This is the presentation that I gave at the Wichita Art Museum‘s Art Chatter on Friday, October 9th. Art Chatter follows the PechaKucha format, where each presenter is limited to 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide, so I’m not sure how well this will come across as a blog post. But here goes.
While remodeling our kitchen in 2010, my son, Adam, inspired me to create a painting using a broken scrap of panelling. When I framed out the panel following the broken edge, I though I had stumbled on something new for myself in my work.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I’ve working with weird shapes for a long time. So, now I’d like to explore the origins of this interest and show some examples from my work over the years. The finished painting on the right is called “The Dynamic Duo.”
When you have 10 children, you have to be resourceful. Mom would sometimes sew our clothes on her old Singer sewing machine. And of course those clothes would be handed down through the ranks. There are 5 years of age between my brother, John, and I, so you know that shirt had a nice long life.
Dad was of the generation who would build or fix just about anything. After retiring from a long stint with the State of North Dakota, his first project was to re-shingle the roof of our house. So it was my own family that inspired me to be a maker, a builder, a tinkerer.
Dad was a WWII veteran, and though he was in the infantry, I was fascinated with every aspect of that era, in particular the aircraft. This is a spread from a book that I’ve had since I was a kid. Of the many plastic airplane models I built, the Corsair was one of my favorites.
I don’t want to embarrass myself too much, but here are a couple of works from my undergraduate days, mostly to show that I was already starting to think a little bit outside the rectangle. On the left is a self-portrait using model airplane parts, and on the right a painting project using a street sign and a hubcap. Both of these are from the late 1980s.
I spent many, many hours of my Catholic church-going youth examining the details of the Gothic architecture, the sculptural stations of the cross, and the beautiful if intimidating stained-glass windows. This is St. Mary’s Catholic church in Bismarck, N.D., where I grew up.
My MFA thesis show at Wichita State University in 1993 was a mix of prints, drawings and sculptural works like the piece on the right called “Reliquary for the Little Man”. It was made of plexiglas and steel, with a button that activates a light underneath layers of screen-printed plex.
My older sisters taught me a lot about drawing, but I also paid close attention to other artists who I admired. Antonio Prohias was a master of creating very active compositions that seemed to defy the page. I also love the way he drew textures like brick, stone, woodgrain and tree bark.
I made a series of paintings in 1996 on unfolded brown paper bags. Probably not the world’s most archival surface to paint on, but I love the unevenness of the edges. These are acrylic, collage and graphite.
Another early influence was my brother-in-law, John Bergmeier, partly for his own work which you see on the left, but also because he turned me on to Robert Rauschenberg, who is famous for his combine paintings of the 1950s. I had a chance to see Rauschenberg’s “Interview” at the MOCA in Los Angeles in the mid 1990s.
“No Dumping” from 1996 is a very Rauschenberg-inspired piece made from a shipping pallet, an old toaster, a broom. You might be surprised to learn this piece did not sell. Don’t worry though – I was able to repurpose the sand pail from the bottom for the painting on the right, “Sawblades and Sand Pails” from 2001.
My first car was a 1973 Chevy Nova. It was kind of a beater, but after 10 years of driving it, I got pretty good at rebuilding the carburetor. I paid $1200 dollars for the car in 1985, and when it was totaled in 1995, the insurance company wrote me a check for $1200.
These are from a series of works I did in 2001 for the “Constructed Visions” show at Butler County Community College’s White Gallery. Each piece is hinged and they include such odds and ends as an electrical insulator, a fishing bobber and various toilet parts.
When I went to the Yard in 2003 in search of materials for “Melting Pot”, I was really excited to find a piece of aluminum that had fallen down off the stack into the roadway, where it had been driven over several times. When I carried it over to the guy to weigh it, he took one look at me and said, “Now that’s art!”
Several years of my design career were spent designing for packaging. The dieline is essentially the plan for how a flat piece of corrugated is trimmed and scored so that it can be folded up and assembled into a box that holds the product.
One night I had a dream. In the dream I saw the shape of a print that I knew I had to make. Later, I was in the studio and there was a box there. I grabbed the box and unfolded it and that was it – it was the shape I had seen in my dream! The kind of sad part about this is that my vision was basically a 12-pack beer carton.
I always loved the United State map puzzle when I was a kid. I think of it as one of the early ways that I began to think about my identity in terms of how I fit into the larger world, the world outside my yard or my neighborhood.
These days, my work is about finding a balance between all the different roles that I play – as an artist and a designer, a teacher, a husband and a father, and, of course, the household fix-it guy.
So for me, the weird shapes represent the puzzle pieces of my identity that can fit together in a whole range of different ways to create the complete picture.
My fellow presenters and myself, from left: Wichita Collegiate School theater director Emily Ottaway Goodpasture, Wichita Symphony Orchestra violinist Dominique Corbeil, City of Wichita landscape architect Larry Hoetmer, Apples & Arrows brand strategist Todd Ramsey, myself, Fish Haus co-founder Eric Schmidt (just outside the crop), musician Torin Andersen (not pictured).
Photo courtesy Deanna Harms.