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Contemplating surrealism during winter


Artist is Kathranne Knight. Gallery – Moberg Gallery

Winter is the best time to visit museums and also to muse the works of surrealists. Currently the Des Moines Art Center offers both opportunities during a very cold season. Museums are warm places, often, as in the case of DMAC, free thanks to the generosity of benefactors long dead now, as a gift to future generations of  their communities. My parents would drop me off at the DMAC in the 1950s and pick me up hours later. I took classes and revisited show after show, promising to learn something. I always did, too.  

I have talked to many friends who share my seasonal attraction to surrealism. Some say it is because the short days and long nights of winter put one in touch with those parts of the imagination that shock, amuse, horrify and give warning that dreams are a manifestation of that deeper darker part of our consciousness. 

T. E. Lawrence wrote that “All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”

Joseph Conrad wrote the book that Francis Coppola would make into the most surreal of war movies — “Apocalypse Now.” Conrad warns in “Heart of Darkness”: “Perhaps life is just that — a dream and a fear.”

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Dreams — and most all surrealist art originates in and interprets dreams — also put us in touch with our mortality, more deeply felt in winter. As Hamlet mused “To die, to sleep; To sleep, perchance to dream — For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause, there’s the respect, That makes calamity of so long life.”

“Fantasy Figures – Surrealistic Works on Paper” plays at the Des Moines Art Center through the end of winter and gives one a chance to commune with legendary artists, mostly from the 1930s.   

Beginning Feb. 4, Kathranne Knight returns to the Des Moines scene with a new show at Moberg Gallery. Knight is one of Iowa’s most celebrated artists with an MFA from Yale School of Art and a residency at Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation in Texas. She is a darling of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Iowa Art Council. Her last big show in Des Moines was organized to celebrate the re-opening of Younkers Tea Room. 

Her work hangs out on the border of surrealism. Faces and bodies hold their shapes, but they are composed of lines and circles that were born somewhere deeper in the subconscious mind. Knight is also a publisher whose “Mourning Stationery,” “The Shape Your Absence” and “Headstones” give form to human loss and longing. 

Grinnell College’s marvelous Faulconer Gallery will be reopened by press time. “Digital Vision” will feature six artists who, according to the gallery programs “draw inspiration from electronics: the images on the screen and the screen itself; digital animations and the code behind them; even the inner guts of our machines to create works of art. These artists are adept as digital creators, but they are equally entranced by computers, projectors, and peripherals as things, as subjects, and as materials for their art.”   

Grinnell professor Matthew Kluber, who used to show at Sherwood Gallery, inspires the show by bringing together printing, painting, digital art and sculpture to make wholly new art. In a studio practice that combines paint, 3D printers and computer programming, Kluber finds a new interface between physical and virtual. ♦

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