The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of broadening the conversation about how public policy affects the daily lives of people across our state.. Lori Brack is an author who has worked in programs and publications for the Salina Art Center, as a college and community writing teacher, and as the director of a funded artist development project. by the foundation in Salina. She lives in Lucas.
LINDSBORG — Painter Mike Hartung doesn’t read much fiction, but many of his paintings begin with a phrase he can’t get out of his head. He says we are living in very dark times and “I’m not sure we’re not going to get through this”. Anyway, he continues to make paintings that criticize the social and political moment.
He produced over 700 large panels in his lifetime, many of which were done in an upstairs studio in Lindsborg town center since 1975. Nonetheless, he claims painting never appealed to him. Hartung paints people we often don’t want to see – deformed oxycontin addicts, victimized women, lonely souls in the night – but he does so with a vitality that draws us in even when we want to turn away.
“It’s work,” he says.
Despite the contradictions, Hartung is clear, focused and determined. After working as a commercial printer for 45 years, he has dedicated his retirement to painting and rallying Lindsborg volunteers to open what he calls “an informal, friendly, small-scale place where people can come to the street and get involved in art”. .”
Hartung has purchased a building in downtown Lindsborg, where he lived and painted for many years, to provide an art venue that will promote, support and develop local and regional arts and artists. The Smoky Valley Arts and Folklife Center opened on January 14 with an exhibition of 10 new paintings by Hartung (plus three panels from the 1980s) in a show called Not for the Faint of Heart, on view through March 13.
On opening day, Hartung tended the gallery with Marsha Howe, founding member of the SVAFC committee and director of the Red Barn. Studio Museum, just down the main street from the main building 114½ S. from the center.
After an “Open” sign was unearthed from the back room, which serves as a space for art classes and workshops, the couple decided to hang it in the front window.
“Yellow and blue!” Swedish colors! Howe said the first time they turned it on. Hartung walked out to see what the electric “Open” looked like through the window and came back with this guess: “Looks like a bar and grill. People will say, Hey! Another place I can start my tab!”
His enjoyment of talking with others about his work began after his friends, artists Laura and Richard Klocke, photographed his paintings and encouraged him to exhibit, which he started in 2017.
“I love the figure,” Hartung said, referring to a painting titled “Intruder in the Sun” in which a bather is interrupted in his reading.
“I don’t use models. I want this separation. The advantage is that I have no luggage. The downside is that I don’t want to convert by rote. If it sounds familiar, I don’t want to do it,” he said.
A recently completed panel titled “A Simple Procedure. A woman’s right to determine her reproductive path interrupted by a group of bigoted devotees clinging to superstition shrouded in myth and dogma. Abetted by Jihadist Judges” features a clerical figure wearing blue surgical gloves and a headdress emblazoned with jester bells. The figure presides over a space that is part church, part hospital delivery room, part Supreme Court. Below, one of five black-clad goat-headed creatures drives pins into a doll-like female figure while another holds a fanged yellow snake.
The painting is a strong statement in a state where we generally seem to agree on the wisdom of silence and politeness when we meet at the local coffee shop. Lindsborg, however, always had artists to thank for disrupting the harmony of style and content.
An exhibition of Hartung’s paintings a few years ago required a quick change in venue less visible Main Street and more open to artistic freedom (The Red Barn). This show, also sponsored by the SVAFC, included one called “The Golden Turd”, depicting former President Donald Trump, and a hilarious (and possibly prescient) painting of former Bethany College President William Jones, who was fired in November from Georgetown College after sexual assault charges.
The new group of galleries began experimenting with exhibitions in rented space in August 2020.
“We didn’t have a dedicated space for workshops, which is so exciting about it,” Howe said. “Every year there will be an exhibition of folk life – traditional works like Swedish sjold (handicrafts), ljuskrona (chandeliers) and folk costume.”
Howe said the idea of a gallery and art center had been on his mind for years, but when Hartung came to the red barn in 2017, “he told me he had 700 paintings and he wanted a place to leave them”.
So Howe joined the committee and wrote a Reimagined Spaces grant application to the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission. When the project was funded, SVAFC received the financial and artistic boost it needed to get serious about finding a home.
Eventually the Hartung paintings and the building will be left in a legacy which ensures that SVAFC and the paintings are part of the cultural life of Lindsborg in the future.
Just before the closing of the inaugural exhibition, a short film by Patrick Troll will premiere on March 5 called “Hartung: Not for Sale”. In the film, Hartung says, “I disturb my peaceful retirement by continuing to paint. That’s all I ever wanted to do. Oddly enough, I consider myself a writer whose only vocabulary is a paintbrush.
Spending time with Hartung’s new paintings – a family having dinner in their car on Thanksgiving, a woman comforting a child on a sleeping porch, a dominatrix washing a man’s hands, a woman gazing at a burning cactus from inside his house – it’s like indulging in an afternoon reading one of those books you never want to finish.
Information on the premiere of the benefit film “Hartung Unfiltered” and the 2022 calendar of exhibitions, courses and events can be found at the one in the center website. The center is open from Friday to Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and by appointment by email [email protected]
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