Sunday, May 22, 2016

Art-a-Whirl Advice

Billed as the largest neighborhood art crawl in the United States, Art-a-Whirl is a three-day event spread across several square miles of Northeast Minneapolis. It incorporates a number of converted industrial buildings and warehouses with names like Grain Belt, Pillsbury, and Northrup King as well as quite a few smaller studios, galleries, shops, micro-breweries, food trucks, and ad hoc performance spaces.

If you want to have fun at Art-a-Whirl, take my advice: start early and focus on the smaller buildings.

The advantage of starting early is that it's still light out and the outdoorsy, neighborhood feel of the event rings out. The advantage of smaller buildings is that they're not unpleasantly labyrinthine.

We started our tour at the Casket Arts complex. We parked in the parking lot right next to the building and wandered into an expansive ceramic tile studio by way of the back door. We spent an hour or more exploring the light-filled halls of the building, passing all sorts of machinery as well as galleries lined with wood-block prints and oil paintings.

The building has high ceilings and a spacious feel.

We passed jeweler's studios and lithography presses, spoke to wood-carvers about the local walnut and painters about the effects to be gotten from mixing oils with bee's wax.  Snacks and wine were widely available.

My favorite painting was by Linda Seebauer Hansen (see above) who told me she mostly does jewelry. I was also impressed by the work of Eyenga Bokamba (see top).

I took one look at the work of Emily Gray Koehler, and said, "We were in a gallery somewhere in the Upper Peninsula ..."

"Calumet?" she replied.

"That might have been it. And the manager there had some very nice woodblock prints done by his niece, who had recently moved to Minneapolis..."

"That would be me."

"I thought so." 

Hilary bought a few of Emily's note cards, and her husband handed her a sticker that said "I bought art." 

A band was playing in the studio next door. It was good.

And naturally enough, in a city of three million people, we ran into our next-door neighbor and his girlfriend in one of the third-floor studios.

There was more art on view in the carriage house behind the old casket warehouse, and in the broad gravel courtyard a woman was painting a large, dead, upended tree trunk green. It was a beautiful evening, and I felt like I was out in the country somewhere rather than in the heart of the city.

A taco stand had been set up on the far side of courtyard, but we bought a jerk pork sandwich from a food truck out closer to the street. As we stood eating this dinner supplement, I spotted artist-friends Meleah (writer) and Mike (web-designer-turned-metal-sculptor) heading off down the sidewalk with purposeful strides.

We drove a few blocks to the Jackson Flats building, a new, government-subsidized apartment building restricted to bona fide artists near Central Avenue. Our niece, Liza, lives there, and we wanted to say hello and also see some of her new work. She'll be heading to Illinois in a few weeks with partner Luis and son Ellis, where all three of them hope to further their budding careers.

While we were at Liza's studio we chatted with a woman who works at the Como Zoo and has developed an interesting relationship with the orangutans there.

We also swapped some opinions about local restaurants with a tattoo artist who does most of his economic transactions by barter. He was a nice fellow, but he seemed unusually excited about evading taxes, considering that he was living in a tax-subsidized apartment. (Well, that's an old fogy comment if ever there was one. I tend to forget that back when I was living la vie boheme, I once got $4,000 in relocation money from the government for moving out of a shared apartment with a $150 monthly rent. It financed our first trip to France!) 

"If I ever decide to get a tattoo, you're my guy," I said as we left.

By this time my knees were sore from standing around, and I'd had enough art for one evening, but as we were leaving the neighborhood—it was now dark—I spotted the Thorpe Building, or what I thought was the Thorpe Building.

"I think the studio of the guy who did that drawing--you know, the one I'm thinking of using on that book cover--is in that building," I said.

"Well, there's a parking spot right there on the street," Hilary observed. It was too good to pass up.

The doors on the building's loading dock were open, and as we approached I could hear someone inside pounding on a trap set, loudly. Just inside the main door we passed a TV studio where techies were throwing up video effects behind middle-aged people doing karaoke routines. Men and women were passing back and forth through the halls, perhaps a little wilder in appearance than the ones we'd seen at Casket Arts. Perhaps a little more drunk.

I located a directory and got a second-floor studio number which sent us down a very long hall where all the doors were shut and stairs were nowhere in sight. As we walked the drumming grew fainter, which was nice, but I wasn't sure we were getting anywhere until we met up with a man just closing his studio.

When I mentioned the name of the artist we were looking for--Scott Helmes--the man said, "I think he's over in the Thorpe Building. You can see it here out the window. There's a tunnel, but it might be easier to go out and around."

"But I thought this was Thorpe Building."

Another hundred yards of twisting hallway and we were once again out on the street. But which street? I had no idea. It was a major thoroughfare, much more open than Broadway. For an instant I felt like I'd passed through a space warp and emerged in Detroit. It was an oddly pleasant feeling.

The sound of drumming once again filled the air, but these were African drums. A small crowd of people was standing around in a parking lot across the busy street near a food truck with a white canvas awning.

I was still groping for my inner sense of north and south when I spotted Diamonds Coffee Shop. Of course. Central Avenue.

Taking a narrow stairway next to the coffee-shop entrance we reached the studio at long last. The sign on the door said "Hours: Saturday 3 to 5."

 *    *    *

We did venture out again on Saturday but we steered well clear of the Thorpe Building. We visited the Pillsbury A Mill (too swanky and corporate) and the California Building (nice studios and quite a bit of hard-core traditional oil painting on display.)

There was an art glass studio on the sixth floor and a woman making note cards on a Platten press on the first. Among my favorite artists was Donna Bruni, whose studio happened to be the last one we visited.

To judge from these brief remarks, it would seem that my tastes run from slightly stylized, boldly colored woodcuts of animals and natural phenomena to subtle abstractions. As for the middle ground, realistic landscapes, they also appeal to me, but they rarely satisfy for long.

Stepping out into the cool evening air of Northeast Minneapolis, I was once again struck by how easy it is to love the outdoors, but how hard to capture its evanescent moods on film or canvas.

1 comment:

helmes said...

Sorry I was closed. Call or email and I will be there just for you. Check out Art Force Academy blog for studio your. Thanks Wordially Scott. or 612/790'7572.