On a Saturday visit to Minnesota artist Ken Moylan's studio, I felt as if I were overlooking a garden in Kyoto, Japan, even though my feet were planted in St Louis Park.
Moylan (no relation to MPR reporter Martin Moylan) creates three-dimensional artwork that gives the viewer the sense of standing in a space, looking through a window and onto a view. His artwork typically consists of an intricately detailed window frame surrounding an oil painting that contains the realism and plays of light similar to the work of American landscape painters such as Thomas Moran or Albert Bierstadt.
Much of Moylan's work depicts places he's actually visited. Kyoto's Ginkaku-ji Temple, for example. "It's communicating the way I see things, trying to give as much of an experience of that," Moylan says. "I communicate through my work."
Ken Moylan's Ginkaku-ji (2006)
Moylan's art combines what he calls "the big three": painting, sculpture and architecture. "Those are the three widely accepted strong categories of fine art, historically," he says. "I thought the combination was a great idea for making grounded, strong work and for having a fertile ground of ideas, references and inspirations."
A recent work is Moylan's Great Buddha of Bamiyan, which portrays a view of a massive stone carving in Afghanistan. The actual Great Buddha was created circa 300 CE but was destroyed by the Taliban in 1999.
Great Buddha of Bamiyan (2010)
"I was inspired to preserve the memory apart from what the fanatics did to it," Moylan explains. "It's like when someone close to you dies, you don't necessarily want to have their death mask around. You'd rather remember the good memories, so maybe it's similar to that."
A full-time artist since 1981, Moylan grew up in Eveleth, Minn., and attended the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where he studied printmaking, painting and drawing. Moylan's unique artwork evolved from a vision he had that riffed on Marcel Duchamp's 1924 sculpture Fresh Widow. He's been expanding on that vision ever since.
"I have an order in which I do things, and it's totally opposite of the order that any other artist works in," Moylan says of his process. "Most artists make a painting and then they'll frame it or get it framed. Mine physically starts with the frame."
When he begins a new work, Moylan makes a scale drawing and determines time of day, direction of light, materials and composition. He then builds the wooden frame, using inlay techniques such as intarsia and marquetry to develop the architectural space. From there, he'll do any stonework or carving. The final steps involve applying gesso to the surface that will be painted, then using oil paints to create the view outside the window. "I go through rolls and rolls of masking tape," Moylan chuckles. "All the detail work I do at the end is done with really small brushes, and I burn through them at a ridiculous rate."
Paintbrushes in Ken Moylan's studio
Japanese landscapes are close to Moylan's heart. His wife is originally from Japan and after spending much time there, Moylan was inspired to do a series of Japanese places. He's currently working on a piece called Hiroshima Hypocenter, which depicts a view from a shattered casement after the 1945 atomic blast. "Since that moment 65 years ago, the whole world just shifted, just changed, and it affected everything about everything from that moment on," Moylan says.
Hiroshima Hypocenter (2010)
He's also delving into the world of imagination by bringing to life the fantastical works of Giovanni Battista Piranesi, an 18th-century engraver who etched a series of imagined views. True to form, Moylan is creating an architectural space the viewer can inhabit.
Moylan poses with his Piranesi-inspired work, still in progress.
Although he has made many standalone paintings, Moylan thinks his works that integrate the frame communicate more powerfully. "If they were just paintings, I don't think that they would be really anything all that special," he says. "To me, it's not enough. I have something else to contribute. ... I think having that added illusion and that added sense of point-of-view creates a much more engaging work to experience."
More of Moylan's work as well as a list of his exhibitions, commissions and the collections in which his work appears are on his website, kenmoylan.com.(4 Comments)
Posted at 9:02 AM on December 8, 2010
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: News and reviews
Here's a look at the arts stories making headlines...
Is the Northside Arts Collective finished? Board of directors say yes, many members say no
Sheila Regan, TC Daily Planet
In the organization's December newsletter, the Northside Arts Collective's board chair Kelly Hoffman wrote that the board has voted to start the process of legally dissolving the organization.
Rogue Citizen: 100 Creatives
- Jessica Armbruster, City Pages
There's a reason so many bands break up just as they are on the threshold of stardom: It's very difficult to work creatively as a group. This is an obstacle that artists Rogue Citizen expertly navigate with each collaborative project they take on.
"Painting Zombies" at the University of Minnesota's Katherine E. Nash Gallery
- Maddy Hughes, TC Daily Planet
The description of the exhibition featured in its press release claimed that the works "exemplify and stretch the bounds of 21st century painting practice." Really?
2 from Twin Cities win national arts fellowships
- Rohan Preston, Star Tribune
Twin Cities-based playwright Carlyle Brown and sculptor Siah Armajani were honored with $50,000 prizes by the program United States Artists.
Prince's "Purple Rain" named to Grammy Hall of Fame
- Jon Bream, Star Tribune
The soundtrack to "Purple Rain" won an Oscar, a Grammy and a Diamond Award for selling 10 million copies. Now the landmark 1984 album by Prince & the Revolution has been named to the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Curtiss A prepares for his 31st annual John Lennon tribute show
- Cyn Collins, City Pages
Now in its 30th year, the John Lennon Tribute is the stuff of legends, a magical mystery tour lasting four to five hours and spanning over 50 songs from Lennon's vast and varied musical career.
Cepia talks influences, remixing, and working with M.I.A.
- Danny Sigelman, City Pages
Amidst albums hoping to become stocking stuffers or to be put under the Hanukah bush this week comes the newest offering from Twin Cities electronic music maestro Huntley Miller, a.k.a. Cepia.
Minnesotans on ice: Three natives swirl and glide with the gang in 'Disney on Ice'
- Erica Tasto, Pioneer Press
Meet the local skaters inside the costumes and on the ice in the production of "Disney on Ice" that opens Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center: Woodbury native Cassie Deilke, 27; Apple Valley native Kathryn Meyer, 21; and Rochester native Heidi Herness, 18.
'Super-Powered Revenge Christmas #1' drawn with off-kilter lines
- Dominic P. Papatola, Pioneer Press
When it comes to Twin Cities holiday shows, traditionalists have their "Christmas Carol(s)," while gospel fans have "Black Nativity" and cynics have "Santaland Diaries." The aesthetic stockings of comic book geeks have, alas, gone unfilled by local performance companies. Until now.
Open Eye Figure Theatre's Holiday Pageant sticks a pincushion under the holiday season
Lea Sorrentino, TC Daily Planet
The performances by the cast and puppeteers are comical and at times enchanting, but the sarcasm of the play overshadows the intended holiday spirit.
'The Match Girl's Gift' offers a new holiday experience
- Ed Huyck, City Pages
A new entry to the crowded holiday theater scene is a piece adapted from another famed 19th-century Christmas tale.
In the Heart of the Beast's "La Befana" is a warm, rich story on all scales
- Leslie Kruempel, TC Daily Planet
In the Heart of the Beast presents a puppet show based on the old Italian folk legend of a lonely woman who goes in search of the Holy Child.
Superheroes and camp for Christmas
- Max Sparber, MinnPost.com
We Twin Citians always seem to be offered a dose of irony, or cynicism, or whatever else we need to make our hearts grow three sizes smaller when it all gets a bit much.
Daniel Gerroll as Scrooge and Noah Ross as Tiny Tim in the Guthrie Theater's "A Christmas Carol"
Photo: Michal Daniel
Are you considering taking in the Guthrie Theater's newly adapted "A Christmas Carol?" Read on to find out what the critics think. (click on their names to read the full reviews)
In the Guthrie Theater's new production of A Christmas Carol, Daniel Gerroll's Ebenezer Scrooge prowls through London making sarcastic observations about the world around him, enjoying his own acid wit and declining all opportunities to actually engage with the people who fill the city's bustling streets. This show didn't inspire me to reflect on the meaning of Christmas, but it did cause me to rethink the amount of time I spend on Twitter...
The fatal flaw of this production--a flaw that begins with the script but is exacerbated by Dowling's direction and Gerroll's performance--is a confusion of tone that constantly muddies the story's emotional waters. Every few minutes, Gerroll is given, and enthusiastically takes, the opportunity to make fun of something. This gets some laughs, yes, but those laughs come at the price of character development. Given that A Christmas Carol is one of literature's most iconic character-development pieces, that's a very high price to pay.
That new production, which opened Friday in Minneapolis, is darker, funnier and more contemporary than its predecessor. Though it is still set in 1843 London, Dowling's robust, still-gelling production speaks clearly to 21st-century audiences...
"Carol," which mixes theatrical styles, is infused with music but is not a musical (not yet, anyway). And, by the end of the evening, Dowling and his team pull off a difficult balancing act by transmitting the essence of the holiday story about Scrooge's conversion from myopic misanthrope to giddy humanitarian while also illuminating its refreshed humor and heart.
The result is a charmingly entertaining re-telling that only occasionally strays from Dickens's all-too-familiar story. When it does deviate from the original, it's usually to inject some comic relief and freshen up Scrooge's visions. I won't ruin the jokes for you, except to say that Scrooge (played by Daniel Gerroll) is a more sarcastic S.O.B. than usual, and much of the play's humor comes from his amusing irreverence. As he does when directing Shakespeare, Dowling takes small liberties in order to pepper the proceedings with laughter, even if it means sacrificing some dramatic tension here and there. Better a laugh than a lull is Dowling's motto, so--though the play has been stretched back out to 2 hours and 15 minutes--the action bubbles along quite pleasantly.
Joe Dowling's direction keeps the pace moving quickly. In this new world of sound bytes and media speed, the uptempo staging keeps your eyes glued to the stage. Blink your eyes and you may miss something. Daniel Gerroll's vigorous Scrooge is something new. Gone is the elderly, crotchety Ebeneezer and in his place is a man of vigor and strength determined to continue his life's work of amassing riches. Does it work? Yes, it does. Scrooge is the centerpiece if the play and his vigor keeps you locked into his journey...
The play walks a fine line between comedy and poignancy. The unabashed moments of Christmas fairy dust that floats in and out of the production still bring Christmas wonder. And one of the reasons audiences return to A Christmas Carol again and again is to try and grasp a few tinseled threads of that wonder. And on that point, the Guthrie's production delivers - beautifully.
...Whittell has also added humor that sometimes weakens the power of key moments. When Scrooge is confronted with frightening ghosts -- including Marley and the wonderfully horrific Ghost of Christmas Future -- instead of quaking with fear, he spouts funny lines. We don't get to savor the transformative scariness of those scenes because we're laughing instead -- and a comic Scrooge doesn't seem very nasty. Later, Scrooge says he's not known for his sense of humor, which is true of Dickens' character, but not of this one.
Whittell has also included a sequence from Dickens' original which is usually cut in adaptations -- in which the boy Scrooge interacts with Ali Baba and Robinson Crusoe's parrot when he's left alone at school over the holidays. Although this conveys the idea that Scrooge escaped into reading and imagination to dispel his loneliness, it also makes it seem like he wasn't really that miserable after all.
Have you seen this year's production of "A Christmas Carol?" If so, what did you think? Share your reviews in the comments section.
It's a big month in the Hollihan/Williams household.
For one thing Keith Hollihan's debut novel "The Four Stages of Cruelty," hits bookstores this week, and he'll do his official book-launch tomorrow at the Loft in Minneapolis.
The novel hits the ground running, having already been named one of the top books of 2010 by Publishers Weekly.
"I hope it gives the book some extra steam," he told me the other day when he came to MPR to talk about the book. "I really, really appreciate the recognition - love to get some more!" he smiled.
The novel is a tense prison tale which swirls around the drama caused by, of all things, a hand-drawn comic book. It goes missing after a prisoner is found hanged in an abandoned part of the building, and everyone has a different theory of its role in the death.
You can hear our interview about how he came to write the novel on ATC tonight, and on the MPRNews page.
However it's not just in the literary world Hollihan is getting exposure. He is married to Rosemary Williams, an artist who attracted some attention for her project to visit every store in the Mall of America, to collect a bag from each one.
Williams latest show "Belongings" opens at the Soap Factory on December 18th.
"Hopefully, we're both having a good December," Hollihan said.
"With this show she literally videotaped herself holding every single object in our house, including every scrap of paper, every toothbrush. It took her a great deal of time, and more computer memory than I think anyone would have expected."
The video images will be displayed on screens around the Soap Factory Gallery. Hollihan says it was a painstaking experience, and one which had an unexpected consequence.
"I think that interestingly that the genesis for that was when her father passed away,' he continued. "And she brought home some of his belongings that seemed so attached to him as a person, as a personality. And when they arrived at our house, they no longer seemed to be attached to him any more."
"It's interesting how that holding up of objects actually detaches it from the emotional sense that this is ours," Hollihan said. "I mean I do recognize, yes, that's my hockey stick, yes, that's a book that I've read, but...." he trailed off.
He says as he wrote "The Four Stages of Cruelty" there were times when he felt he was in prison. When I suggest perhaps the "Belongings" project is a form if imprisonment for Williams, he nods in agreement.
"She has some sort of strange desire to chronicle the infinite," he laughed.