Category Archives: Art

I Don’t Know Anything About Art, But…

Some time ago I set out to start writing about art. This creates a strange paradox for me. On the surface I should be well qualified to write about art. I’ve been creating art since I could hold a pencil, I majored in art in college, I have a pretty broad knowledge of art history, and most of my work life involved art in some form or another. However, somehow I feel like I know nothing about art. I haven’t paid much attention to the fine art world for years, and I really struggle with understanding some of the avant garde trends of the last half century. Actually I couldn’t even come up with an example of current avant garde art. I am clueless about aesthetics and haven’t read a word of art criticism in probably half a century. I only darkened the door of the Walker a couple of times since they moved into the new building. I rarely go to galleries and I very rarely have a conversation about art. So that’s where I’m coming from as I start this endeavor.

So here’s the approach I’m thinking about. I will be spewing my thoughts about art in general. I’m also going to use this as a journal to record my thoughts about my art practice and feature some artists, contemporary and from the past, that I admire and that inspire me. And of course there will be a certain amount of shameless self promotion.

A long time gone.

It’s been over three years since I’ve posted here. It’s time to start writing again. I’ve been thinking about doing some writing about art. One reason for this strange urge is that I want to explore what I think about art, and I think about it a lot.

On one hand, I could be considered somewhat of an expert on the subject. I’ve been creating art since I could hold a pencil. When I was very young, my parents gave me pencils and paper to keep me from drawing on the walls and in the margins of books. With my two siblings grown up and out of the house by the time I was five, I was virtually an only child. An only child with ADD, which of course no one had heard of at that time, so an only child who was just weird. I don’t think my parents really knew what to do with me. When they figured out I would spend hours silently drawing, my dad started bringing home typing paper and pencils from his office. Reams of typing paper and boxes of pencils. I would lay on the floor in front of the TV with a pad and pencil and silently draw rather than bounce off the walls and get into trouble. I know the television of the fifties from the audio, I wasn’t watching I was drawing.

I majored in art in college and when I graduated I tried to make it as an artist and a printmaker, but I really didn’t try very hard. In my twenties I had the perfect job for an aspiring artist, I tended bar at the Black Forest Inn, near the Art Institute and frequented by the local art crowd. I could get by on working 3 shifts a week so I had lots of time to develop my skills. But like so many things in my life, I was distracted by another obsession. I was addicted to pickup basketball, and I spent that time working on those skills. All I have to show for that is really bad knees. But that’s a different story.

I moved on to “commercial art.” In quotes because it’s an old term that folks in field absolutely hate. I plan to address the artificial divide between “fine art” and the applied arts. Something I’ve never quite understood.

I worked as an illustrator, an animation inbetweener (yes that’s a job title), a production artist, a newspaper layout artist, a graphic designer and unfortunately a manager of a group of artists. I say unfortunately, because I was the poster child for the Peter Principle, I sucked at management.

On the other hand I don’t know shit about art. I was at best a mediocre art history student. I’ve never read much about art theory or aesthetics. I do love museums and galleries and combing the internet for art of all kinds. But I can’t make any claim to being a critic or knowing anything about current trends in fine art.

So, this is the beginning of a series of posts about art. I’m not doing this to educate anyone but myself. Hopefully you won’t think it’s complete bullshit.


One of my favorite illustrations that I did for Computer User. Notice the hardware… it was a long time ago.

Over the years I’ve had the good fortune to get paid for making art. Most of the time, I’ve been constrained by the needs of clients. I once had a gig doing highly rendered illustrations of grocery products for newspaper publication. I did them with stippling technique, building the values with tiny dots. I was pretty good at it but it was intensely boring and unsatisfying from a creative standpoint. Most of my work was editorial, illustrating articles for publication, which is a lot more creative, but the work is still directed by the content of the article.

I’m semi-retired now and have the freedom to create whatever want. WTF! What do I want to create?  Right now I’m getting in the groove doing small impressionist still lifes and landscapes. I’m enjoying the work and I’ve gotten good feedback, but I’m not so sure that’s the direction I want to go.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve gone pretty far down the abstract rabbit hole. I still want to explore that direction, with both digital and natural media.

But for now I’m enjoying the challenge of working with paint to make it do what I want and using color and value to express light. The discipline involved in this study brings a heightened awareness of the visual world. I notice color and form more intensely and from a new perspective.

For me it’s a form of meditation.


I’ve started painting again. It’s been years. I started painting when I was very young, I was one of those kids that drew all the time. When I was five or six I started drawing in the margins of books and on walls and any surface available. My dad started bringing home tablets of typing paper and boxes of pencils to keep the rest of the house free of my murals. I would lay on the floor and draw while I watched TV. More like listened to TV, most of those early shows from the fifties were more like radio for me. I’m sure they were glad to find something to keep me occupied, I’m pretty sure I had ADHD, but in those days they just called me a bratty kid.

I was maybe 12, my parents let me wander around downtown Moorhead by myself while I waited for a ride. Or maybe I rode my bike down there. Imagine that.  I was downtown  getting a haircut when I discovered that there was an art supply store across the street. I might have been an art supply store virgin. I found my toy store. That’s also the day I met James O’Rourke. One of, if not the most, influential people in my life. More about that later.

To make a long story, Jim soon had me coming to painting classes. I continued to paint through college, where I became focused on abstract art. I was interested in using repeated shapes from realistic drawings, reconstructing them into new compositions. I also experimented with an organic approach where I started randomly making marks and then building on them to create a composition.

I graduated from college with the intent of finding seasonal or part time work to support my art habit until it could sustain itself. I found the perfect job, but love and basketball intervened and I ended up dropping painting. When I started doing illustration I did a few mixed media pieces and some paintings, but didn’t really sustain the effort.

So I haven’t done any natural media painting for decades and now I’m starting up again. I’m trying to take an open minded approach, I’ve done both abstract and representational pieces, right now it seems like I’m more drawn to the representational. I’m going for an impressionist, alla prima schtick, although I have to admit I cheat on the alla prima part quite a bit. I’m not above going back in with some glazes to make adjustments to values and colors, but I won’t tell if you don’t .

I hope to be posting here regularly about my painting adventure, things I’m learning along the way, problems I’m mulling, and general observations about art. I hope a couple of people might find it mildly amusing.

Scottsboro Boys

We had a great weekend. Lucia and David drove up from Chicago and Quinn came home to celebrate Reb’s birthday. It was great to have the whole family together, even for such a short time.

Lucia and David had to leave in the early afternoon Sunday and we capped the weekend off by attending a performance of the bound for Broadway musical Scottsboro Boys. We went with Quinn and her BF Dave, Quinn had landed free tickets courtesy her server job at Level Five, one of the restaurants at the Guthrie.

When Quinn offered us the tickets, my first instinct was to not go. Scottsboro Boys is a musical based on the story of nine black teenagers who were arrested in Alabama in the thirtys, accused of gang raping two white women while riding a freight train from Chattanooga to Memphis. They were tried and sentenced to death but the Supreme Court overturned their convictions, and in spite of the fact that one of the women recanted, they were retried and convicted several more times. All but one of them was eventually released. But not until they spent years in jail. I didn’t see how a musical about the evils of southern justice would be that entertaining. The theme of social injustice in dramatic presentations always fills me with a level of anger that I find hard to take. I had to be dragged to see Schindler’s List and probably would have walked out if I hadn’t been in the middle of the row. The idea of making a light hearted musical out of something truly evil doesn’t sit well with me.

I’m glad I went. It wasn’t a light hearted musical. They take an outdated form, the minstrel show, and bend it into a cuttingly ironic social critique. Minstrel shows featured white men in black face playing stereotypical blacks for laughs. Here, in all but one case, the black minstrels play the white characters, representing southern justice and biting, black humor. They’ve taken a huge risk presenting this sad story in a comic form that our twenty-first century sensibilities would find appallingly offensive and turn it on it’s head to make a powerful statement. And immensely entertains us in the process. From the spare set, some chairs a few planks and some tambourines, the incredible timing of the choreography and the performances of the cast, you know you are witnessing something really special.

I’m so glad that they chose the Guthrie for their final tune-up before taking the show to Broadway. I’m sure it’s going to be a huge hit. Thanks Quinn.

Some Randomness

On Saturday night we attended the annual Mardi Gras Party at the Beckers. Any party at the Beckers is a great party and the Mardi Gras Party is the greatest of the great. I could have gotten the award for the lamest costume, Becky found me a sport coat that had a pattern of target logos all over it. The novelty of the fabric was one thing, but I wasn’t actually costumed as anything. Multi-targeted warhead? The host’s two older daughters pulled an good prank. They’re not twins, but they do look somewhat alike. One was dressed in a ball gown and the other had a wedding dress on, one was wearing flats and the other really tall heels. I noticed that they had done their hair exactly the same, but thought nothing of it. Midway through the party they switched costumes and I’m not sure anyone noticed.  The youngest daughter’s husband entertained on the piano, including accompanying her on some of  her songs that she’s preparing for her role in Guys and Dolls.

I’ve been obsessing about painting in Photoshop. I’m trying to upgrade my skill level with the Wacom, I’ve been drawing heads and figures and trying to color them, without much success. I’ve had some success scanning some of my pencil drawings and giving them simple color treatments, which is what I was most interested in doing with the tablet, so I can use them to get a little more visual interest here at HA. After all, as long as I have an published editorial illustrator in the office I might as well throw him some work. That, along with the drawing at left segues nicely into the next random topic.

I’ve been working out at the gym pretty consistently since I bolted the 9 to 5. I worked my way to the point that I think I’m in better condition than before the knee disaster. Motivation is a challenge for most of us who try to keep to a workout schedule and we have to find it where we can. One the things that brings me back to the gym is the people watching. I know it’s mean spirited to make fun of people, and God knows that I probably look as goofy as the next, but there are some folks who’s appearance is so odd that I just have to share it. If you recognize yourself here, I apologize. On the other hand if you don’t want people to make fun of you, try not to be so frickin’ weird.

I’ll start with the guy pictured. Older gent, probably around my age. Long stringy hair that doesn’t look like it’s been washed this century, held in place by a headband that probably was white in the Twentieth Century. He looks trim and fit, it seems like he’s there working out most times I am. Other than the hair, from the knees up he looks pretty normal, in an 80’s kind of way. But the thing that puts him over the top in the weirdness category is the fact that he always wears knee high brown dress socks and brown street shoes. I have to look away every time I see him to keep from laughing out loud.

Another guy, much younger, isn’t so much weird as he is scary. He’s always there, working the free weights. His arms are bigger than my thighs. I guess that’s not saying much, so much bigger is a better description. Yesterday while I was pumping some paltry weight on a machine, I watched as he strapped what had to be 50 pounds to his waste and knocked off about 20 pull-ups. I don’t think I can do one pull-up, even if I was in moon gravity.

Then there’s a guy who looks a little bit like John Belushi. He has shoulder length hair that he usually has tied up on top of his head some way. But this week I saw him with it down. He had it in a classic flip, like every girl in my ’67 high school year book. Think pretty hair on a jowly, pasty complected, five o’clock shadowed, scowling, hairy man. Another case where I have to practice smirk avoidance.

There is another man who it would be cruel to make fun of since he’s obviously overcoming some real challenges. But, being the mean bastard that I am… He has a hugely developed upper body, just massive. This barrel is supported by extremely short legs for it’s size. And one of those legs doesn’t work very well, he walks with a cane and it looks painful. He was wearing one of those wrestling style sleeveless t-shirts. One of his very hairy breasts had popped out, which was a disturbing sight. He passed me in the weight room as I was climbing into the crunch machine for my final set for the day. He sat down on the Cybex arm press machine and as he began to lift he let out a sound that I can only compare to the roar of  lions and tigers at the zoo, moaning at their captivity. Or maybe it was like the sounds I made while trying to take my first dump after surgery and a week of powerful narcotics. Whatever you compare it to, it was really loud and really frightening.

I don’t feel bad at all about ridiculing this last victim, because frankly he’s one of those guys that makes you dislike them almost at first glance. He’s about my age, very fit, very trim and has a silvery brush cut, like a sergeant in a comic book. When he’s in the weight room he speeds from machine to machine, lifting heavy weights too fast, looking gruff and impatient with anyone who gets in the way of his routine. He might as well have a sign that says “compulsive narcissistic asshole.” That’s opposed to me, I’m a compulsive narcissistic nice guy. He always wears one of those jerseys that you used to see in the eighties, the sleeves cut off and the jersey itself cut off, exposing his belly. And maybe I’d do the same thing if I had a six-pack at sixty. But I noticed last week that protruding from the front and back of his shorts are the edges of what looks like some kind of absorbent pad. I’m sorry but please don’t share things like that with the public. When I look away from him, it’s not to keep from laughing.

wacom wacom wacom

Damn. I fell behind in my efforts to post an image a day to my image blog. Nobody noticed, right? It’s ok for me to play some catch up right? Anyway I granted myself a grace period and now I’m caught up. I’m even a day ahead with a new image scheduled to post at midnight. It’s amazing how busy you can be doing nothing. I’ve got a couple of jobs that are kind of hovering in maybe land, and I’ve been spending some time get all the ducks lined up in those flocks. I spent some time at Mike Reed’s studio doing some test printing on his high end printer. To my delight, he told me I could use his spare Wacom Tablet. I’ve been wanting to buy one a Wacom for years, but never felt like I could afford one. So I’ve been spending a lot of time playing with my new toy.

There seems to be some confusion about how Wacom is pronounced. I think its WAH-com but I’ve heard Wackum and also WAY-com. I actually prefer the latter because then the pun, “I always thought a Wacom tablet was a Valium,” works.

Moore, Moore and Less

We watched Far from Heaven last night. Very good film, the evocation of the mid fifties is evident in the art direction, script and direction. I loved the way that the couple played by Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid simply would not pay attention to their children, it was always, we’re busy now, later. In contrast the plot focused on racial and homophobe tension, under the Leave it to Beaver facade there’s a dark side to the perfect family.

This afternoon we’re going to see Sanford Moore and friends at the Capri Theater. Luckily we’re experiencing a heat wave, it’s up to 13 right now.

I know I promised not to write about Crohn’s disease. But I’m going to throw it out there that after four months of flare up I’m happy to say that I seem to have gotten my shit together. I’ll be breaking this promise again tomorrow with a post about some interesting developments in the treatment of auto-immune diseases like Chroh’ns and Asthma. Seems like when we pretty much eradicated hookworms in the US back when I was a kid, we made ourselves more vulnerable to attacks from our own immune systems. hmmmmm.

At the Museum

I have absolutely no idea what the point of this story is. It seems like there might be a point. Maybe by writing it down, I’ll figure that out.

Rebecca and I were at the Museum of Russian Art, standing in front of a very large painting,  probably seven by five, maybe bigger. The subject of the painting was a sewing factory, a poorly lit room with several women sewing by hand. The central figures, standing in a pool of light, were an older man dressed in a long ornately embroidered red tunic with matching pants, no doubt the factory owner and a young woman dressed similar to the other workers. She didn’t look happy, her gaze was on the floor, head turned away from the boss. He had his and on her arm. The other seamstresses were all looking in their direction and they all had anxious expressions.

As we moved through the museum, I had been trying to impress my wife, and in my exhibitionist fashion, any bystanders that happened to be eavesdropping, with my vast knowledge of art. This particular painting reminded for some reason of the Brothers Karamazov which started me thinking about what the story behind the painting might be. My first impression was that this was some kind of romantic characterization of peasant life. “What’s going on here,” I said to R, “is the boss showing the ropes to a new comer, who’s anxious about her new job, or is he reprimanding her for some kind of misbehavior?”

“It’s much more sinister than that.” I hadn’t noticed the well dressed young asian woman standing next to us. “Read the explanation.” She pointed at the sign next to the painting.

“Really? What’s that?”

“He’s the landowner and she’s his Serf.”

“Serb?” I’m looking like an idiot now, old man hearing fails me again.

Serf. He owns her, she has to do anything he asks. He’s taking her away for…..” She did some verbal tap dancing, probably unsure that she wanted to shock this old man and his daughter (I always assume that people mistake R for my daughter) but finally she got to the point. “He’s taking her away for sexual purposes.”

I immediately started trying to form a snappy comeback. I had nothing, the tiny interval of snappiness had passed. I went for wisdom, got nothing. I stood there gazing at the painting feeling very much the dorky suburban old white man.

The pretty young Asian woman moved on, leaving me thinking about social commentary in art, oppression of women, and why one should always read the signs.

Recommendations: a couple of cool sites for you.

Couples: Photography served. from photographer reclarkgable, a series of portraits of the same couple posing as various segments of society. I identified junkies (left), nerds, rockabilly revivalists, I’m not sure which one would be the hipsters. I’m interested on what segment you would put each of them in. These are brilliant.

The Third and the Seventh a short CG film by Alex Roman. Thanks to Paul Schupanitz for recommending this beautiful piece. It’s a bit long, watch it when you have some time and are feeling contemplative. And be sure to watch in full screen mode.

Lot’s of architecture, the only building I could identify was the Milwaukee Museum of Art, one of my favorites. I never realized before that the wings flap!

Thanks for dropping by.

From Russia with Love

On Saturday we finally were overwhelmed by cabin fever and ventured out of the house and into the city. We were glad we did because for one, it didn’t seem that bad out, I’m not sure what the temp got to, but it was sunny and there was no wind so it was easy not to flinch. Another reason is that we saw some great art at the Museum of Russian Art and had a great meal at El Mason.

TMORA is located on 55th and Stevens in a beautiful Spanish Revival Building which was formally a church. It features a great collection of Russian paintings from the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century, tumultuous times in Russia. The paintings show the progression from an “art for art’s sake” aesthetic to an increasing social agenda and by the end they become instruments of Soviet propaganda.

The other exhibitions were equally fascinating. One featured a collection of matryoshkas, those familiar nesting dolls that have become symbolic of Russian Folk art. If you have an interest in color this display is like a clinic in highly saturated color harmony. Plus the imaginative decorative schemes of the dolls hold a wealth of inspiration for graphic designers.

And finally the photography of Sergie M. Prokudin-Gorskii, pioneering Russian photographer who, with the backing of the Tsar, travelled extensively in Central Asia along the Silk Road in the early Twentieth Century. The photos are remarkable in themselves, but the technique used to capture them is incredible. He used a special camera of  his own invention and took three separate exposures, each with a different filter, using glass negatives. He used a special projector to combine the three negatives for viewing. The Library of Congress, which purchased 1600 of the glass negatives from his estate in 1948, is now using digital scanning technology to make these images easily accessible. This is not only a priceless historical record, but a milestone in the art and science of photography. We’re very lucky to have it here in the Twin Cities, don’t miss it.

I won’t go into great detail about El Meson in this post, other than to say go there, it’s fabulous!