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Beaner’s Central in West Duluth is well known as one of the Twin Ports’ music hot spots. It’s possibly less well known for the great venue it is for local artists on a monthly basis. This month’s featured artist is Kenneth Marunowski of Esko. I find his insights in this interview both practical and instructive.
EN: You work in a variety of mediums. What are your favorites and why?
KM: I work primarily in oil paint, painting landscapes mostly, but after a two-week “Drawing Marathon” at the New York Studio School in NYC this past summer, I’ve renewed my interest in charcoal drawing. I enjoy the rich, dark values one can achieve with charcoal, and especially enjoy wiping away what I have drawn with a chamois so that I can obliterate the white of the paper and begin again, always learning from the previous effort. Repetition is a key component to my working process, and charcoal, because it can be wiped away time after time, resulting in a deeper grey surface, is very amenable to my approach. The use of the eraser as a means of mark making is also very interesting to me in that what I take away becomes a positive rather than a negative mark (provided the surface is grey); in other words, I’m drawing in white as well as black. There is an immediacy to charcoal drawing particularly, and to drawing in general, that resonates with me. I’ve been drawing since I was a child, and love continuing the practice.
EN: Tell me about what you do at UMD. What are some of the classes you teach?
KM: I’m an assistant professor in the Department of Writing Studies. I taught at UMD from 2006 to 2010, spent two years living and traveling in France, South Africa, and Southeast Asia, and resumed teaching at UMD this past fall. I typically teach two classes: Writing for Social Sciences and Writing for Arts & Letters. My Ph.D., from Kent State University, is in the fields of literacy and rhetoric, so I infuse my writing classes with investigations into the art of persuasion, which is intended to assist students in writing more compelling and convincing arguments. We write various documents throughout the semester, some of which include resumes, cover letters, grants, personal statements, press releases, and short reports. One component we also focus on, likely due to my interest in art, is the visual aspect of a document, asking questions like, “How does a document’s visual appearance affect the intended audience?” or “How can one encourage an individual to read a text based on visual cues?”
EN: Besides being an art teacher, what are some of the other careers your art students might be able to pursue when they graduate?
KM: Such a difficult question... I chose the teaching path, although not in an art-related field. One can always work for galleries or non-profits, or seek commissions—for example, in the form of murals (I recently painted one at the Red Star Lounge in the Fitgers Complex). What I feel is most important is to keep your art near no matter what path you choose. Surrounding yourself with like-minded, artistic people with whom you can discuss theory and practice is the key to artistic survival. It’s compelling to consider life as the Bohemian artist, throwing practicality to the wayside and simply living for one’s art, but I tried this for a short while and it was neither comfortable nor lucrative. Does this mean I will never be a “great” artist? I don’t know. Life is always about compromises, and how to integrate one’s art with one’s need to survive is the fundamental dilemma the artist must face.
EN: When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career in the arts? Were there trigger experiences or did it evolve naturally?
KM: I have always been drawn to art and the life of an artist. I used to draw dinosaurs with my brother-in-law as a kid, and upon learning about the Impressionists and plein air painting in my high school French class, I sought to paint the beauty of nature in situ as they did. During my junior year of college back in 1992, I studied at the Marchutz School of Painting and Drawing in Aix-en-Provence, France. This was a monumental experience as I not only learned an incredible amount about painting and drawing, but I also had the opportunity to both walk and paint in the footsteps of masters like Cezanne and van Gogh. I traveled all over Europe that year, visiting all the major museums I possibly could. More recently, I spent three consecutive summers in Castelnau de Montmiral, a quaint 13th-century village in south-central France, where I studied at The Painting School of Montmiral, learning the theories and suggested practice of school director Francis Pratt. A friend and fellow painter I met at the school, Alan Ansell, and I twice camped and painted in the Mediterranean seaside village of Collioure, where Henri Matisse and Andre Derain founded the Fauvist Movement. Inspirational experiences like these have certainly encouraged me to pursue the artistic path.
EN: Who have been your biggest influences as an artist?
KM: In terms of painting, I’m very drawn to artists like Matisse and Bonnard due to their exceptional use of color, composition, and abstraction. Matisse is well known to have altered paintings time after time until he found satisfaction in them. I like this sense of searching. I need to do more of this! Upon viewing a Matisse painting, I often ask myself, “How did he ever come up with this?” and what I mean by this is the degree of abstraction he achieved. It’s uncanny.
As far as drawing is concerned, I’m very attracted to Rembrandt. Not only does he have this amazing sense of value, but his use of line is extraordinary. He can describe something so well in such a cursory fashion; with a few well-placed, essential lines, a horse and carriage, for example, emerges. Rembrandt’s drawings also appear quite spontaneous, as if he did not have to think during the process of execution. This sense of spontaneity is something I aspire to in my own work and, I believe, achieve, after much repetition.