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Home FEATURES Michael Krueger Interview

Michael Krueger Interview

Written by Ryan Christian   
Tuesday, 16 December 2008 08:50
This art professor from the University of Kansas has recently had solo shows in Paraguay, Florence, Italy and the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. Our Chicago man, Ryan Christian, interviews.

Born to Lose, colored pencil, 12" x 15", 2008

Great plains, graffiti, American history, animals, plant life and colored pencils. Howdy, Michael Krueger!

Palisades, colored pencil, 30" x 20", 2008

Michael, tell us a bit about Chief Red Cloud's feathered beaver hide top hat?

Chief Red Cloud was a Sioux Indian Chief during the downfall of the Sioux empire and the ultimate relocation to the reservations in South Dakota. In 1871 Chief Red Cloud visited Washington DC to meet with President Ulysses S. Grant to negotiate violations of the Treaty of 1868. Red Cloud was a seminal figure in the Sioux Indian resistance. He upheld the belief that 'the land' did not belong to anyone, that the land was a living spirit and was not to be owned, sold or violated in anyway. Red Cloud is, (for me) an inspirational anti-hero from American history. There is a lot more to be said about Red Cloud but you asked about his hat. Red Cloud had a beaver hide top hat complete with a bloom of eagle feathers crafted for his visit to Washington DC.

When I was a student at the University of South Dakota, one summer I worked for the University Museum and was charged with retrieving certain Indian artifacts from Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for an exhibition. One of the artifacts that I retrieved was Chief Red Clouds Hat. The shear power of this simple elegant object has stayed with me for all these years and a hold out to one of the most influential experiences in shaping my social and political view of the world.

As I drove back from the dismal dry land of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation with a van full of artifacts I passed through town of Fort Randall and over the Fort Randall Dam. Red Cloud's hat beamed with energy and conjured a quiet and gentle euphoria in me. It was a truly beautiful and powerful object. As I passed through Fort Randall I experienced the most entrancing sunset. It was as if I was inside the sunset and I was fully enveloped by the color and clouds of the setting of the sun. It's really one of those experiences that defy description. I stopped the van and sat in awe until I was consumed by the darkness of the prairie. Years later I made a drawing of Red Cloud and the hat and I have continued to make drawings about American history and my own personal history. Being a visual person and someone who appreciates the power of objects, Red Clouds hat facilitated a deeper understanding of American history and lead me to become passionate about resurrecting and reshaping our understanding of history and my own personal history.

Palisades, colored pencil, DETAIL (1), 2008

Palisades, colored pencil, DETAIL (2), 2008

There is a definite kind of dust bowl/great plains/ westward expansion/ ol' timey feel to your work. And you have lived in the midwest your whole life. How did this geography and its history find it's way into what you are doing? What are some other influences/ parts integrated into your work?

Living in the Midwest, the vastness of the prairie has a penetrating impact on your consciences. I have great love and appreciation for the prairie and I know it has influenced my work, along with all of the rich and bizarre histories of this region. The outlaws and anti-heroes have always fascinated me.

Also, I have the fondest memories of visiting places like Boot Hill Cemetery in Deadwood and trudging through the lush rock terrain of the Black Hills, or soaking up the humidity in the Wisconsin Dells.

Other influences are pretty diverse - everything from Goya to Norman Rockwell and from Bob Dylan to Dan Deacon. Consuming contemporary art is a passion, I am of the belief that artists today should be hyper aware of what is going on right now. Some of the artists that I am following include; Sam Durant, Amy Cutler, Chris Johanson, Jo Jackson, Enrique Chagoya, Don Ed Hardy, Carl Fudge, Travis Millard, Scott Teplin, Alex Kvares, Kathryn Spence, Jenny Schmid, Daniel Guzman, Collier Schorr, Cary Leibowitz, the list goes on and on. The work that influences me is also often work that confirms the value of my own work, that there is something in the air that constitutes a movement or rather simultaneity of thought.

Aside from contemporary sources I do look at great deal artists from the past. Goya has without a doubt had a profound influence on my work. I am also influenced by a lot of non-art sources such as the things that I collect, personal experiences, relationships, and revisionist history. I have been collecting stuff for years. Stuff like my record collection and album cover art has as much weight, for me, as any other sources of inspiration.

Going West to Get East, colored pencil, 20" x 30", 2008

Going West to Get East, colored pencil, DETAIL, 2008

So you went through the bfa - mfa routine. what was your work like back then in comparison to now, how did that progression play out.

This is funny because one of my students just asked me the other day what my art was like in graduate school. I told him about a piece that I made that grew out of an addiction to collecting cameras and a fascination with Joseph Bueys and alchemy. I set up a dozen or so cameras on and around a swamp and in the dead of night I proceeded to trudge around the swamp like a delusional shaman. The camera, with shutters open, recorded my ghostly presence. I was also making sculpture, prints and some encaustic paintings. The work that I make now and works from the past, including the swamp piece, are about sorting out a connection with the land, memory, history and the dispossessed experience that we have with the natural world and our history on the earth.

Both of my degrees in art were ultimately very important to my development as an artist. Mostly because I was fortunate to have exceptional and compassionate professors and because I had time to make things, fail, try again and wander around in swamps.

Victory from Above, colored pencil, 16" x 28", 2008

Deadly Nightshade, colored pencil, 16" x 28", 2007

Another reason your work stands out to me is the use of and choice of the medium. You seem halfway between tight and loose, and most your drawings are very elaborate. How do you see your technique and imagery relating? Also, your color palette is really weird, why the color choices? Do you just us colored pencil?

Oddly enough, I think that my current colored pencil drawings are informed by years of making etchings and lithographs. They have a very print quality to them, even down to the way that I pierce the paper with the line. I made a very aggressive return to drawing about 6 years ago partly because my ideas were coming so fast that I could not be slowed down by other more process oriented media. Right now I am just using colored pencils, for me there is a kind of punk naive quality to the colored pencils drawings while also having a ninetieth century Courier and Ives vibe. The color in someway supports the narrative psychologically and emotively, I can't really describe how I choose the palette it just gets sorted out in the 'making'.

Four Owls in Peace, colored pencil, 15" x 12", 2007

What is Here is the Same is What is There, colored pencil, 13" x 22", 2007

So your drawings kind of break down into some different categories per se, you have your portraiture, your text based landscape stuff and your more kind of narrative-esque pieces. Are you more partial to a particular series? The you see them as a singular body of work or do they operate more individually?

I have embraced different modes of making these drawings but really I see them as all very related and each building on the next pieces or the next series. I work somewhat in a series with the drawings but most recently I feel like I am wandering and folding together the things that I have learned from past pieces.

Monsters that Walk the Earth, colored pencil, 16" x 28", 2007

Monsters that Walk the Earth, colored pencil, DETAIL, 2007

You are a very busy guy. Family man, professor, exhibiting and making work, curating, etc.... how do you find time to do everything well? Also, i find a lot of artists that i am into are also teachers and a lot of them aren't. How does teaching affect you personal artistic endeavors?

Being a father is easy, because you just love your child so much that it doesn't seem like work, but of course it does take a lot of energy. I must say that I can't imagine not being a parent and I know that there is nothing else in my life that has brought more to my creative practices than being a father. Simply because caring for someone else and having a parental bond with another human opens ones heart and mind to the world in a way that nothing else will ever do.. is that sappy enough for you? As for teaching and being an artist, this is a really balancing act. I have always tried to maintain rigorous studio practices, I know that I am a better teacher because I am fully committed to my own work and that I push myself to be out there with my work. If you are going to survive in academia you have to figure out pretty quickly how to get into your studio and conjure the kind of creative intensity that you need to make stuff at a moments notice.

For me my creative life needs to include a variety of activities, making contributions to the greater community of artists through conferences, lectures, panels, demonstrations, curating and 'just sharing' is very important to me. This kind of engagement is copasetic with academia, but of course there is tedium to institutions that can be pretty annoying.

Peace in the Valley, colored pencil, 13" x 22", 2007

Night Signs, colored pencil, 9" x 19", 2007

You work a lot with OSP how did you get shacked up with those folks? Tell a little bit about the group show you are in right now, Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll.

I got involved with the Steven Zevitas Gallery through his publication New American Painting. He put my drawing of Thomas Jefferson on the cover and later contacted me about showing in his gallery. Steven has really been great to work with, you couldn't ask for a more honest genuine person to handle your precious artworks. He has been amp'ing up his curatorial projects and recently put together a kick ass show called "Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll". Peregrine Honig, John Copeland, Allison Schlunik, Wes Lang and a handful of other likeminded artists are in the show.

Day Signs, colored pencil, 15" x 12", 2007

So word has it that this Thomas Jefferson piece found it's way to Monticello? How'd that happen?

A few years ago I had a show in Charlottesville Virginia. I made a few pieces that dealt with early American history and Thomas Jefferson. I made a drawing of Jefferson pushing a shopping cart; he was of course a shop'aholic. The gallery liked this image so much that they commissioned an etching based on the drawing. A copy of the etching was acquired by Monticello. I got to meet the recently hired curator and get a behind the scenes tour of Monticello. The curator had just published a book with revisionist recounts of Jefferson, one of which made the assertion that he had a problem with shopping. And he was, and in many ways a model of how we live today, in debt, beyond our means at the expense of others.

Shopping Jefferson, colored pencil, 12" x 10", 2002

Name drop list...

There is a great music scene in and around Lawrence Kansas, so going to see live music has been influential and inspiring, recently I have seen Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Casitone for the Painfully Alone, Emperor Moth, Drakkar Sauna, Charlie Parr, Man Man, Jolie Holland and Animal Collective, among others.

Also, I have been obsessively checking out documentaries from library. Some really great ones that I have seen recently are "Gimme Shelter", "Sir, No Sir", "Burden of Dreams", "The War Tapes", "Homecoming", "Salesman", and "Hell House".

Green River, colored pencil, 16" x 28", 2007

Anything noteworthy/mentionable coming up in the future for you??

One of my prints is in the Nov./Dec. Art On Paper, included as part of the "New Prints Review" issue. Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop in New York published the print. It is from an on-going series of prints that appropriate notes, images, tardy slips and other ephemera from my high school notebooks, with new images inserted. These works are a strange collaboration with my past self and reflect on the history of my youth, namely growing up in the wake of the Vietnam War.

The art auction season seems to be in full bloom, I have donated work to the WFMU radio station auction to be held at Printed Matter (New York, NY) and the International Print Center of New York auction. In February I am going to Honolulu to give a printmaking workshop and jury a show for the Honolulu Printmaking Society. In March I will have work in two shows in Chicago in conjunction with the Southern Graphic Council Conference hosted by Columbia College. In the fall I have a solo show at Steven Zevitas Gallery, Boston and a residence at Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Woodside, CA (outside of San Francisco).

What I am most excited about is my upcoming sabbatical from teaching next semester and the new studio that we rented, (me, my wife and son all have space in the studio to make work). I plan to draw every day!

Return to Roanoke, colored pencil, 9" x 14", 2002

Invent something right now, what is it?

I would like to invent a machine that would allow me to put pen to paper on one letter while simultaneously creating a duplicate letter.

California Circa 1870, colored pencil, 17" x 22", 2004


Interview conducted by Fecal Face's Chicago corespondent Ryan Christian.
Email him at: ryan(at)fecalface.com

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