Pair of artists to showcase work at OAC next month and lead workshops

Art lovers can enjoy a classic two-for-one bargain next month at the Owatonna Arts Center, as the OAC will feature the work of not one, but two, accomplished artists, Ann Magnusson and Kathy Mommsen.

Magnusson and Mommsen both have studios in the Minneapolis Northup King Building, and this won’t be the first time they’ve exhibited together, Magnusson said. Pairing their art “works well, stylistically.”

Magnusson will feature paintings from her “Interiors and Portraits” series, which includes four individuals from Owatonna and four from Albert Lea, she said. While she began the series with friends and family before extending to urban strangers, she procured an Artist Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board to take her work to southern Minnesota and paint this region’s citizens, as well.

“All the people were so kind, generous, and helpful,” she said. “It’s wonderful when people open their doors for you.”

Magnusson has been painting “all my life,” and she prefers to work in a series, she said. She started this project roughly a decade ago only with interiors — no people.

“I’d go into their homes” to see their “stuff of life,” she said. “What we surround ourselves with in private spaces” depends on many factors, from gender, age, and ethnicity, to cultural background, occupation, and socioeconomic status.

She displayed her pieces during Northup King’s Art Attack and Art-A-Whirl events, and they always inspired reactions, since they are “a voyeuristic look of sorts” into interior lives, she said. However, viewers often wanted to know, “who created that space?”

While “I loved the idea” the paintings didn’t include people, because it raised questions, she did start to suspect incorporating individuals would be a way to “move the series” forward, she said. Consequently, portraits have become second, “companion” pieces to her interiors, as “the portrait is another layer of who the person is.”

She records her interviews with her subjects on video, and she begins with a “basic” but highly-effective question, she said. “If I were to paint you, […] what do you hope the viewer gleans” from that piece?

“I don’t have to interject much” after asking that question, and she takes that information back with her to her studio to work, she said. “That’s the person I try to paint.”

She’s incredibly grateful to her subjects who open not only their personal spaces to her, but their lives.

“I am touched every time by it,” she said. “I am honored every time.”

With this entire project, Magnusson’s philosophy is that “in our diversity, we are all interconnected,” she said. “We are all similar, we all need a place we call our own, but what we do with those basics varies.”

In order to connect that diversity, she utilizes the same color palette with each work, three earth tones that are “muted colors,” she said. In addition, titles all follow the same format of first name and occupation, and the paintings are all in acrylic.

“I am a fast painter, so I like that it dries quick,” she said. While preparing a painting can take months, once Magnusson is actually at the canvas, “I paint quickly.”

As part of her Artist Initiative Grant, Magnusson will offer a free workshop at the OAC from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 2. The deadline to register is Friday, and registration can be accomplished by calling the arts center at 507-451-0533.

Magnusson will teach students to transfer images using the grid method, which has been utilized by artists ranging from Leonardo da Vinci to Chuck Close, and “lends itself to people with” experience as well as those who “haven’t done it before,” she said. “I love doing it.”

Basic materials are provided, but attendees should bring a portrait or an interior, and “we’ll make a photocopy of it,” she said. Students will learn to transfer their image onto a larger surface.

The grid method is beneficial because “you just focus on one small aspect, like the nostril of the nose,” she said. “You’re not trying to recreate,” but, rather, “transfer,” and, helpfully, the grid is labeled vertically and horizontally.

During a lunch break, Magnusson will take her charges for a tour of the gallery, where she’ll discuss her process on specific paintings, she said. Those who complete the class may even be able to hang their own work in the OAC gallery at some point next month.

Mommsen’s Emotional Expression Walls aim to capture the raw human energy of dancers, whom she observed in her studio for this project. She had to attach drawing tools and paint brushes to long sticks in order to work in such a large scale.

By sculpting and painting directly on clay while the dancers were in action, rather than executing her art after the fact from drawings or photos, she developed a direct connection to them and their genuine feelings, said Mommsen, who taught high school art for decades. The largest of her walls is seven-feet-tall, but her kiln is only 26-inches across, so she had to draw and sculpt the walls before cutting them into smaller modules.

To hang the modules, she created clay supports, to which she bolted aluminum wall hanging cleats, she said. This system allows her to move them from her Minneapolis studio to locations like the OAC.

Prior to this endeavor, funded by a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, Mommsen mostly concentrated on three-dimensional vessels with smaller human figures, but she always had a sense her work could translate with wellto a more-epic scale, she said. In addition, “there are a lot of calls for things on walls” currently, including from airports and hospitals, so she is partly meeting national artistic demand.

By expanding her figures to “almost life size,” they have “more presence,” but the challenge in enlarging her pieces was keeping the “undulations” that have been so crucial to her prior clay work, she said. In addition, she “had to drill holes in all the finished pieces” for hanging, which required “a different mindset.”

Whether working smaller or larger, “it’s invaluable to have” the models in studio, she said. “I’m responding to that energy, exertion, and raw emotion.”

Mommsen, who taught ceramics at Hopkins High School, was on “an emotional roller coaster” herself during the creation of these wall pieces, as her mother was dying, she said. “That feeling of how frail life is” underlines all the pieces that will be on display inside the OAC next month.

Creating with models in front of her also “makes me work very quickly,” she said. “They can only be in that pose for a short time,” so “I have to dig deep.”

Though crafting the pieces for the OAC’s “Emotional Expression” show was “a long process,” she’s “thrilled with the results” and “indebted” to the state arts board for making it possible, she said. Mommsen’s also grateful for all the people in her community who reached out to assist when they realized she was “on a mission.”

Like Magnusson, Mommsen will lead a workshop the first weekend of February. Her class will be from 1-3 p.m. Feb. 3, and students will draw and glaze dancers on ceramic tile.

Participants will begin with a fired relief tile, then learn Mommsen’s black maiolica glazing process while observing a local dancer posing in the studio, she said. They’ll start with a wax drawing, then paint with over-glazes on tiles.

Though on a smaller scale, this process is very similar to the one followed by Mommsen with her OAC pieces, she said. Consequently, they can not only view her art in the gallery, but “understand” how she created it.

Attendees can keep their tiles, and they’ll be fired after the workshop, she said. Tiles will be available to pick up the following Sunday.

No experience is required for the free workshop, but registration must be done by Friday. Students must be at least 16.

Both exhibitions open February 3, and the reception for the artists will be Feb. 10 from 1-4 p.m., said Silvan Durben, the OAC’s creative director. Magnusson’s exhibit will close at the end of February, while Mommsen’s — on display on the solarium — will continue through March.

Mommsen’s exhibition will extend for a second month on account of the national clay convention Minneapolis will host at the end of March, Durben said. “The goal is that people interested in clay art will come see (Mommsen’s) pieces here,” as well as Kimberlee Joy Roth’s permanent ceramic installation, “What We Have to Lose,” and the work of other ceramicists the OAC has in its collection.

Reach Reporter Ryan Anderson at 507-444-2376 or follow him on Twitter @randerson_ryan