin, Donna De Salvo along with three adivsors—selected 81 artists to showcase some of the best American art created over the last two years. According to NeMe, (see, “the Biennial has evolved into the Whitney’s signature exhibition as well as the most important survey of the state of contemporary art in the United States today.” If this statement is true, then there is a significant problem with the state of contemporary American art.

In order for this review to be understood as a reaction and not an attack, there are some things that must be addressed: first, there is my background and the context in which I viewed the show. Then, there are my aesthetic and/or conceptual sensibilities. I am in the final year of my undergraduate studies, majoring in drawing and painting. I go to a private art school in St. Paul, MN, the College of Visual Arts. Coming from the Midwest, I am used to encountering certain connotations associated with my knowledge or appreciation of contemporary art. All of these clichés should be ignored. I enjoy contemporary art and all the ambiguity and openness that surrounds it. I enjoy art theory and rhetoric and often travel to or read about shows around the world. The only reason I state this is to assure you that I am not some whiney little kid stuck in a cornfield in the middle of Minnesota. (Even if I was, why would that matter?)

I traveled to New York over my spring break with the intention of seeing the Whitney and all the galleries I could possibly go to while I was there. I hit all the routine art-tourist attractions: the MOMA, the Met, the Chelsea area. The Whitney was supposed to be the highlight of the trip; everything else was insignificant and could not compare to the Whitney—or so I thought. I held very high expectations for the biennial, never having been to a biennial before and understanding that they carry a lot of weight and importance in today’s art world.
I tend to like art that is ambiguous and difficult to understand. I enjoy contemporary and postmodern artwork. Although these two terms are elusive and carry little or no descriptive strength, it is the best way to categorize my artistic preferences. Simply put, I like art that is original and makes me think. I appreciate art that can not be read or decoded immediately. The best art is the art that I can not stop thinking about. I typically gravitate towards art that many people would question as art or simply be turned off by.

With all that said, I can honestly say what I thought about the Whitney: I didn’t like it. I was disappointed and discouraged that I had traveled all this way to see an amazing exhibition, supposedly the greatest contemporary American art. It was a huge let down. I say this out of complete and utter respect for the museum, curators, and artists. After viewing the show, I came home and looked through the publication about the biennial and I remember feeling cheated. The publication was great, the art was good, and it was very informative—in short, everything that the exhibition was not. I had talked to many people before I had seen the show and they all had similar things to say: the show lacked focus, and the work didn’t represent the artists very well. I agree. I do not think that the work in the show may have been the greatest example of what these great artists have to offer.

If there was one crucial aspect that ruined my Whitney experience, it would be my attempts to interact with the work. The work did not spark any sort of conceptual or aesthetic dialogue. I often felt lost and abandoned by the work. This is a generalized reaction; not all the work acted in this way. I do enjoy ambiguity but only when a work can grab my attention and then not fulfill an immediate response. The work at the Whitney operated in a very different way. It was ambiguous to the point where participation was an exhaustive struggle. After viewing the first few art pieces, I was mentally drained from trying to decode or read the art; it was like searching for a lost meaning. The work demanded a lot from the viewer and offered little reward, and by this I am not implying that art should seek to be entertainment.

The difference between art and entertainment is massive, but nonetheless art should generate a sense of intellectual fulfillment. The largest problem with the biennial might be that it is just simply a biennial. If each artist was taken out of the biennial and was viewed within the confined context of his or her work, I have no doubt that the majority of the work might have been fulfilling. But when it is crammed together and competing for attention, it is difficult to participate and engage with. The work might be so intellectual that the viewer’s experience becomes unpleasantly cerebral. The show wasn’t meant to entertain but it should at least be interesting. After the first 30 minutes I was completely disconnected from what I was seeing and ultimately no longer interested.

I know what you are thinking. Maybe I am just this cynical little art school snob; maybe I am. Maybe I don’t know what I am talking about and maybe I am jaded. But let me offer this to you: Maybe the show just wasn’t good. Maybe the show was elitist and arrogant. Maybe the show’s main intent was to show how smart Americans can be. Maybe the show was just a huge let down, maybe, just maybe, the show was a waste of time; maybe it wasn’t. Maybe I just didn’t understand it, but either way the best part of the Whitney was that I got to leave and that there won’t be another one for another two years. I am sure that in two years you will see me there and hopefully this time I won’t be looking for the nearest exit.

Topics: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Livin’ in the ‘Burbs: The Past, Present, and Future of Suburbia

By Christina Schmid | May 1, 2008

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/northfield_arts_guild/ on line 74

A Review of the “Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes” by Gretchen Doebler.

Walking through the front doors of the Walker Art Center, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the new exhibit, “Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes.” Assuming the obvious from the title–that the show would be about suburbia—I expected works feeding into the myth: art commenting on the cookie cutter houses, the manicured lawns, and the ideal family. But after looking at the work of over 30 artists and, to my surprise, architects, work that included photographs, sculptures, prints, models, and paintings, it was refreshing to see that not only did the artists and architects take a look at what the suburbs used to be, but at what they’ve become, and at where they could go.

I spent the latter half of my pre-adult life living in a suburban neighborhood, so I know all too well what it entails; or at least I thought I did. I didn’t become aware of the myths of suburbia until after I left it. But the many artists weren’t interested in re-telling what I already knew; many were interested in investigating just how suburbia came to be. Artist Andrew Bush’s large photograph, “Man traveling southeast on U.S. Route 101 at approximately 71 mph somewhere around Camarillo, California, on a summer evening in 1994,” briefly reminded me of the 1969 movie, Easy Rider, where the characters embrace the freedom of the open road of America to find themselves. This is exactly how suburbia came to be: with the expansion of the transportation system and the freedom to travel from major cities to more remote locations it became possible to live outside the city proper. However, Andrew Bush’s photograph isn’t only about how suburban living came about, but also a nostalgic reminder of how it used to be. There are very few “open roads” anymore to travel with many suburban workers having to commute long driving times to the cities on traffic-congested highways, not to mention all the road construction along the way, and the dollars spent in filling up the tank now-a-days.

Another reminder of the start of suburbia comes from artist Jessica Smith with her textile entitled, “Cloverleaf”. From far away, it looks like a very beautifully designed mustard yellow textile, the perfect accent decal found in many suburban homes on first sight. But as I got closer, I realized that Smith had created this beautiful piece by repeating a cloverleaf of the major highway system. Not only does it comment on the start of suburbia but what we can find inside it as well.

Many of the pieces on display spoke about suburban neighborhoods and their good and bad transformations into today’s society. Photographer Julia Christensen documents the transformation of once abandoned malls and super centers into ethnic markets, churches, schools, even day-care centers, for instance in her large format photograph titled, “Big Box Reuse: Grace Gospel Church, Pinellas Park, Fl.” This idea of reduce, re-use, recycle that’s being pushed in today’s ever-growing “think green” society is flowing over into the abandoned superstores of the suburban neighborhoods. Lee Stoetzel’s photographs of to scale replicas of the McMansions being built near his own home stand in sharp contrast to such “green” ideas. To me, his work plays on America’s literal appetite for more. In “McMansion 2,” the monstrosity is constructed out of McDonald’s food and packaging. Stoetzel’s “ideal” suburban home includes rustic stone made of chicken McNuggets, skylights made from sweet and sour containers, a hipped roof made from Quarter Pounder boxes, and sits atop a dirt mound of ground beef speckled with onions. This six plus bedroom house waits to be inhabited by the 2.4 sized American family.

But the architects participating in this exhibition do not share Stoetzel’s vision. Initially, most suburban developers believed architecture was unnecessary in living the American dream; the architects in the show beg to differ. Architect firm Coen + Partners from Minnesota offer their critique of the constructed suburban neighborhood and revise a traditional cul-de-sac into a space that utilizes both design theory and conservation commitment: open space is left open and used as common recreation areas, giving families and people a place to interact. Looking at the plot designs, models, and draft work from the many other architects in the show reminded me of future possibilities. These architects explore the areas outside of big box architecture and integrate such innovative ideas as wind farms, drive-in exercise plots, and parking lot cafés.

Overall, I think the exhibition was a success. I wasn’t pressured to believe in one specific idea or answer, which I felt was refreshing. Instead, I was immersed in a very postmodern scene, where I was subjected to many different artists’ takes on one major theme. I wasn’t presented with answers; instead, the show raised questions: questions to think about, immerse myself in, and run with; questions about how we have looked at suburban life in the past, how we see it today, and where it will go next.

Topics: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Making Life More Beautiful Through Art: Doctor Arnoldus Grüter Profiled

By Caleb Hendrickson | April 18, 2008

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/northfield_arts_guild/ on line 74

By Charles Owens

On May 10th of 1940, a father awoke his son to show him a sight the boy would later recall numerous times in his life. What he saw were German airplanes flying into his hometown of Amsterdam. His father said to him, “Never forget this day.” That boy was Arnoldus Grüter.

A day I will never forget was April 5th, 2008. On that day I had the privilege of sitting down with Doctor Arnoldus Grüter in his home in Mankato, Minnesota to interview him about his lengthy career as an artist, art therapist, and art collector. I’ve attended exhibits of his work, and even had work in an exhibit with him, and even received instruction from––albeit a day or two. Though I’ve always admired his work, I never did know much about the man. So it came as much of a pleasure to be able to sit down with him and talk one on one.

Arnoldus Grüter was born and raised in Amsterdam, and though he did not know her, he lived two blocks from Anne Frank. It was during the war that he became immersed in art. “I also remember what gave me my first artistic jolt. I was given a sheet of paper, and I start making a house. As I was sketching this house, I noticed I was reinventing chiaroscuro… I remember the joy it gave to fill it with the soft pencil.”



After the war ended in 1945, Grüter left war-torn Holland for Canada, citing his home country as futureless. “All the signs indicated it would take many, many years to recuperate from this five-year ordeal. It showed up fortunately not to be true… Dutch paid off their loans fifteen years ahead of time.” Though he was twenty-two at the time, he had to repeat high school. “When I was living in Amsterdam in the war, I was fairly big for my age, so I looked older, which increased the chance they would ‘grab you’, the Gestapo would grab you and throw you in the ammunition factories in Germany. So I was not registered where I went to school.” In Canada he attended numerous institutes of higher education, and earned two bachelors degrees from a university in Manitoba, and a masters from a school in Montreal.

While working on his masters in Montreal, Grüter received a phone call from the vice-president of Minnesota State University in Mankato, asking if he would like to be the artist in residence. Grüter recalled admitting to the vice-president, “What is that?” But he accepted the invitation to fly over and visit the school, and later accepted the role of artist in residence. “What I did there was I created a lot of art, in all different kinds of media I explored. And I had about an average of 148 students in a day.” Doctor Grüter recalled a story about how he carved notches into a table to keep track of the number of students he saw daily.

One of the works he created while as artist in residence is a piece dedicated to a friend named Jerry who had tragically died in an accident. The sculpture is titled “Waves” and still stands today on the campus of MSU. Grüter explained, “The reason I called it that was because I was born and raised by the sea. For me the sea was a symbolic meaning, there is dynamic and a static. At any one time there is a sea, but at no two instances in history is that sea the same. That’s the way I see a university, as a combination of the static and the dynamic. The static: building, staff, janitors, books, computers, it’s static. But the same time there’s dynamic; students have to bring in new ideas and society progresses.”

As time went on, there were a number of administrative changes at MSU, and in 1981 Doctor Grüter’s program was eliminated, and despite him having tenure he was sacked. Though he stayed at MSU to earn a PhD in clinical psychology, and afterwards started working as a counselor and art therapist at the clinical hospital in Saint Peter.

Grüter describes art therapy as a “silent medium”, and says it’s an invaluable medium because speech has its limits. He sees advantages in it for how honest the procedure is. “You can’t hide in it,” he said. He led a weekly group that met for three hours. Doctor Grüter recalled many fine stories of times with his patients, going into detail with one story with a patient who would sneak up on people and bite them from behind. “He joined the group, and it didn’t take longer than two weeks, he comes to me and says, ‘I’d like to get my GED.’… It wasn’t much longer he told me he wanted to become a pastry chef.” This was around the time when Dr. Grüter wanted to leave the hospital and focus on another project. He recalled one of his final meetings with this patient, “He, as a mentally ill person, he made a cake, a big cake, all cut up for every patient. (It said) ‘Happy retirement Doctor Grüter’.” He was proud of what his patients did, and arranged to have their work exhibited in the student union of MSU. Also, Grüter has kept a photo archive of what his patients made. In retrospect, Grüter wishes he didn’t quit that job.

In 1996, Doctor Grüter left to start a creative center up near the Twin Cities. This never happened, as his plans were derailed by the personal tragedy of the death of his wife to cancer. Since then, he has dedicated most of his time to working vigorously on numerous projects. One project he has been active in has been collaborating with art teacher Lynn Callahan at Dakota Meadows Middle School in North Mankato. He has appeared often to instruct students in various projects. This is where I initially remember Doctor Grüter. He came to my class when I was in seventh grade and taught us how to make papier-mâché masks. Much like with his patients in Saint Peter, Doctor Grüter has kept a photo archive.

Another project Doctor Grüter has been actively involved with is his own personal collection of African art. When I first walked into his home, I was stuck down in awe over his impressive collection that sprawled neatly across his living room and into his kitchen. For several years he has been buying African art from dealers who have contacts with people in the African interior. He has over 200 pieces. “The more you get into it, you admire the designs and the medium,” he said. Grüter admired the design of African sculpture. He has exhibited his collection at the Hillstrom museum at Gustavus Adolphus College. African art is not the only important piece of history Doctor Grüter owns; he also has fifteen Russian icons, Dutch 18th century revivalist paintings, and a conquistador helmet, to name a few.

Most importantly, Doctor Grüter has been heavily active in his own personal artwork. His recent works, since about 2002, have been the ones he is most fond of. His recent works, which have been exhibited at such venues as the Hillstrom and the Carnegie Arts Center in Mankato, primarily have focused around the nude female figure. Why female nudes? “Well, I’m a man to begin with. Female body is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” He has studied intensively the history of figure painting. He’s been influenced by a variety of artists, ranging from fellow Dutchman Rembrandt, to Matisse, the Abstract Expressionists, and African art. He has his own philosophy of art, “The need for structure based on science, law, tradition and other cultural aspects of life, yet at the same time realizing the limitations of such an approach and our responsibility to go beyond traditional mores.”


Having lived through World War II, Grüter is upset over the current war in
Iraq. He feels “powerless to do anything” but he uses his art as an answer to the violence. “I feel with my art I give whatever little I can do to give a bit of happiness.” Grüter shows no signs of running out of ideas and cites feeling like a fifteen year old. He has an upcoming show at the Carnegie in Mankato in September 2008.

Having discovered someone who has dedicated a lifetime to making life more beautiful through art has been an enriching experience. I look back fondly on my afternoon with Doctor Grüter, hearing his many stories about his African sculptures and other treasures, and his stories about his time at the hospital in Saint Peter. It clearly is a day I will never forget. It’s amazing to see how after living through numerous wars, a varied career in academia and psychology, and a spot of personal tragedy, Arnoldus Grüter’s creative energies have always found a way to grow and flourish in multiple meaningful endeavors.

Topics: Arnoldus Grüter, Mankato, Art Canary profiles, Gustavus Adolphus College | No Comments »

Controversy in Bronze: The Rodin Exhibit at Gustavus

By Caleb Hendrickson | April 18, 2008

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/northfield_arts_guild/ on line 74

By Charles Owens

Since my arrival at Gustavus Adolphus College, I have seen advertisements for an upcoming exhibition on Rodin in the spring. Knowing he was one of the champions of modern sculpture, I knew this would be an epic treat. But closer to the date of the opening, not all was as it should seem when Professor Stan Shetka announced to my sculpting class that there would be an aura of controversy surrounding the work due to one questionable element: the works were mostly posthumous casts.

The loan exhibition was brought to Gustavus thanks to Hillstrom Museum head Don Myers and the Canter Foundation, which exists to help spread the work or Rodin. Gustavus was lucky to have Rodin expert Doctor Ruth Butler come and present on the life and legacy of Rodin. Briefly, Rodin was a sculptor who lived from 1840 until 1917 and is credited with the restoration of the medium of sculpture after an approximately two-century near-fatal falling out of favor. By the mid-nineteenth century, almost nobody was commissioning monumental sculptures. One of the few opportunities for sculptors to gain public recognition was the Paris Salon. At this show, artists would exhibit plaster sculptures and one would be chosen to be cast into Bronze. From his success at the Paris Salon, Rodin gained a reputation that slowly cascaded into success and the restoration of sculpture. He is hailed for his devotion to lifelike qualities and proportion. Since his death, the French artist’s works have spread to the far corners of the world, including China and South Korea. But the only reason that Rodin has works in museums around the world and available to Gustavus is because of a controversial arrangement with his estate to cast up to twelve posthumous copies of every existing Rodin sculpture.

This arrangement has both positives and negatives. For us here at Saint Peter, this is the only way we are able to be so fortunate as to see Rodin’s work. Otherwise, most Rodin sculptures would exist only in plaster medium. Bronze sculptures would be unique and be inaccessible outside a few museums and private collections. Instead, large numbers of people have benefited from being able to see the loan exhibition of posthumous casts. Every time I walk into the Hillstrom Museum, I realize how fortunate I am that sculptures can be reproduced so efficiently.

Yet I can’t help but to feel I am looking at a disingenuous product. Rodin never said a word for or against the concept of posthumous casts. These works are considered by many to be unauthorized, with some people going as far as to slap on the label of fake. The number of twelve was decided by the Rodin Museum in Paris. Furthermore, this decision came about when the museum was destitute in funds. Casts were the answer to their financial woes. Another interesting point is that every time a Rodin sculpture is copied, the previous cast of that sculpture loses value because there are now more on the market. While this negative detrimental to the eventual overproduction and total devaluation of the art, it does make the sculpture more affordable financially for less prominent museums and galleries.

Nonetheless, everyone seemed to be enthusiastic about the exhibit, in spite of the controversy. I believe sculpting professor Stan Shetka sums up everyone’s feelings best when he was quoted saying, “It’s fantastic to get someone like Rodin in Saint Peter, especially the number.”

Topics: Auguste Rodin, Gustavus Adolphus College | 1 Comment »

Art as Service: Jason Jaspersen Profiled

By admin | April 8, 2008

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/northfield_arts_guild/ on line 74

Art as Service: Jason Jaspersen Profiled

By Charles Owens

“It was a rough day,” said New Ulm artist Jason Jaspersen about his feelings of not making it into graduate school. “I had a hard time explaining to my wife that what we had planned wasn’t going to happen.” That day came when Jaspersen was a senior in college at Minnesota State Mankato. He was weeks away from graduating with his B.F.A., and he didn’t know what to do with his life after school. “Grad school just didn’t feel right,” he said. “That ambivalence plus my dread of paperwork caused me to miss the deadline.”

But Jason Jaspersen has found much success and happiness in his life without graduate school. He has made art his own vehicle for service to the many elements of his life. Jaspersen lives and works in New Ulm, Minnesota. He has a job teaching at Minnesota Valley Lutheran High School, and also executes a number of commissions around the region of southern Minnesota. I had the luxury of being one of his students for a few years, both in high school and at a summer art camp. I sat down with Jaspersen for an interview in January of 2008, just a few days after his thirty-first birthday.


My first instruction from Jason Jaspersen came from Young Michelangelo Art Camp, which is also the same art camp that Jaspersen attended in his youth that helped expose him to art.  Prior to art camp, Jaspersen was mostly into comic books and spent many hours over the next several years working to become a serious comic book artist. But while he worked towards this goal, he was also attending art camp and being exposed to the Impressionists and the titans of the Renaissance. Jaspersen would memorize the names of the Impressionist and Renaissance artists and then head out to the public library in order to look up books on them. Both of these interests were fused together with the influence of Jaspersen’s grandmother, an immigrant from Japan who was an accomplished Sumi ink painter.

Another important influence came form his parents. Jaspersen recalled how supportive his parents were, especially with keeping him grounded. “Without my parents I don’t know if I would be an artist. They’ve been very supportive and understanding, and always doing what they can to help.” Jaspersen mentioned how his parents would buy supplies for him, some of which he still has to date. The drafting table I set my computer up on during the interview was a gift from his parents from when he was a teenager.

As he grew older his interests changed. While he reflected fondly on his youth as a comic book artist, Jaspersen said that he became disillusioned with it as the years went on. “I used to think I was doing something great,” he said. So he continued his education by heading to Bethany Lutheran College to focus on painting. Bethany was only a two-year school at the time, he was forced to look into other options. Jaspersen went to Minnesota State University-Mankato, and also took a course at Gustavus Adolphus College. At these three schools he met many important teachers like Bill Bukowski, Rea Mingeva, and Stan Shetka, who would all leave a deep mark on the young artist. “The words of these professors echo in my mind whenever I’m painting or sculpting.” He singled out Mingeva as the most influential. “As a teacher, I try to model myself after Rea Mingeva,” he said. “She brings such an unexplainable enthusiasm to her work. And there’s intensity, but caring.  I’ve had teachers who are intense but don’t care.”


Over the years, Jason Jaspersen has worked intensively in the medium of sculpture. When in college he received a block of marble from his uncle in Colorado and Bethany Lutheran gave him permission to carve it in the utility closet of Larson Hall. “I was living there with 5 roommates.  It was like having a personal studio.  I haven’t thought about that for long time.  I had previously tried carving cement blocks that I stole from Artstone and Kasota stone and Quartzite that I picked up in highway ditches. That marble was important.  I can still remember the smell of freshly chiseled marble.” Sculpture appealed to him because of the unknown qualities, and because he knew few people who were sculptors. He also enjoys the physical labor behind it, especially the satisfaction he gets afterwards. One of his early sculptures was a bronze head of a student at MSU-M named Makeba. The sculpture was a realistic portrait, and caused controversy because a professor wanted to feature the work in the art department pamphlet, but other members of the department did not believe realistic art was representative of the MSU-M art department. Nonetheless, Jaspersen felt proud of the work and entered it in the Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Competition, and won second place. From that sculpture, Jaspersen’s name spread to a woman in New Ulm who was looking for someone to take up sculpting a portrait of a retiring city worker of New Ulm. Jaspersen accepted the commission, and later was led to other monuments such as Gertie Goose and Saint Anthony. With his public works, Jaspersen is always on the lookout for possible misinterpretations and physical dangers of his work.

Jason Jaspersen is proud of his commissioned work.  He sees himself as fighting against the popular belief that commissioned art is less noble than non-commissioned work in a gallery. Also, he sees art with a political message as a disservice.  “I’m not impressed with art with an agenda,” he said. “It’s propaganda, and it’s taking advantage of current events.  What does that work mean after those issues are done?” Jaspersen is not into shock value with his art.  He does not buy into the stereotypes of the starving and tormented artist. “We have the same clichés about politicians and movie stars. Certain things make good press.” He does identify himself as a Christian artist, but he says, “Christian art doesn’t have to be pictures of Jesus all the time.” He sees art as something that Christians should embrace, especially since so many conservative Christians shy away from it.

Some of the works he is most proud of are paintings of his family. Jaspersen sees himself as a family man, having a wife and two young children. He recalled an incident back in college were a friend of his thought his decision to marry was foolish. Jaspersen refutes that. “I don’t have to put my life on hold to be an artist. Life happens, and art is a reflection of that.”

When asked about possibly going to graduate school, he says he doesn’t see it as anything necessary, and from his current stable situation, he doesn’t seem to be in any desperate need for it. He recently has been given a brand new studio space at his school, and is quite content with it. Jason Jaspersen does not know where life will take him in the next few years, but he would be content with staying in New Ulm and continuing to teach for the rest of his career. Ultimately, Jaspersen sees his art as service. It is a service to the community; it is a service to his religious faith; it is a service to his students; and it is a service to his family.

Topics: Minnesota State, Mankato, Jason Jaspersen, Bethany Lutheran College, Art Canary profiles, Gustavus Adolphus College | No Comments »

« Previous Entries