By Christa Lawler, Duluth News Tribune
Video by Michelle Truax
Photos by Clint Austin
A decade-ish ago, painters started gathering in a shared studio space on Wednesday evenings for figure-painting sessions. Artists invited other artists, instructors invited students. The idea was one of practicality: They could all chip in to pay the model. Then, the rest of the week, they could work on their own projects.
All these years later: “We’ve kept it going,” Lee Englund said.
The current crew of artists — Dorothea Diver, Goran Hellekant, Constance Johnston, Cot LaFond, Dale Lucas and Larry Turbes — have temporarily relocated from the Michigan Street basement studio to the Duluth Art Institute for the duration of “In Situ: Studio 101 Artists,” an exhibition of their individual works.
Dorothea Diver is the newest artist to the group. There was an opening in the studio and she had an in with Turbes, her friend. Diver drops in about three times a week and usually someone else is there working.
“For artists, that’s buoying,” she said.
As part of the show at the art institute, the artists have set up their easels in the John Steffl Gallery on Wednesdays for a live painting session that sometimes draws an audience and/or fellow artists who want to work alongside them.
“I think it’s an exciting exhibition,” said Dana Mattice, the gallery’s development and communications director. The artists are creating traditional pieces that would be shown at the art institute, but gallery-goers get a new perspective. “(They can) see the artwork and the creative process.”
On a recent Wednesday, the easels were turned toward Jami Rosenthal, part-owner of Pineapple Arts, and that day’s model. She sat on a chair on a stage, with blue tape marking the position of her hands on her legs and her brown boots on the floor.
“You’re not going to smile the whole time, are you?” one of the artists asked, amicably. “I feel like you’re at a wedding.”
Englund, best known as a plein air painter who has exhibited internationally, started with a dark outline, then smudged with a cloth. He’s an artist in motion, one foot forward, quickly committing to the work.
At this point in their careers, the artists aren’t necessarily seeking tutorials from each other, but: “We’re probably energized by the other people,” Englund said. “You don’t change your painting style, but you’re energized by what you see.”
Englund is used to painting in public, technically. Plein air painters, of course, work outside.
“Although, when I started, I went deep into the woods to hide,” he said.
Johnston came to the group via Englund, who was once her instructor and liked her work. Now, a few feet away, she worked methodically and with great focus. She made her first golden streaks deliberately, then got into a groove with Rosenthal’s face.
Lucas, who favors portraits and studied in the style of the Dutch masters, started with a moody, dark blue background — not entirely a creative decision.
“I covered over something at some point,” Lucas said.
He had tubes of that color — which he said pairs well with the color of the subject’s skin.
A recently completed painting of fellow artist Terry Millikan was leaned against the wall near his easel. He was proud of how it turned out.
“I liked her hair,” he said. “She bought my painting, by the way.”
Ray Allard isn’t part of the “In Situ” crew, but joined in on Wednesday with a sketchbook and grease pencils. The relatively new-to-Duluth artist retired as an English teacher in Washington D.C. and moved to Duluth.
“Nobody knows I’m here yet,” he said of showing his work around town.
As the session went on, more artists joined the group. A woman sat on the floor and sketched. Goran Hellekant, one of the featured artists, was a late show. While he set up his easel, his springer spaniel, Ludvig wove its way through the room.
Diver, who wasn’t at last week’s session, described her co-painters as “a big set of personalities.”
“Some are self-taught, all kinds of backgrounds. Everyone’s just doing their own thing,” she said.
IF YOU GO
What: “In Situ: Studio 101 Artists”
When: Exhibition runs through Oct. 27
Where: Duluth Art Institute
Live painting sessions: 4:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m. on Wednesdays through Oct. 25; Free, open to the public