Article

Behind the Process: Artists Confess All (well… some, anyway)
By access+ENGAGE
January 26, 2006
David Danielson
Photomontage artist, David Danielson in a self-portrait

David Danielson

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Sometimes, insights on the “artistic process” benefit from more life<br /> context: a little behind-the-scenes dirt on junk food, TV, and unsavory teenage<br /> employment
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Paul Bunyan! Taco Bell! Pirates! Evil Twin Sisters!

 

Sometimes, insights on the “artistic process” benefit from more life context: a little behind-the-scenes dirt on junk food, TV, and unsavory teenage employment. We asked a few notable Minnesota artists to give us the skinny on their lives, their work, and a few of their guilty pleasures.

 

David Danielson: photomontage/collage artist, Roseau, MN

 

As a kid, what art first impressed you?

I was impressed with the talking Paul Bunyan in Brainerd—it waved, called your name, and rolled its eyes.

 

What's the worst job you’ve ever had?

I had a summer job at a farm implement dealership which required that I handle cases of dynamite—the old, unstable kind that could blow up for no reason.

 

What constitutes a perfect day?

Sleeping till noon, sex, a check in the mail and a confirmed World Perks ticket to Italy.

 

Favorite comfort food?

Poutine, a French-Canadian concoction featuring french fries with cheese curds and gravy. The secret to my Canadian girlfriend’s recipe involves frying fresh cut fries twice with a cheese sauce, in place of the curds.

 

When did you consider yourself a "real" artist?

I think when my sixth grade teacher deftly used child psychology by allowing me to exhibit my drawings of monsters and pirates on the classroom lockers instead of making me sit in the hall.

 

Who, living or dead, would you love to have over for an intimate dinner?

UltraViolet and Nico, maybe Andy. I would like to hear all the dirt behind-the-scenes at the Factory.

 

Favorite TV show past or present?

The Avengers, which started my life long passion for manor-born Euro-vixens and aristocratic decadence.

 

What political/global issue gets you most worked up?

The exporting of Middle America's culture and lifestyle. I would hate to see the rest of world end up looking like a beige Twin Cities suburb.

 

Best underappreciated arts resource in Minnesota?

Frank Lloyd Wright's gas station in Cloquet, MN, which interestingly, is still a working gas station (thank God) not a souvenir shop or boutique.

 

What’s the most memorable brush with fame?

I ran into Bill Maher in Amsterdam's Red Light district in 1999. Being politically correct, I didn't take a picture—and if prostitutes see you with a camera, they’re likely to throw you in the canal with it.

 

Favorite day trip destination?

The Northwest Angle, a sometimes forgotten cartographer's error of Minnesota territory, accessible only by water or Canada. Once there (unless you have a boat) you have to call Canadian customs from an outside phone that usually isn't working before leaving or your fined.

 

You can see a few pieces from Danielson by visiting The Lake County Forest Preserves’ 2005 Postcard Competition and Exhibition; or take a look at his irreverent photographic contribution to Icebox Minnesota.

 

 

Duane Mickelson: sculptor, Hawley, MN

 

What's the first record you bought with your own money?

The soundtrack from the movie Mondo Cane is the first record I remember buying (at a Coast to Coast hardware store, of all places!).

 

What's the worst job you've ever had?

Picking rocks from farm fields surrounding my hometown of Hawley. It was hot and dusty, and you had to watch for errant stones thrown toward the wagon by boys who were too lazy to carry them up to the wagon.

 

Who, living or dead, would you love to have over for an intimate dinner?

I would have to say the sculptor, Alexander Calder. His work was so playful and, at times, humorous.

 

What books are on your nightstand right now?

Scandinavian Folk Belief and Legend and Masks of Mystery: Ancient Chinese Bronzes From Sanxingdui.

 

The best advice you ever received?

You can never fail at art because you have complete control; if you don’t like the results, you can change or correct them.

 

What personal failure are you most grateful for?

Getting an occasional rejection from a juried show in some ways makes me grateful, because it urges me to make stronger art.

 

Favorite way to keep warm during the long Minnesota winter?

I like to start a fire in our wood stove and spend time working on small sculptures while watching a movie or listening to jazz.

 

Best underappreciated arts resource in Minnesota?

Minnesota artists.

 

You can catch some of Mickelson’s new sculpture at CornucopiaArtCenter’s “Sculpture Invitational”.

 

 

Kao Lee Thao: 3-D animator and painter, Savage, MN

 

What constitutes the perfect day?

Waking up to the smell of fresh coffee and ending the day with the smell of turpentine—if I could paint all day, I would.

 

Best underappreciated arts resource in Minnesota?

Center for Hmong Arts and Talent (CHAT); I have CHAT to thank for inspiring me to start painting.

 

What’s the most vivid nightmare you remember from your childhood?

I dreamed I had an evil twin sister and it made me realize how cruel I could be. It was the scariest dream–I still get goose bumps thinking about it.

 

Favorite comfort food?

I love sushi!

 

The best advice you ever received?

Never give up on your passion, even if it means you will become a starving artist.

 

What political/global issue gets you most worked up?

The genocide that is occurring in the jungles of Laos. I feel helpless but, at the same time, very fortunate to be in America.

 

Thao’s paintings documenting the Hmong immigrant experience and a wide assortment of her work in a variety of media are available online. You can get a feel for Kao Lee Thao’s enchanting animation work by visiting Folklore Studio.

 

 

Stephen Burt: poet and writer, St. Paul, MN

 

Whose art first impressed you as a kid?

At age twelve I was, if I remember correctly, equally excited by William Butler Yeats, by the science fiction writer Robert Silverberg, and by both the visuals and the music on the Yes double album Tales From Topographic Oceans. Make of that what you will.

 

What constitutes the perfect day?

At the moment, the answer is "The day our son gets born," since we're in week 37 of pregnancy! Other sorts of perfect days might involve Democrats winning the statehouse, the White House, and Congress; the discovery of lost works by William Empson; the Minnesota Lynx defeating the Connecticut Sun in overtime for the WNBA championship; or tasty, tart, and heretofore-unheard of tropical fruit.

 

The best advice you ever received?

This is a tie between my mom, who said, "Finish one thing before you start the next," and the critic David Bromwich, who said, and I paraphrase slightly, "There are only three rules you need to remember as a writer: finished work is better than unfinished work; books are better than articles; good work is better than bad work."

 

If you could collaborate artistically with someone alive now, who would it be?

Film/TV category: Joss Whedon. Music category: Scott Miller, or maybe Marcy Mays and Sue Harshe from Scrawl, (I’m still bummed out that Scrawl are on “extended hiatus.”) Poet category: Forrest Gander and C. D. Wright (at the same time).

 

Favorite way to keep warm during the long Minnesota winter?

Golden Gopher women's basketball games. It's never cold in the Barn.

 

Best underappreciated arts resource in Minnesota?

Public library systems, all of them.

 

Favorite day trip destination?

We like the pie at the Norske Nook in Osseo, Wisconsin a lot. Really, a lot. Inordinately. Enough to make it a destination. Does that count?

 

Burt has written sestinas, poetry reviews, and odes to the WNBA for a number of major print and online publications, among them McSweeney’s, Slate.com, The Believer, The Boston Globe, and The Washington Post. His new collection of poetry, Parallel Play, is due out in early 2006, and you can visit his blog, too.

 

 

 

Haley Bonar: musician, Duluth, MN

 

What’s the first record you bought with your own money?

The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

 

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

I worked at a Taco Bell in Rapid City, South Dakota for a couple months when I was about 15. I had to wear a uniform that was too big, and I always smelled like lard (*) and frozen meat.

 

Who, living or dead, would you love to have over for an intimate dinner?

Neil Young or Johnny Cash.

 

When did you first consider yourself a "real" artist?

I don’t really know the difference between a "real" artist and a "fake" artist

 

What books are on your nightstand right now?

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer.

 

What political/global issue gets you most worked up?

Recycling. I think it should be illegal not to recycle, especially for bars. We waste so much in this country it makes me physically ill to think about.

 

Favorite TV show?

I Love Lucy.

 

What constitutes the perfect day?

Sun, no work and writing a good song.

 

You can listen to some of Haley’s haunting tunes and keep track of where she’s playing on her website.

 

 

Samantha Bremer: fashion photographer, Los Angeles (expat Minnesotan)

 

Who, living or dead, would you love to have over for an intimate dinner?

Gianni Versace, Angelina Jolie, JFK, a few of my relatives that were alive in the 1920s and before… Marilyn Monroe, and my four best friends.

 

When did you first consider yourself a "real" artist?

I always have.

 

What books are on your nightstand right now?

Fashion magazines... W, Elle, Vogue, Paper, Bazaar, Flaunt, Zink, Metro Pop, Vanity Fair, and Surface.

 

The best advice you ever received?

Never to trust most people.

 

Favorite way to keep warm during the long Minnesota winter?

Living in California (wink).

 

 

Mark Wojahn: filmmaker/performer, Minneapolis, MN

 

What’s the first record you bought with your own money?

RUSH, Moving Pictures.

What’s the most vivid nightmare you remember from your childhood?

Dying of a viral infection: the cells grew exponentially, like in a Ross Bleckner painting, and in my mind I was trying to count them. I would lose count and as I felt that death was imminent, I would wake up.

Favorite comfort food?

Garlic mashed potatoes with venison tenderloin in a port wine reduction and green beans with almonds.

When did you first consider yourself a “real” artist?

When I got out of college and could make own projects—and work from my ideas and not the ones from my professors—then I felt I was a real artist. That was almost 14 years ago, and it still feels great.


What personal failure are you most grateful for?

Having a child at 27 years old was a crazy act of romantic love that made no logical sense, but it changed my worldview and helped me focus less on my own didactic ideas and more on the sublime.

Best underappreciated arts resource in Minnesota?

It is a tie between the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and mnartists.org.

What’s your most memorable brush with fame?

I was working on a commercial gig last year with the famed Oscar-winning documentarian Barbara Kopple. Over lunch we talked about how it is important to never betray your subject’s confidence. It was an important and valuable piece of advice.

 

Wojahn’s current projects include a bold new documentary on politics with a populist flavor, What America Needs; an edgy film exploring life for one Minneapolis family, OSLA: 4 Teens and 2 Parents on the Edge. A sampling of his new artwork can also be found here and here.

 

 

Chuck Hues: muralist/illustrator, Rochester, MN

 

Whose art first impressed you as a kid?

Disney cartoons and the Children’s Illustrated Encyclopedia—the works of the original masters frustrated me so much that I literally scribbled on top of several pieces in the encyclopedia, particularly on top of those scenes involving war or still life… go figure.

 

When did you first consider yourself a “real” artist?

At about age 3, when a man in the waiting room of a doctor’s office called several people over to view a drawing that I had been working on. (Kids really do listen! Positive support matters.)

 

What books are on your nightstand right now?

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and David Bach’s Smart Couples Finish Rich. (Guess which one I’m spending the most time with…)

 

What’s your favorite way to keep warm for the Minnesota winter?

My favorite way to keep warm during the long Minnesota winter is by using full spectrum bulbs in every light in the house. Also, warm apricot brandy with a kitty sitting on your lap sure doesn’t hurt.

 

What’s your most memorable brush with fame?

When I was four years old, Elvis was getting off of the elevator that my family was waiting on, and as he passed us he patted me on the head and paused to admire my twin siblings in their double-wide stroller. (So, I have been touched by the King.)

 

Chuck Hues has a variety of mural and illustration work available online: you can visit his personal website, see his illustrations for children here and here, and look over his murals, too.

 

 

 

Zac Bentz: DJ and musician, Duluth, MN

 

Whose art first impressed you as a kid?

I'd have to say Derek Riggs's cover for Iron Maiden's Seventh Son of a Seventh Son album, Larry Elmore's cover for the 3rd (green) Dungeons & Dragons box set, or any of Alan Lee's work for the Lord of the Rings books.

 

What’s the first record you bought with your own money?

Michael Jackson's Thriller. The second was Twisted Sisters' Stay Hungry. That sort of says it all I think.

 

What constitutes the perfect day?

Having the time to read a book, play a few video games, work on some music, watch a lot of anime, and generally avoid leaving the house—all without having that nagging feeling that I'm wasting my time.

 

When did you first consider yourself a “real” artist?

I've never considered myself a real artist. I still have to work 9-5 every weekday. When people pay me to stay at home and write music, THEN I'll be a real artist.

 

The best advice you ever received?

Never change who you are in order to make someone else happy.

 

Favorite way to keep warm during the long Minnesota winter?

Stay in the house with a pile of pets.

 

But wait, there’s more… You can visit Zac’s bands’ (yes, plural) websites here:

http://www.xeromusic.com/

 

MN Artists