Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Lincoln Series: Now What?

The original photo.
I painted my first portrait of the 16th president somewhere in the early nineties, I think. Studying the events surrounding the U.S. Civil War proved endlessly fascinating, beginning in the fourth grade, that age in which we first begin to get a grasp on time and history and how the past is back there somewhere in the distance from where we're sitting.

Blue Lincoln with Sunblock
Our initial review of history, while superficial, is still useful. It begins sinking home the names of people and places and makes us familiar with key events. As we revisit these events in junior high and high school history classes, we begin to see a greater complexity than our early minds could grasp. We begin to understand how how conflicts escalated into wars, how history is painted by personalities, how power is used and abused, and the challenges leaders face when trying to implement a vision that is unpopular to a large portion of the public.

Lincoln Gets Gnarly
The pictures on this page today show the stages one of my more recent paintings has undergone. Originally titled Blue Lincoln with Sunblock when shown at my Beaners opening in 2010, it's now been retitled Civil War. Then again, "Civil War" has been the working title of all my Lincoln paintings. Who knows where this will finally evolve to?

Digital Lincoln Blue
In the upper right is a screen shot that I snapped from the Ken Burns documentary on the Civil War. I'm fairly certain the picture, like may or most of this president, are now in the public domain, which is why they are used to pervasively in history books and films.

The painting has been evolving though. And I can't say for certain what it will evolve to, but the effects have been interesting. To paraphrase some advice I received when I was first learning to draw, maybe it takes a thousand bad Lincoln paintings to get a good one.

The following shows our most up-to-date iterations.

Y'all have a good day now, ya hear?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Don't Miss Master MEME Tonight at the PRØVE

Dan Hansen (left) with Lucas Anderson

Fans of the local Twin Ports visual arts scene have had plenty to buzz about in recent years. And it just keeps getting better. Tonight, the PRØVE Collective and Lizzard's Gallery offer two great excuses for heading downtown. And if you're checking out one, there's no need to move the car because the other is just around the corner. 

Master MEME: Art by Daniel Hansen and Lucas Anderson

Daniel Hansen is a local disabled artist exploring pop culture, '80s pixelation, and contemporary issues. Lucas Anderson teaches art locally at Marshall Academy. The show features individual work and art they have created collaboratively. This is the capstone show for the PRØVE's first year, and it's nothing short of a "must see", even if only for the spirit in which the work has been generated and generously shared with our community.

I met Anderson this past spring through the DAI-sponsored film series Shock of the New. Last night I met Hansen for the first time as they dynamic duo were putting the finishing touches on what will be tonight's event, which is primarily Hansen's work.

I had asked Hansen how he'd become interested in art as a profession. He explained, "My interest is because it's time to get my art out there. I've been drawing since I was 3. My story is that I've had a progressive neuromuscular disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy type 2 (or SMA). The onset was at infancy so I've always been confined to a wheelchair."

This handicap has not restrained Hansen from pursuing his passions. In advance of our meeting I asked him to briefly share his story.

"I grew up in Grand Marais the son of Mark Hansen who founded North House Folk School. I've been at the sidelines observing everyone living and achieving normal things that were absurdly complicated or impossible to pull off. Every aspect of my life requires innovation and mastery on account of gradual muscular weakening. It just so happens art is merely a side affect of my paradigm shredding circumstance. The burning desire to defy all conventions and set new precedences is my morning cup of coffee! My medium is digital. The world of illusions are my inspiration. Fun, trans-mutational, fascination are the undercurrents of everything I do...the rest is open to interpretation." 

Last night as I looked at Hansen's work it became that fun really is the operative word in much of what he pulls off here. For example, the large piece titled Chico Strikes Back is a humorous portrayal of the forgotten Marx brother who had not gotten the recognition of his other siblings. Chico is at the piano, but the stock market index atop the instrument shows a declining market value. One wonders what he's doing with that loaded gun in his hand.

Upon entering the gallery one is struck by the scale and vivid color in Hansen's pieces. On the left ad you enter is a picture titled Cheyenne. Cheyenne is a girl Hansen met via the internet whom he has talked with on the phone for seven years. The picture reflects some of the chaos in Cheyenne's life. He says she has been a great influence on him.

Another piece, titled Cake or Pi, Hansen describes as "me jamming out."

Time: 7 - 11 p.m.
Free admission, refreshments by donation
If you've never been, the PROVE is located downstairs from the Sons of Norway Hall on Lake Avenue across from the Technology Center.

Chico Strikes Back

Art About Stories... paintings by Tom Tyler

Lizzard's Art Gallery at 11 West Superior Street (across from the MN Power Building) is hosting an opening reception tonight for their new exhibition of paintings by Minneapolis artist Tom Tyler. The work in this collection is primarily based on quotes or literature, books by Hemingway, Melville, Jack London, Joseph Conrad and even Greek mythology. Though the themes in his work vary, the written word serves as a common thread.

Considering the selection of writers cited, I am already drawn to this artist and look forward to seeing tonight's show.

Tyler's work has texture and movement, undoubtedly influence by the 20th century German Expressionists whom he admires. A full-time painter, he has a BA in studio art from the University of Minnesota, where he studied with painters Jo Lutz Rollins and Cameron Booth. His work has been exhibited in Minnesota, California and New Mexico. 

Can't make it tonight? Tyler's work will be on the walls at Lizzards through November 10. Check it out.

Meantime, life goes on. See you on the beat.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

That Titanic Tempest

“I think that he bought a ticket on the Titanic.” ~Moneyball

It’s interesting how much the sinking of the Titanic has been woven into the fabric of our culture. Here I am watching Moneyball and one of the former baseball scouts who used to be on the payroll for Oakland is sniping at General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) for his new approach to the game of baseball. (the quote above.) It’s a perfect segue into a revisiting of Bob Dylan’s latest release Tempest.

The title song is a 45 verse recounting of the sinking of demise of the Titanic on her maiden voyage to New York. But this is not Dylan’s first reference to the 1912 tragedy in the North Atlantic. Many decades earlier there’s an obscure reference to this same incident in his song Desolation Row, Highway 61 Revisited's capstone.

Praise be to Nero’s Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
And everybody’s shouting 
“Which Side Are You On?

Desolation Row is another of those lengthy classics Mr. Dylan shot up into the stratosphere of the Sixties, but the Titanic reference is little more than that here, a reference. This time around, on Tempest, it's a fourteen minute exposition.

Just out of curiosity I decided to Google the phrase Nero's Neptune to see what popped up. And guess what? It's another cool Dylan site that I'd been previously unaware of.Or rather, it's a site by a musician consciously influenced by Dylan. Though not a comprehensive site, for the Dylan fan it's worth exploring.

Here's a quote from that site pertaining to Dylan's influence:

Bob showed that lyrics are important, about equally important, as the music. That songwriting and poetic imagery can make you.

That certainly has to be a central piece of insight in understanding the longevity and pervasiveness of Dylan's influence.

For the record, Nero was a Roman emperor who persecuted the early Christian church. Neptune was the Roman name for the god of the sea. (The Greek name was Poseidon.) Another of the songs on Tempest is called Early Roman Kings. Another thematic echo? And here's another, from Slow Train Coming:

Sheiks walking around like kings, 
wearing fancy jewels and nose rings. 
Deciding America's future from Amsterdam and to Paris 

Early Roman kings? The Titanic sails at dawn. Apocalypse now.

For what it's worth, Nero's Neptune is an entertaining diversion. Check it out.

Billy Beane purportedly said, "It's hard not to be romantic about baseball." The same can probably be said about the Titanic. In a more macabre manner, however.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Up in the Clouds

How do you like them apples?
Yesterday on the radio I heard that Apple had a bad weekend. They only sold 5 million iPhones instead of the anticipated 6 to 10. Uhm, how many companies would call 500 million dollars in sales a bad weekend? Not including all their other products. Nevertheless, the stock market fell a bit on this tragic event.

I doubt anyone is really that worried about this crisis. The company employs over 60,000 people and continues to grow year after year, leading the way toward the future with its iPods, iPads, iTunes, iPhones and iMacs. Now it's the iCloud....

This morning I was thinking how clever the Mac strategy has been, calling everything "I"... but which really means "My." MyPod, MyPad, MyTunes, MyPhone and MyMac. And we enter the new era of cloud computing, Apple is encouraging everyone to use MyCloud. Which really means TheirCloud.

Back in the 90's leaders like Larry Ellison predicted a future where computers would be a "dumb box" and everything would be run from somewhere else, stored somewhere else. This seemed too far out, but as a close friend of Steve Jobs during his Pixar years, Ellison's ideas no doubt made an impression. When Jobs rode back onto the Ponderosa to regain what he'd built, the cloud was with him.

We often think of clouds as something that obscure the sun. They also bring much needed rain and serve to help the earth's atmosphere retain heat. The hard frost we had this weekend fell through a cloudless sky.

Clouds are nebulous, too. They appear very defined from a distance, especially at sunset, but up close you really can't touch an edge anywhere.

The Internet has a similar configuration. It's "out there" somewhere, but exactly where we're not sure. We sort of know what it is, but we don't have to fully understand it to experience its benefits.

When I took an Internet class at UMD in 1994, Netscape didn't even exist yet. The infant World Wide Web was just emerging from the womb. Up till then, the Internet backbone consisted of email programs like Pine, and Veronica searches using Archie, or something to that effect. The instructor gave a demonstration of Mosaic at the end of the day and he seemed blown away by it. Though visually more interesting than a screen full of text, it took forever to load on his screen, and that was with the university's T-3 line. Hmmm. I didn't seem to think it would fly. But what did I know? I was still too down to earth. More impressive to me was my ability to sit in Duluth, MN and explore libraries in Pisa, Italy and Berlin, Germany in a matter of moments.

One of the first pictograms used to illustrate what the Internet really was a diagram of a cloud. I used a similar image in my Screen Net column the following year.

Evidently the cloud image conveyed something, even if that something is a bit abstract for most folks. Clouds can be associated with dreams and poetry and intangibles. And that's what Apple's all about, isn't it? Aesthetics and possibilities, not just technology.

You can be sure we'll be hearing more about clouds in our future. Spread your wings and fly.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Lefty Fest

No, this is not a blog entry about a festival for Lefties. Though I have written about famous lefties in the past, today's comments pertain to this weekend's fund-raising event on behalf of a local guitarist whom we've all known as Lefty.

I met Larry “Lefty” Sandman somewhere around a dozen years ago. For about a year he, Stel (the other half of “Lefty and Stel”) and Julie Finkle (of the Centerville All Stars) led a Tuesday night music circle at a road house in Saginaw Junction. That is, people would show up with their instruments and we’d all take turns picking songs, singing and make music. Lots of guitars, percussions and I with my harmonicas.

Every once in a while Lefty and Stel (Brian Stelmaszewski) would stick around after and continue to play in that easygoing acoustic style. On one occasion I stuck around as well and let my harmonica weave in and out of the melodies, creating rhapsodies. We were in a groove and everyone knew it. Before long someone bought us a beer. Then a pitcher, but these remained untouched because the music was our beer. To stop playing in order to take a sip would have been to break the spell.

For Larry music has been a way of life. He's played with many local bands, including the Fractals. But since this spring he's been missing on the scene. He had a stroke that left him in intensive care far too long, racking up an incomprehensible quantity of medical expenses.

For this reason on Sunday at Clyde Iron Works there will be a benefit concert and silent auction to defray some of these expenses. (Too bad we can't just through those bills into one of the sinkholes that swallowed a couple cars this summer.)

The concert and auctions will be at Clyde Iron Works this Sunday, September 30, from 3-8 pm.

A $10 donation covers salad, Clyde's wonderful wood fired pizza and plenty of great music featuring:
The Centerville All Stars
Fractal Trio (With special guest Todd Eckart)
John and Andy
Jack Kritzer

For more information about the items being auctioned, including some art by local artists, visit the Lefty Fest Facebook Page

In the meantime, I hope to see you there.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Check Out the Murals!

If you've ever drive through Grand Rapids, MN you can't miss the clues that Judy Garland of Wizard of Oz fame was from this remote Northern Minnesota town. The biggest hint comes in the form of a very large mural right on the main drag.

Rear entrance to the bank at 1118 Tower.
Here in the Twin Ports we've seen a lot of new murals and exterior wall decoration popping up. I think it's pretty cool. On the Superior side of the bridge there's been an art in the alley project going on. The decorated rear entrances of businesses there will help customers find their way once next year's Tower Avenue renovation has begun. Superior's main street will be a mess, but the buildings are starting to look pretty darn cool, from their alley views.

Rear entrance, Who's Bar, Superior
When we lived in Mexico public art was everywhere, both in the form of murals and statues. The famed painter Diego Rivera left imagery all around the country. I was impressed by the scale of his work, and the works of others in Cuernavaca, Mexico City and Monterrey. Unfortunately my slides from that time have not yet been converted to digital images for sharing online, but you can see some of Rivera's work here at this website.

This past Thursday I attended a small celebration of the completion of a mural on an exterior wall of Duluth's Twins Bar. The artist, who calls himself "This Is My War", was in attendance. There was wine, plenty of healthy finger food and a fair amount of very tasty Chinese food from the restaurant next door, courtesy Gene McKeever, I believe... or perhaps the bar. It was very good.. as was the company.

I asked the artist about how he became interested in art, and especially mural-sized work.

"This Is My War" at the Twins Bar
"I was attracted to art for as long as I can remember. Comic books and cartoon illustration were some of the early influences for me. As far as murals go, the graffiti graveyard sparked my interest to start painting as big as I can. Working with mediums beyond paint is a very important factor that goes into developing my art. I like to keep things interesting and new. Drawing, ink, watercolor, acrylics, wood stain, etc.. whatever i can get my hands on!"

The young man said that he is a graphic design major at UMD. "I love typography and letters.This is a type of art that fits into a whole different category, but helps me develop ideas in my studio art and murals. I hope for the future that I can dip my hands into an absurdly broad range of artistic expression."

As I finished a small plate of fried rice with Chinese vegetables, some one asked "This Is My War" whether he had to do some kind of diagram first. He shared how he did have to produce a concept, but that it was fairly loose and he was able to run with it or away from it.

"I got involved with the Hillfest/Twins Bar mural through Sandra Robinson. She helped me make all the connections and peruse the painting. Sandy worked really hard to make it all happen and I'm happy that it worked out positively. I am hoping this can be an influence for the community and help make a push for more public art."

This Danish mural catches the eye. Now that is scale!
Last year when the two manhole covers were placed with Dylan-themed art on them I was contacted by some people in Denmark who collected images of artistic manhole covers. That was quite a surprise, another variation of public art. Gene McKeever then mentioned a very large exterior painting on the side of a building in Denmark. I asked her to send me a picture so I could share it with this story. It's quite striking, wouldn't you say?

If you've never been to the Graffiti Graveyard, it's worth checking out. Maybe you'll find something there by the next up-and-coming Basquiat.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Uprooted: Part XXIV

On Saturday mornings this blog has been devoted to the serialized telling of the Ralph Kand story. Kand, a young man with a withered leg, fled Estonia when the Red Army began its westward march in autumn 1944. At war's end he found himself in Germany, processing paperwork with the American army.

Translator Typist

Ralph limped to the far corner of the room where an idle typewriter awaited him. The soldier pulled the chair away from the table, inviting Ralph to take a seat. He noted that the typewriter was an old Underwood, a very fast machine.

"Just a minute," the soldier said.

Ralph looked around and two more uniformed Americans had now joined them.

"O.K. let's type, uhm..."

"How about 'Oh when the saint go marching in.'" The men laughed.

"Sure, sure," the red-headed American said. He then recited, rather than sang, the New Orleans favorite as Ralph's fingers clacked away.

"He's good," one of the soldiers laughed.

"Here," the tall one said, "I will read a page of this magazine and he can type it."

Ralph tuned his ear to the man's nasally baritone voice. More clickety clacking sprang from his fingers.

The three soldier bent over Ralph's shoulder.

"Look at that. He even knows how to spell."

"Sort of," the redhead said, pointing to a typo in the previous sentence.

"Go fetch that German kid and bring him over here."

There was a small commotion and then a youth mo more than fifteen was brought over. "Wiley, go ahead and have him talk in German. Ask him where he's from." Then turning to Ralph, "And you type that in English for us."

This was the real test. Ralph typed as fast as he could, grunting when he missed a word. The boy was nervous and muttered something gutteral, then said he missed his family and that he was glad the war was over.

The Americans marvelled.

"Go get the major."

A couple minutes passed and a round-faced man with spectacles walked over to the corner where they'd gathered. "The major's tied up but I have a few minutes." Ralph turned and looked up at the man inquisitively, then started to rise.

"Be seated. That's O.K. I'm Collins, Major Anderson's executive assistant. These fellas said you have some special skills."

Ralph nodded. 

"What's your name? Where are you from?"

"Kand. Ralph Kand." This time he stood, looked directly into the man's eyes. "I'm Estonian, sir."

"Where did you learn your English, son?"

"BBC." It was true. He and his brother learned English in order to stay abreast of global events while Stalin's dark blanket smothered Estonia. He did not mention his efforts to bone up while in a German jail this last part of the war.

Collins thanked the American soldiers for retrieving him, turned to Ralph and said, "Come with me."

So began a three year relationship with the U.S. Army officer corps. Ralph received wages and housing on what became a post-war army base. He continued his English studies, read the soldiers' magazines and dreamed of America.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Tempest Takes You There

Today is Friday, September 21. Lead stories, aside from the usual election buzz, include these. Since 1983 the number of breweries in the U.S. has risen more than 2400%. iPhone 5 sales are so fast that Apple computers can't keep up with the profit calculations. And legendary outlaw Butch Casssidy's "Amnesty" Colt .45 is up for auction.

But the top story on this last day of summer is... Dylan's Tempest has been on the market ten days and a lot of fans have listened to it nearly that many times since its 9/11 release. Oh yeah.

Yesterday I wrote about the album's rave reviews and shared my own thoughts on the first seven cuts. This morning I want to make a few comments on Tempest, the title track, and his tribute to John Lennon, Roll On John.


The title song in this collection is 45 verses long, rolling like the north seas where the Titanic disappeared in what must have been a most horrible experience for those who survived. And that’s what this song seems dedicated to conveying: the horror. The tune itself is far from horrorific. It's more like the rolling sea itself.

The Titanic story is told from some unusual perspectives. Instead of simply describing the actual event, the song seems to be about the movie version of the story, so we have dreams and metaphors and Leo DiCaprio the artist as a character in the song. Like many of the other songs on the album there are reflections here as well from earlier Dylan songs and themes. For example, the Joker and the Thief discuss fate in “All Along the Watchtower.” And in this song a similar discussion regarding the meaning of events takes place between the Watchman and the Reaper.

“The veil was torn asunder between the hours of twelve and one, 
No change, no sudden wonder, could undo what had been done.”

Here’s another oblique reference in some way to the crucifiction of Christ? Upon his death, the New Testament writers affirm, the curtain that veiled the Holy of Holies was torn in two from top to bottom. Further along Dylan sings, “He read the Book of Revelations and he filled his cup with tears.” It’s an apocalyptic book, and “they tried to understand but there is no understanding with the judgment of God’s hand.” 

In so many words Dylan transforms the sinking of the Titanic into an Apocalyptic event. This year marks the 100th anniversary of that bigger than life tragedy. The end of an age?

When the Reaper's task had ended 
Sixteen hundred had gone to rest 
The good, the bad, the rich, the poor 
The loveliest and the best 

Roll On John

Roll On John is the final cut on this album. (Dylan released it in vinyl as well as digitally, by the way.)  Five of the ten songs are over seven minutes, this being another. I didn't count how many have thematically touched on death or violence, but quite a few deal with it. Straight up, this tribute lament is very beautiful. And it drips with grieving.

I remember exactly where I was the day John's music died. Mexico City. Dylan, too, remembers that day, and in processing that grief has produced this pearl.

Doctor, doctor tell me the time of day
Another bottle's empty, another penny spent
He turned around and he slowly walked away
They shot him in the back and down he went.

Shine your light
Movin’ on
You burned so bright
Roll on, John

From the Liverpool docks to the red-light Hamburg streets
Down in the quarry with the quarrymen
Playing to the big crowds, playing to the cheap seats
Another day in the life on your way to your journey's end


Sailin' through the trade winds bound for the South
Rags on your back just like any other slave
They tied your hands and they clamped your mouth
Wasn't no way out of that deep dark cave


I heard the news today, oh boy
They hauled your ship up on the shore
Now the city gone dark, there is no more joy
They tore the heart right out and cut him to the core


Put on your bags and get 'em packed
Leave right now, you won't be far from wrong
The sooner you go the quicker you'll be back
You've been cooped up on an island far too long


Slow down you're moving way too fast
Come together right now over me
Your bones are weary, you're about to breathe your last
Lord, you know how hard that it can be


Roll on, John, roll through the rain and snow
Take the right-hand road and go where the buffalo roam
They'll trap you in an ambush before you know
Too late now to sail back home


Tyger, tyger burning bright
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
In the forests of the night
Cover 'em over and let him sleep

If you buy the CD just to own this one song, it'll be worth it. Then again, with iTunes you can easily buy singles these days. Get the whole darn thing. Thanks for the memories, Bob.

On a related topic, there are volunteer work crews down at the Armory tomorrow and the following Saturday from 10:00 till 3:00. It's a big building and a lot of work to get it ready for the next phase in its renovation. Meet some of the Friends who served on the Bob Dylan Way committee and others involved in this historic preservation project.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Weighing In On Dylan's Tempest.

I dreamed I asked Bob what makes a good song. He said, “Whatever you can get away with.”

On 9/11 Bob Dylan released his 35th album to enormous fanfare. By means of social media, a host of pre-release buzz, and a much talked about video the album gained an immediate audience, high rankings on the charts and high praise from the critics. But was the high praise simply due to the fact that Dylan’s still making music, or because the songs on this new collection were themselves worthy of the praise? Here’s my take.

First off, as I go back through the piles of Dylan albums and CDs in my collection, one thing is certain. This guy knows how to open. The common denominator of nearly every album is that the first cut gets you in. That is to say, unless there’s a song that makes you wish to make a second listen, you’ll not be back.

“Beyond Here Lies Nothing” opens Together Through Life. Awesome, bleak, wonderful. “Thunder On The Mountain” thrusts you into Modern Times with serious exuberance. Love and Theft is introduced with Tweedledee and Tweedledum. And the Grammy award winning Time Out of Mind opens with the painful, exquisitely anguished “Love Sick.”

Then again, go way back and you see it’s always been that way. Changing of the Guard, Tangled Up in Blue, Hurricane, Blowin’ in the Wind, The Times Are A-Changing, Like a Rolling Stone, Subterranean Homesick Blues, Gotta Serve Somebody, Shot of Love… all serve as vibrant opening numbers on Dylan albums, each of them tell-tale signs introducing the material reflected there, invitations to go further in, farther along.

“Duquesne Whistle” performs the honors on Tempest. The pre-release video set the stage for sure, but what about the rest of the tunes? Will they live up to the opening number?

For me, an album can be evaluated by many measures, and some will be perceived as having greater importance than others. On a most plebian level I think it also has something to do with whether it yanks you back for a seconds and thirds and keeps being satisfying. In point of fact, the real flavor is not going to come through till you get to that fourth listen, and after a week I’m onto my sixth with Tempest. Conclusion: it’s worthy of the accolades it’s received.

My only complaint with regard to the release of Dylan's Tempest is not with the album, but with the critics who say it is Dylan's best album since his last 9/11 release, Love and Theft. I mean, both Modern Times and it's sequel Together Through Life both strike me as worthy predecessors to this accordion-accompanied collection. And I'm not talking falsely here because of the late hour.

A few brief remarks on some of the songs.

Duquesne Whistle 
The intro is light-hearted, upbeat. Then the band chimes in and our feet go shufflin’. The video seems to take you along the same light-hearted track at first, but it’s deceptive because in the vid the storyline takes a very dark twist. There’s even a little torture with creepy echoes of the warehouse scene in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.

So what’s going on here? Well, The opener is like a preface that hints at the rest of the story, and though the music you hear is fanciful, the themes on this album will include a bit of larceny and horror, so you’d best get a hint of it up front. In literature it’s called foreshadowing.

Soon After Midnight 
I have a friend who says that every Dylan album has a couple throwaway songs. I dunno if I agree with that, but if I were to throw a song away, this would be the one for me, at this point in time. But then, in six more listens it might become a favorite. For now, I just feel like pressing the fast forward on this slow, methodical reminiscence.

Narrow Way 
“It’s a long road, it’s a long and narrow way…” This one has a pulse, a driving rhythm that carries throughout with messages obscure and explicit simultaneously. It's a fast-paced seven minute song that is easy to ride along with.

Long and Wasted Years 
Here’s a song that just tears away at you. The tune is a descending series of notes that repeats over and over like a river of tears washing over your soul, an eternal waterfall….

Early on he sings, “It’s been a while since we walked down that long, long aisle…” but it’s soon a lament with lines like these:

"I wear dark glasses to cover my eyes 
There's secrets in em' I can't disguise 
Come back baby 
If I hurt your feelings I apologize"

In the end, “We cried on a cold and frosty morn, we cried because our souls were torn; so much for tears, so much for these long and wasted years.”

Pay In Blood 
“A man can’t live by bread alone, I pay with blood but not my own.”

It’s interesting how much of Dylan’s lexicon draws from Biblically choreographed iconography. Is he acknowledging Scripture as inspirational source material, or simply tipping his hat to one of the roots of Western civilization with the same weight as European literature and Greek philosophy?

Scarlet Town
It’s a red light district scene. Or is it a portrayal of modern times? You have seven minutes to figure it out.

Early Roman Kings 
The title alone is amusing and the lyrics, while serous, are equally fun to tangle with. Where’s this song going to take us? The accordion here is a knock-off of a riff on "It's All Good" on Together Through Life. Love it. And the standard blues rhythm has you bobbin’ along like a red, red robin. “All the women goin’ crazy for the early Roman kings.” The song has a great groove.

Tin Angel 
Here’s a nine minute song, yet still not the longest on the album. Three other songs already stretch beyond seven minutes, and the longest lopes along for over thirteen. It’s a long tragic story, like so many before and so many to come.

Summing Up
The music is catchy and after a short while you'll be humming some of these tunes in your head while driving to work or waiting for a friend. And the lyrics are such that you'll have ample opportunity to wrestle with meanings, explore relationships to previous songs and capture new insights into the labyrinthian mind of this elder statesman of our generation.

Oh yes, and there are still two more songs to talk about, but they deserve a longer treatment so I will save that commentary for later.  Listen to the music and have a great day.

EdNote: Yes, I am aware that the quote that I dreamed Bob said (intro above) deserves attribution. Andy purportedly said it when asked "What is art?"

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Studio Time with Artist Jen Dietrich

This is part two of my interview with Jen Dietrich, UMD art professor. In our initial communications she stated that a visit to her studio would be beneficial in understanding her current work. Indeed, the studio visit proved exceedingly helpful.

Jen Dietrich's Lakeside home gives her close proximity to the university where she teaches. Like many artists that I know, myself included, a portion of her garage has been converted into a studio. The tidy compact space is brightly lit, amplified by clean white walls. It gives the impression of being well insulated and tightly buttoned, a necessity for Northland artists who hope to also do four seasons in their art spaces.

Her current work focuses on feminism and NFL football in a manner that would otherwise be difficult to envision until you see it firsthand. Her baseball series consisted of male figures, but this current series is football players and coaches with female characters overlaid.

Dietrich showed her strong comprehension of the game that came in part from marrying a man who played football. She explained that there are both offensive and defensive players on a football team, a very different setup from baseball. “The offensive line is often more intelligent, protective and nurturing than the defense,” she noted. “The approach to the game by offense and defense is almost polar opposite. It’s such an interesting contrast because I never thought about it on that level.”

She mentioned some of the female athletes she knew growing up and how she had begun overlaying their images over these male icons, Darah Torres over Greg Nettles, for example. It was a way of feminizing male icons so to speak. Some of the paintings that I saw in progress at Dietrich’s studio included one of Mike Ditka who would be overlaid with Gloria Steinum and another of Bud Grant underneath Madeline Albright. It’s definitely an unexpected take on the national pastime.

During my visit, Dietrich made a number of interesting observations on various themes that we touched on. “The dialogue is what keeps art alive,” she said.

A little later we circled around one of the current trends of our time. “In post-modern times, the original is not valued as much due to digital reproduction… Not everyone is physically rubbing oil paint on surfaces but nearly everyone can do Photoshop.”

"How did your interest in film come about?" I asked. "And what prompted you to collaborate with Sarah Nitschke to form Underbelly Films?"

"The film we started in 2004, which has really pre-occupied Sarah and I. It was especially challenging being a single mom with three kids. (Dietrich is now four years married to a man from Iowa and the family has six children between them.) 

The film they produced is called Naked Vision. It's a documentary about the painter Philip Pearlstein. After watching the film I went online to find this summary at Ironic, imperturbable, mischievous and fascinating, Philip Pearlstein's controversial creative vision continues to drive him forward, upstream against time and art history. In depth interviews with famous art world figures, Chuck Close, Richard Armstrong, Robert Storr, Pearlstein and others, help to reveal what is behind the man and his paintings.

"One thing that really attracted me to Phillip was that he just wears beige. He's non-flamboyant, and productive," Dietrich stated.

He was also a friend of Andy Warhol's while in school in Pittsburgh and actually played a part in Warhol coming to New York. He was a little older than Andy, and Andy's mother felt better about her son venturing off to the Big Apple if the two went together.

Dietrich said the film direction was "quite fulfilling and a great example of pushing the envelope. (It had) all the components of a great tale-- Alaska, art world icons, 15 minutes of fame (literally), paying it forward and, of course, New York City.

"Sarah was my colleague at UMD. And in 2003 we attended a conference together in New York. The film's inception happened then."

It's apparent that Dietrich has a strong work ethic, and seemingly boundless energy. She is easy to engage as her mind is nimble and her stance toward people very open. It's easy to see why her students appreciate her instruction.

The images on this page are "works in progress" that reveal a bit of the process behind her vision. We'll look forward to the opportunity to see this new series once it reaches fruition. What you see here is not what you'll get.

Thank you, Jen, for your time and for opening up your space.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Jen Dietrich’s American Iconography

UMD art professor Jen Dietrich is an intelligent mix of broad experience and creative expression with a strong positive rating from students whom she has served. Pretty much a trifecta in my book. We first met in late March after an episode of Robert Hughes' Shock of the New film series presented by the Duluth Art Institute. Dietrich was a guest speaker that day, fielding questions like a shortstop.

The following is a description of how she approaches her work, excerpted from her website:

My inspiration is American icons,
My vehicle is paint, and
My obsession is the painting process.
My process of working involves no magic,
No mystical elements, and no special inspiration.

EN: How did you first come to take an interest in art?

JD: Sometime during my Junior year at UMD. I was a German and international relations major. I took an art history course and realized that dates and artists came very easy whereas German vocabulary was work. I ended up with a double major, a BA - German and a BFA pre-grad painting and drawing.

EN: What attracted you to painting?

JD: I was lucky enough to have natural talent for realism from a very young age. I was always drawing realistic figures but never considered it a viable career direction.

EN: I really enjoyed your baseball series. What can you tell us about how they were conceived and executed?

JD: First, I'm a closet jock and sports fanatic. I love watching and playing, however, I knew I wanted to investigate a postmodern perspective on the American iconic game of baseball. It had to be more than merely realistic drawing of players. That came too easy and was not unique by any means.

I started to draw comparisons with religion and the rituals surrounding both baseball enthusiasts and religion. The title of the show was Baseball: A Secular Religion. I attended many farm league games in southern Minnesota, analyzing and observing everything from the crowd to the bat boys. I loved this direct participatory research.

Here’s a little backstory on the Baseball series. I played fast pitch softball in high school (Hibbing) and also summer league. We actually went to state. I was starting third base and back-up catcher. Although I loved both positions for different reasons, my passion was catching. My heroes were Johnny Bench and Thurman Munson. I looked forward to putting on the armor (shin guards, mask, chest pad.) It felt like heading into battle. I loved getting in the dirt and being the field marshal of the game. And this is what I learned from further investigation and looking through adult eyes and a body that can no longer play. I always thought that the game depended on the catcher/pitcher relationship and that the game hinged on the moment the pitcher released the ball from fingers, thereby the pitcher was the catalyst. However, the pitcher gets the sign from the catcher. This is no great surprise to many, however, it was all I needed to reaffirm my passion for the position of catcher. The field marshall of the game, the captain, the commander-- calling all the cuts, dictating the plays from the moment the ball connects with bat. Whew! As you can see I'm not objective.

Anyway, that is a fun series and I seem to revisit Baseball each spring with fresh eyes. I'm not finished with that subject. Currently, I'm focusing on football. 4 years ago I married a man who happened to be a former college tight end and place kicker. Needless to say, having a source close is wonderful and insightful. The baseball series was males. This current series is football players and coaches with female characters overlaid. A studio visit will help at this point.

EN: You also have barn themed paintings. The two together remind me of Field of Dreams. Is there any connection between farms and baseball in your work?

JD: For the past 15 years I've been working on the topic of American icons and each series addresses a different sub-theme -- American barns, baseball, the Kennedys etc. I was born in Wisconsin and while I was living in Alaska I started missing the barns. That was my thesis project.

EN: How did JFK influence your generation since you were born after he was assassinated?

JD: We were raised by parents whose dialogue was always pro-Kennedy. It was very much embedded in the everyday dialogue. It was centered on politics, not religion. For some reason even the next generation was influenced by and fascinated with the Kennedys. I see it in my kids. They carry this torch for Kennedy.

EN: How did your interest in film come about? And what prompted you to collaborate with Sarah Nitschke to form Underbelly Films?

JD: When I was in Alaska for nine years at the Alaska Art Institute, we had a week long summer program for teachers, and I called Chuck Close. He couldn’t come because of handicap issues, so I called Philip Pearlstein and he came. Afterwards he mentored me and said to Sarah, “We have to get him on film.” He was one of the last left from abstract expressionism movement of that era, part of Leo Castelli’s first opening. He taught with Ad Reinhart in Brooklyn and was a classmate with Andy Warhol whom he lived with for 6-8 months.

As artists we’re all compared to Andy… Phillip is polar opposite. Being small and intellectual, he was also a contrast to the brawly male type of Abstract Expressionists.

We started the film in 2004, which really pre-occupied Sarah and I. It was especially challenging being a single mom with three kids.


Photo of Dietrich's image of Hillary (and details) is a work in progress and part of her newest series. This portion of my interview with Jen Dietrich appeared in this week's Reader.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding

If there was an internet back in Revolutionary War days, the following Daniel Boone tale would no doubt have been tagged a "rural legend." As the story goes, one day the famed Kentucky pioneer was hiking through a forest when he unexpectedly stepped on the tale of a rattlesnake. Simultaneously, a mother grizzly stood high over him and he noticed he'd come between the bear and her cubs. As if this weren't enough, beyond the cubs was a Native with fierce intentions placing an arrow into his bow.

More Hollywood than real life, but it's an apt illustration for the times we live in. Economic crises, global warming, unexplained infectious epidemics, food shortages, drug wars... and the ongoing conflicts in multiple locations throughout the known world signaling that 9/11 is not yet finished... We tune it out daily, primarily so we can enjoy our sports, entertainment and other diversions. It's hard to function when your heart is heavy so most of the time you cap it. Having responsibilities on the job helps distract us as well.

But like trying to hold a beach ball underwater, our global troubles occasionally slip out and surface again so that we're aware of the global interconnectedness of the world we live in. This week, it occurred in the form of riots in an uncertain number of countries. Purportedly these riots were a knee-jerk reaction to a film about Mohammed. Is it possible the film is but the occasion for this display of anti-Americanism that has been long seething beneath the surface due to American behavior abroad?

During World War II, as U.S. troops marched into town after driving out the Nazis in Northern Italy, the people rushed out to greet them, shouting "Bueno Americano!" The Americans at one time were heroes. My sense is that this is no longer so. One reason might be that when we visit other countries the only Americans they encounter are our drones.

A story in The Guardian states that in Pakistan alone there have been over 330 drone attacks with more than 3,000 civilian casualties. I doubt the people in Pakistan are shouting "Bueno Americano." Nor the people in Yemen or Somalia or Egypt. In a Tom Englehart column at yesterday it was pointed out that being militarily powerful is now America's great claim to fame. Currently we now produce nearly 80% of the world's arms, and have Delta and other incursion forces in as many as 120 countries worldwide.

I don't know where this is all going to lead, but it concerns me. I hear other people-in-the-know express their concerns and wonder how we can so willingly go on with our bread-and-circuses.

Then again, maybe the bread-and-circuses are good because we have no power to really change anything anyways. The power brokers decide and we live with the consequences. The Ugly American has cnme of age.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Uprooted: Part XXIII ~ The Second Fastest Typist In Estonia

On Saturday mornings this blog has been devoted to the serialized telling of the Ralph Kand story. Kand, a young man with a withered leg, fled Estonia when the Red Army began its westward march in autumn 1944. When he reached the westernmost tip of Austria he attempted to escape to freedom by going over the mountains, an ultimately absurd venture. This plan was thwarted by Nazi soldiers and Ralph was jailed in Germany. After several months, as the war neared its end the prisoners were released and Ralph continued his quest. 

The Second Fastest Typist In Estonia

From the porch Ralph surveyed the damage. Bodies lay out on the open field. The farmer invited everyone to stay for a meal and spend the night if needful. The Americans had left to catch up with their company.

Ralph declined the offer. "I'll press on," he said, stepping down to the stone-terraced walk. The others chose to accept the farmer's kindness and Ralph headed back toward the road across the grassy field. Here and there he saw medics attending to wounded. Directly in his path he saw a civilian bent over a Nazi soldier whose breast was decorated with medals.

"Help me," the man said.

Ralph looked down and saw that the body lay headless. The man was trying to remove an officer's patent leather high-top boots.

"Come on. Get over there. Put your hands under his armpits so I can pull his boots off."

"Filthy cur," Ralph hissed.

"Where are you going? Look at these boots. My shoes have no soles."

Ralph was already walking away. There were more than two dozen dead from whom the man could have had shoes if he needed them this badly. Ralph rubbed the side of his nose with his fingertips and scratched at his cheek as he shuffled toward the road. He half turned his head and saw the man now on the ground with his foot pushing into the dead officer's crotch, yanking with both hands on the unyielding boot.

For half an hour Ralph continued along the road beneath an overcast sky. Suddenly an American jeep sputtered up behind causing him to jump as he was lost in his thoughts.

"Need a lift?"

Ralph studied their faces. This could turn out all right. In the next instant he was heading west answering questions and telling his story.

"Let's get you registered," one of the American G.I.'s said when they reached what appeared to be a base camp of sorts.

"Your English is pretty good," said the other who had been driving.

"So's yours," Ralph replied and the soldiers laughed.

He was ushered into a large hall where a small waiting area had been roped off. A soldier instructed him to fill out a form, which he accomplished with  minimal assistance. His scrawl was primarily block letters but all the important words were legible when the clerk reviewed it.

"Take a seat over here," he was instructed. About twenty minutes passed and another voice barked, "Kand!"

The room was full of tables and chairs where refugees were being processed. The man who called was across the way, gesturing with an open palm, "This way."

One of the soldiers who picked him up on the road came over and said something to the man processing Ralph’s paperwork. The man looked at Ralph with an inquisitive gaze. “He says you told him you were the second fastest typist in Estonia.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Why not the fastest? That’s something of a bizarre claim to make.”

“I didn’t want to sound like I was boasting, sir.”

“But you are boasting.”

“Yes, I understand that.”

These Americans laughed, too. The war must be going well for them. He had a hard time grasping their easy-going manner in such a harsh world.

“You also speak three languages?”

“Four fluently. And a bit of Finnish, Czech and a few words a Frenchman taught me. Enough to get by anyways.

The Americans lowered their voices to confer. Then the one who was seated said, “We’ll have to give you a typing test. We’re short on typists here and long on paperwork.”

“Come with me,” the soldier instructed.

Ralph limped to the far corner of the room where an idle typewriter awaited him. The soldier pulled the chair away from the table, inviting Ralph to take a seat.