How Great Thou (Visual) Art

When I was in middle school and I imagined what my job would be as an adult, I was convinced I would become an artist. Specifically a cartoonist...I drew superhero comics, mostly, and occasional attempts at humorous single-panel strips. But in early high school "Nervous Night" by Philadelphia band The Hooters was released and I gave up visual art for songwriting. Ever since then, though, I've had a visual artist lurking within. Just yesterday I became part of a cool conceptual/relational art project that I want to tell y'all about, plus it seems like a good time to give props to other visual artists that I appreciate.

Here's the newest thing: This photo is me posing with my very own Stray Eggplant...a lovely purple ceramic veggie created by Iowa artist Laura Gentry. Laura is one of the four friendly folks from my college days with whom I still cross paths (yes, I only went to college for one semester back in 1991...four months at Luther College in Decorah, IA). Laura makes eggplants for people, inscribed with personalized messages. Mine says "beige slacks," referring to the song "Beige Slacks" that I wrote with my cousin Bruce years ago (that song appears on the Salt Lady Records: Extra Credit CD sampler). The new owners of the eggplants send photos and commentary back to Laura, who posts all the info on her Stray Eggplant Blog, where you can see another shot of me and read more details about this unusual mass-art experience. AND you can see pix and read stories of dozens of other folks who have been granted their own personalized eggplant. What a brilliant way to get original and thought-provoking art out to the world! Great work, Laura're an inspiration.

I also get the pleasure of hanging out regularly with my favorite artist, Kelly Newcomer, who just happens to live here in Minneapolis. Dawn and I have been fans and patrons of Kelly for a loooong time. Not only do we have quite a few paintings of hers in our home, I've also utilized her skills as a package designer for some of my albums, including the aforementioned Extra Credit CD sampler, Protestant Rock Ethic, as well as the masterpiece Styx Tribute Album. The painting pictured here is Floating Electronic Friends...I think I bought it in honor of Dawn's completed PhD program. It's hanging here in our living room right now. I love the idea of using an ancient medium (paint on canvas) to address modern themes (technology, robots, Japanese pop culture, video games). Kelly rocks.

Walter Salas-Humara has been an inspiration to me for two decades. He, of course, is the leader of legendary New York City indie rock band The Silos, and also the brilliant producer for my own Public Library album. I think Walter planned on being a visual artist as his "real job" way back in the early '80s, but when his music career took off, he put the visual stuff on the back burner. I'm excited to see that he's getting back into 2-D art...and he's really cranking out a ton of paintings of dogs (one pictured here), available from I like these pups, and I'm gonna buy one.

My little brother Tim Rundman, too, has been cranking out the art lately. He does stream-of-consciousness line drawings using markers on paper and the results are very colorful and beautiful. The often have a subtle native-American (or something like that) look to them. Here's a scan of a neat little bear that Tim gave to his nephew Paavo.

Finally, thought I'd offer a glimpse into one of my only recent attempts at visual art. Way back in the Summer of 2003 I was playing music at Valparaiso University. While I was there I went to an art seminar hosted by the campus Pastor, Jim Wetzstein, who is a visual artist himself. He led the group in a study of iconography, and talked about how pictures and images have been a very important way for people to deepen their faith, focus in prayer, etc. Then he guided us thorough the process of making our very own personal icon...a piece of visual art to represent the prayer concerns of our own lives. We were supposed to pick one main theme, and create an image around it, but I had so many issues banging around in my brain that I made my icon with multiple images.

The creation of this icon was a wonderful exercise, and after about 20 minutes I was done...and I was thrilled with the results! I used skinny and fat permanent markers on a board covered in white paint. I did the whole thing off the top of my head, no planning, no intentional designing...just moving the marker on the wood. And no sketching ahead of time...just ink right on the surface. Amazingly, I had no goof ups or scribbles.

This icon is currently hanging in our bathroom, and whenever I brush my teeth I can see it, and I'm reminded to offer up some prayers for the issues represented there. In the years since I drew it, the little fetus (bottom row, second from left) has been born (Paavo), and Svea has joined our family as well, and the house (third row, third from left) has been sold and we live in a different house, but all the other stuff is still very current for me. So Jim was right, icons can be a very effective tool for prayer and spiritual awareness.

So anyway, there's some art for you. Right now in our kitchen, Dawn has a canvas that's about half painted. She's got the art bug, too. Maybe I'll be like Ronnie Wood or John Mellencamp and get into a painting phase...hmmm...


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