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July 12, 2012
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Life is an open painting

By Jim Duncan

“The Randolph” by Lee Ann Conlan

Outside of literature, autobiographical art is a hard sell. Louise Bourgeois managed to insert her life story in sculpture by using recognizable symbols (like spiders) of her inner demons thus making the art more universal and less opaque. It’s even tougher to tell your life story in flat media such as painting and printmaking. Still, two local artists defy the odds.

Lee Ann Conlan used to paint large $12,000 canvasses, with big, Boschian themes like evil and punishment. She did quite well, selling out shows in the first half of the last decade. Her latest exhibition at Thee Eye reveals a swing in her choices of media and subject matter.

“I went back to school to study graphic arts. The new technologies are so amazing. You can work in so many layers of images and words. I’ve always wanted to do a visual book, so I made this series (of digital collage prints),” she explained of a slick $40, 70-page book of prints that mostly sell for $30 to $60 each.

“It’s another time now economically. People don’t need art like they need food and shelter. It’s one of the first things they cut out of their budget. I want my art to be in more homes, so I became more accessible,” she said.

The dominant series (Souvenirs) in her new show is painfully autobiographical, like a diary of a lifetime of absorbed cruelties. “Actually, it was all just one guy, (depicted here as “Little Man” and “Dirte”). Fear becomes anger, and anger has to end with humor if you want to get through it all,” she explained.

Her titles explained a lot. “Nobody likes you. They only pretend to like you because you hang out with me.” “You’re fucking me and kissing my tears.” “I’d like to grab you by the hair and sell you to the devil.” “I was in shock that you could hate me in a matter of days. I already hated you.” One piece told how that abusive relationship ended, depicting an SUV, via Google Earth, in the parking lot of the Lumberyard (strip club) with an inserted photo of two infants left alone. Another (“The Randolph”) placed a woman on the floor of a crack house.

“It was the day after St. Patrick’s Day, and I woke up to discover that I was in Mexico and that I was married,” she recalled.

Another series in the show told about another bad relationship. For it, she sewed 80 feet of “love letters” that were scribbled on all kinds of paper, to her medical records (from a fractured skull). She called this “Red Flags,” to chastise herself for not sensing the danger implied in the strange letters. This show runs through June.

At Moberg Gallery, Frank Hansen recently explained his penchant for autobiographical art.

“I believe my life is more interesting than most. I am Frank. I am the definition of my name. If you don’t like it, too bad.”

His current show “Growing Up Hansen” (through July 7) tells stories about his “bad-assed drunk” father — extracting teeth in the family kitchen; using an ax on the clothes dryer; dragging the family to yard sales “until we were surrounded by junk;” and taking gunshots at airplanes flying too close to the ground. There’s also a “hay ride wrapped in infamy,” “pre-sexual sex dreams,” the accidental (or not) burning of his grandma’s farm,” and “a pet duck frozen in the snow.”

Side Galleries

Robert Spellman’s recent one night exhibition was held in a parking garage under an East Village pub. His dazzlingly colored impressionist paintings rocked the dark bowels of that venue… Pete Goche’s “Water Hutch” is on exhibit through Aug. 5 at the Soap Factory in Minneapolis. It was one of just seven pieces selected from more than 500 international applications to the experimental gallery. CV

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