If you find yourself asking questions about Mark Stemwedel’s work, you’re on the right track. He includes shapes, materials, and figures that might seem thematically disconnected in attempt to emulate the way we respond to the chaos of daily life. The resulting images are blunt, playful, and curious, and allow the viewer to respond this same way.
Mark has exhibited his work nationally, and he currently serves as the Studio Art Program Coordinator and Senior Painting Faculty at South Dakota State University.
J Desy Schoenewies
South Dakota got lucky when J. Desy Schoenewies relocated from Oakland, CA to Spearfish, SD. She brings us an outside perspective on our state and uses her disciplined oil painting technique and strategic symbolism to tell the stories of people and their relationships with this place. Desy is an instructor at Black Hills State University and was recently accepted into the Artists of the Black Hills organization, whose upcoming exhibits will include her work.
In playful color and surreal composition, Brittany Vogt’s woodcut prints explore personal identity and work in a direct and refreshing way. A character’s portrait is strung with tools, materials, and symbols of their trade, while each character peers through to express the depth of their invisible personality. Like her subjects, Brittany finds some identity in her tools. She carves the wood and makes the prints all in her home studio in Sioux Falls, SD.
Jess Miller Johnson
Quiet momentsand delicate lines from the pen of Jess Miller Johnson are an expression of the grace with which she conducts the rest of her life. While she maintains an exceptional ability to render objects in a true-to-life manner, Jess often tends towards loose and lively marks that celebrate the unique qualities of the media she’s working with. Combining these expressive images with the notes she jots on the page yields highly personal, vulnerable stories for us to enjoy.
Jess is the driving force behind J.A.M. Art & Supplies, located in downtown Sioux Falls on the corner of 6th & Phillips. Stop by for art classes, interesting supplies, and great people!
During the peak of the supermoon, The Local Artist met with Chad Nelson in the printmaking studio at Augustana University. As Chad pulled fresh prints off the press, he talked about everything from heavy metal to needlepoint.
TLA: What was that booming rowing music we heard when we came into the studio?
CN: It was the band, Wardruna. It’s considered world music, but it’s like modern Viking. It’s all in Norwegian, Old Norse and Icelandic.
TLA: Old Norse influences seem to show up often in your imagery. Where does that come from?
CN: It’s something that’s just snuck into my artwork over the last 10 years or so. Although, I certainly do not want to pigeonhole myself as just doing Viking-related pieces. I come from a Norwegian and Danish family. I just feel a connection to it. Not only with the old, Norwegian ways, but also with modern Norway. I would definitely love to go there and visit at some point. Lately, it sounds pretty good to just move there [laughter]. I really like the patterns and the way Nordic runes look, and I try to put them in a few of my pieces. Things really cross over.
TLA: Talking about things crossing over, how does music have an influence on your work?
CN: I’m very connected to heavy metal and there’s no way around it. When I was younger it really got in the way artistically. I was tripping over myself until I learned to scale back a little bit and let these things kind of breathe. When I was a sophomore in high school, my art teacher Gary Siska, banned me from drawing Iron Maiden’s Eddie ever again. I could not turn Eddie in for any grade whatsoever. You guys know Eddie from Iron Maiden?
TLA: We’re embarrassed to say we’re not familiar. Can you shed some light on what heavy metal means to you for our readers who may not be familiar with it?
CN: Well, heavy metal has helped me cope with things. Some people say that it causes people to do bad things, but to me it’s something that relieves stress and is something I’ve always loved. Some people might think I’m some sort of dark, violent person, but usually it’s the opposite. I’m a pretty silly guy.
TLA: You might stereotype an artist who listens to heavy metal as being a splatter painter or some steel welding sculptor, but these are delicate, detail-oriented prints you make.
CN: Well if you look at what it really takes to create heavy metal, it’s just as tight. It’s super fast; they’re all playing together, and it’s not sloppy. It may sound sloppy to some people, but they’re good craftsman.
TLA: Those highlights on the skull are gorgeous (referring to the print Chad is pulling off the press).
CN: I thought that they were a little abrupt, but not bad enough for me to want to start over, which I’m very prone to doing with my work. I can start a piece over up to four times probably. I relate it to Dungeons and Dragons. Something happens when I’m working on some major project, and inevitably I go up an experience level and so, then, it becomes uneven. Parts of the block are carved a little bit more ham-fisted, and I start to become more sensitive at some points. Then I have no choice but to start over. I usually run it by my wife. She knows.
TLA: So she’s your quality control. Is she an artist? Does she have those sensibilities?
CN: Yeah she’s pretty sensitive, and she likes to do decorative wood burning.
TLA: Can you talk a little more about how your family influences how you work?
CN: My parents’ general example and spirit of craftsmanship has influenced me. They’ve always been creating something. My dad does a lot of fine woodworking. I think he specializes in Queen Anne and Craftsman or Prairie Style woodworking. He hand cuts dovetails and all that jazz. My mom does needle point, and it’s not pedestrian needlepoint either. It’s pretty involved, and I’ve seen her do the same thing that I do. If she screws up on one little thing that she could probably just skip, she’ll rip the whole thing out and start over.
TLA: So do you think you got that from your mom?
CN: Yeah, and I feel very connected to my father in the way that woodcuts relate to the process of woodcarving. The tools that I use to carve my woodblocks are mostly the tools that he gives me. There’s this connection that I have with him. The tool that I use to carve all of these is one that he found, so there’s a definite connection and crossover there.
TLA: So when you’re working on a print, what’s the end result? Are you shooting for a particular edition size?
CN: I usually shoot for around 20 prints for an edition size. Not too big, not too small. With a Mezzotint, that’s pretty ambitious. Whatever I’m doing, I usually start off with about 30 pieces of paper and hope that I end up with 20 good prints. Really the end result is kind of the end result. It’s a dialogue that happens along the way. I don’t have a preconceived idea of what these are going to look like. Sometimes I use certain materials because it’s economical. This was just leftover ink that I was using for two different things that I mixed together and thought I’d use it up.
TLA: Give us a walkthrough of how you start an image.
CN: It starts with photographing things. On my computer I have a folder with all different kinds of other folders inside, and I start categorizing things, just a collection of reference shots. Then I look through my reference shots and think about things. I may have an idea. I like to go from songs sometimes. Then I’ll start composing and really, truly, most of my composing is done collaging in Photoshop, layering of different ideas on top of each other. You can see in my work that it’s a lot of different elements that are brought together thematically into one image. Then I start sketching from that directly on the wood. A lot of times I like to paint it black so you can still see the graphite on the black gesso, and when I’m carving I can see the lighter material underneath and get a good idea of what the print is going to look like. So that’s how things usually begin, with an overall idea and then using my reference material to put things together. I really like to use my own reference material. This is my son (pointing to an image carved on a woodblock); you see my daughter in my work a lot, too. I use things that are close to me.
TLA: Are there other things that are happening in your life that inform your work? You already mentioned your family. Are there other interests that show up symbolically?
CN: I like to focus on things that have cycles of some sort. I’m not a religious guy at all, but if you look at my work there is a spiritual kind of element to it. Things go on and change. Matter takes one form after we die, and if you look at any of my work that has cycles in the title, that’s what that piece tends to be about. It’s a matter changing from one state to another.
TLA: There seems to be no shortage of circles in your work either. So you spent many years interacting with academia. What’s the value of that environment? Why are you still here?
CN: Well I think it’s essential. I’m all about education. That’s my career, being an art teacher. That’s where I get most of my fulfillment, and part of being a good art teacher is being a working artist. My bosses tend to agree, so I’m always working on my artwork at school. Kids see my work and watch me progress. I think it adds a level of credibility as a teacher. I function at Augustana University as the “unofficial” printmaker in residence in the printmaking studio. I have filled in teaching classes such as art education; I’ve also taught printmaking when the instructor was on sabbatical. I just stay here, and I come during class time and assist Scott Parsons, and I’m here a lot of times after hours like today. We just had midterms, so there aren’t too many kids in here. Times like this I get the studio to myself, and that’s the perk for me being around helping students; I get to use the facility.
TLA: It’s evident that you’re a passionate teacher. Are there things you tell your students when they’re aspiring to be an artist?
CN: It may sound very cynical, but it’s very realistic. Their interest in art is never going to go away, and they’re going to feel bad if they don’t feed that need. It’s always going to be there. There were four years where I experimented with not being an artist, and it sucked. So I encourage them to pursue art, to go ahead and be an art major, but don’t—for goodness sakes don’t—just be an art major. Be an artist, yes, but also a realist. Work in the art field, and make time to participate. It does take a little extra time. It does take a little dedication, but I encourage them to do that. In my school I think a lot of my success as a teacher has been creating a culture of creativity. I really focus on letting students get to know each other and letting students explore the space. I keep a very orderly and caring art room. So I guess my philosophy in teaching art is that students are certainly going to know that I respect them, and if they know that, then they’re going to respect me.
TLA: Do your students feel optimistic when they leave you? What’s that like? It must be difficult to see these potentially talented art students go off to a nursing school or something like that.
CN: My students tend to stay in pretty close contact with me, and for the most part they’re all still working. There may be one or two that aren’t, but I think I have one that’s going to be an ear, nose, and throat specialist, and I bet she still works creatively. That goes with talking about creating a strong sense of community in your room, in your department. And that just continues. I have some students who go on to be lifelong friends who met in my art class.
TLA: Printmaking is also a community-based art form.
CN: Absolutely! And that’s another thing that draws me to print. We work together. Not only is there a print community here, but also the worldwide community. I know so many printmakers across the US, mostly from going to Frogman’s Print Workshops. I try and go to one of them every few years, and you stay connected with those people. Right now I’m working on three different portfolio exchanges, and some of that comes from being plugged into that larger print community. I don’t think there’s such a thing with painting. These people come together, and they’re very, very generous with their knowledge, engaging others and helping others.
TLA: When you’re connected to the print community at large, why have you decided to stay and work on South Dakota? You’ve been here most of your life?
CN: All my life.
TLA: How do you feel about that?
CN: Well, I don’t know if South Dakota understands my artwork. Some people like it, and it’s usually other artists, which is fine. I’m not necessarily making art for people to like or sell. Some people buy it, and I’m grateful for that. South Dakota can be backwards in a lot of ways, and I’ve thought about leaving, but this is where I was born. If I’m ever going to make a difference it’s going to be by staying here. I feel very strongly about being a teacher and showing students that there are other things out there other than Terry Redlin and all that. I think it’s important that I stay, and I think it’s my job to teach students how to look at things in different ways and from different perspectives. I think that’s important for the 21st century workplace.
TLA: With your experience as a long-time South Dakotan, what role does an artist play in this state?
CN: Like all artists, we’re advocates for change. The mirrors of society, whether society wants to look or not is up to us, and I think that sometimes, unfortunately, you have to force yourself to look. I think that America is forcing itself to look in the mirror right now, and I think artists are going to play a huge role in that in the state.