Tuesday, September 03, 2013

State Fair Fine Art Review - Part 1

2013 Commemorative Poster by Marie Olofsdotter Acrylic On Canvas
September 2, 2013

The Minnesota State Fair runs for twelve days from late August through Labor Day and awards ribbons for everything from maple syrup to prize Holsteins. Each year the Fair accepts hundreds of applications from Minnesota artists throughout the state for inclusion in the Fine Arts Exhibit. Amateurs and professionals alike are represented and a selection committee must decide on whose work to include. Take it from me, it isn't very easy to get accepted in to the exhibit. I know more than a few accomplished artists who haven't made the cut.

For the hundred or so artists that are selected, it can be a once in a lifetime chance to have their work seen by tens of thousands of people. No other art fair or gallery will bring a local artist the kind of exposure, measured by eyeballs on art, that the State Fair will bring them. Perhaps just as importantly it reminds artists and art lovers alike of the tremendous talent right here in Minnesota. For the casual observer it is also a chance to experience a wide variety of artist work they might not otherwise get the opportunity to see.

Fair goers viewing the art in the Fine Arts Building
The Fine Arts exhibit at the Fair is an annual quest for me and one I look forward to from the last day of the Fair until it comes around the next year. I visit the Fine Arts building as frequently as I can, sometimes spending long periods just looking at as many pieces as I can. Since the State Fair only lasts for twelve short days it makes the time all the more special.

I will use the word, "opinion" to describe my assessment of the art and for the record I never studied fine art formally. I am not trained to see art as an art critic might and I have no special abilities other than my love of art to lead me to share my thoughts here. Although I have been a student of art for a very long time, my academic education is in history. So I hope readers will forgive me if my views or opinions don't agree completely with their own.

In this series I am going to share my thoughts about a fairly narrow band of the work that is on display this year. I do this because it would be overwhelming and unfair for me to try to write something deserving about each piece in such a large exhibit. Instead I've decided to focus mostly on paintings. Apologies in advance to the sculptors, welders, woodworkers and others who this series overlooks.

At the end of this series I am going to offer my opinion on the best pieces among those I am writing about. Whether you happen to agree or not, please feel free to leave a comment.

Ice Fisherman - Keith Alan Dixon - Oil on Linen
This first painting is by Minneapolis artist Keith Alan Dixon. This large work by Dixon grabs you and forces some interesting questions. For example, what would Rembrandt think?

I am drawn to the darkness and subtle treatment of this characters features. The soft lines around the head and coat remind the viewer that less is more. This is a strong work that evokes a sense of memory and subtle sophistication. I like because it isn't over-wrought.

Carol Zartner brings vibrant life to this wooded scene with her pastel work. The artist exhibits a careful touch and great sense of color, capturing the rich depth and understated mystery of the woods. The foreground works with the rest of the composition to draw the viewer deeper into the painting.

Along The Edge - Carol Zartner - Pastel
Here is a fine example of the work of David Cunningham, a Minneapolis painter. There are actually two Cunningham's represented in this years exhibit and yes, they are related. More on the other Cunningham later. David is a fantastic young artist whose work I first encountered a few years ago during the St. Paul Art Crawl.

City Lights - David Cunningham - Oil On Panel
I was immediately drawn to his use of composition and color to capture mood. His painting, City Lights, expertly makes use of contrasting shifts in value to deepen the sense of place. The viewer can immediately identify with rainy street scene, but if you walk away too quickly you'll miss some of the fun mystery in this painting. I leave it to you to seek them out, but can promise that the pause is well worth it.

More of David Cunningham's work can be found here:

This painting is titled Chicken & Marbles by Armondo Guitierrez from Mendota Heights. Mr Gutierrez's careful rendering demonstrates significant skill, but the use of gentle shifts in color and highlights help elevate this work. The shadows in the marbles and the reflective plastic sheet in the foreground combine an interesting aesthetic.

The French call a similar technique, "trompe l'oeil" painting or literally translated as, "deceive the eye". Guitierrez's rendering gives the viewer a sense that they could reach out and touch the objects. 

Whether the painting is meant to convey a playfulness or more serious statement is up to interpretation, but either way Guitierrez does a fantastic job in this painting. 

I'm not exactly sure how artist Kevan Willington achieved it, but if you examine this painting entitled, "Michaela" closely, the thick paint has the look of sectional, raised stained glass pieces. When I first caught a glimpse of it I thought it might be encaustic wax, but it isn't. 

Michaela - Oil
Both the subject matter and unique application of paint make this one of the most adventurous pieces I encountered this year. The painting takes chances and several levels such as sheer size, application of paint and content. I appreciate what Willington is trying to do in this work and commend the result.

The next painting is a fascinating work in acrylic by artist Erik Krenz from Minneapolis. Titled, "Antarctica" this little painting takes you back in time and puts you in a big scene. Looking at this work it's easy to imagine yourself back in the age of discovery, along the frigid coast of Antarctica with the Penguins. Krenz uses great technique in the painting to define objects through contrasting light and shadow, values and color.

Erik Krenz is an outstanding illustrator whose work tells a story. I enjoyed the time I spent with this painting. Of all the work at the State Fair this year, this one inspired my childhood imagination the most. You can learn more about Mr. Krenz's work at his website:

Antarctica - Erik Krenz - Acrylic

Part II of my State Fair Art Review is coming soon. Please check back coming days for more.

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