April 11, 2013

The artist's way less traveled

Saranac Lake poet, painter explore alternative disciplines


---- — SARANAC LAKE — BluSeed’s latest exhibition, “Icons – Lunacy & Scribblings,” was conceived at the Left Bank Café in Saranac Lake last summer.

Dr. Maurice Kenny lunched on the balcony. Before him was a long loaf of French bread, lots of butter and red-raspberry jam. He rounded it out with Greek yogurt, fruit and tons of coffee.

BluSeed’s Carol Marie Vossler walked in and sat with Kenny. As they chatted, Vossler asked Kenny if he would like an art show.

“I said, ‘I would love it,’” said Kenny, who is a renowned Native American poet and SUNY Potsdam professor emeritus.

Asked who he wanted to collaborate with, he said artist Tim Fortune of Fortune Studio in Saranac Lake.

“I knew he did things other than the Adirondack scenes. I love his work. I’ve known him forever. I know a lot about Tim. All the time, I go into town, I stop into his studio,” Kenny said.

Years back, the Adirondack Artists Guild mounted a show based on a long poem from Kenny’s volume devoted to his father’s life, “Conversations with Frida Kahlo: Collage of Memory and Connotations.” 

For that show, Kenny drew whimsical flowers.

During SAMO’s rise and death in New York City, Kenny lived in Brooklyn when he wasn’t Greyhounding to California, New Mexico and Arizona.

“I didn’t have a teaching job. I was living off what I was making being a writer and a reader. I saw graffiti art. I didn’t go looking for it. I was going with a very beautiful Spanish Puerto-Rican woman who lived in the South Bronx. You couldn’t help to see it. It was a new art,” Kenny said. 

”At that time, Wendy Rose (Hopi/Miwok poet/writer/artist) came to town. She wrote several poems about graffiti art. She loved it. She saw it as a whole new language communicating love, hate or whatever. It was. She was absolutely correct.”

Kenny’s expression was confined to journals. He was too lazy to carry a spray can and tag a subway, railcar or concrete wall.

He started drawing around the time he started to write, at about 11 years old. In high school, he took art classes including mechanical art and drafting. He became proficient in designing floor plans. He did collage and started to paint wild portraits.

“They didn’t look like the person I was trying to paint. My father and a couple of friends thought I had a great idea in doing art. In my heart, I knew I wasn’t an artist; I knew I was a writer. In my writing, I paint pictures,” he said.

“Icons” includes 10 short Luna poems and his scribblings, so dubbed by Vossler. The first one he did for the show is a flower-filled vase. 

“I hope it doesn’t sell. I love it. It’s a terrible thing to say,” Kenny said.

Several of the poems are previously published, but most are new. “Icons” was meant to be satirical.

“I just finished doing a little anthology ‘Icons of the Adirondacks’ for Blueline Magazine that will be out in May. I was working on that when Carol approached me about the show,” he said.

Two of his poems are about wolves. Others are about an old bear, his father’s death and a pansy that popped up in his backyard.

For one of the wolf poems, Kenny did 17 studies of a wolf print.

He only draws when someone asks him. During last year’s European tour, he sat at another outdoor café. He asked a companion what a linden tree looked like.

“She said, ‘You’re sitting under one,’” Kenny recalled.

Stateside, he wrote two linden-tree poems and sent the woman a linden scribbling.

“I don’t do them unless there is a good reason for doing them. It’s not my true talent. If I have a true talent, it’s writing and poetry,” Kenny said.

For his scribblings, he uses three different brands of top-of-the-line markers that he purchased in Kansas. 

When Fortune learned the show’s theme was icons, Kenny told him to go with that however he liked. “Lunacy” is the result.

“With the moon as an icon, you can stretch it to fit anything,” Fortune said.

Eight works from Fortune’s “Echo” series are featured. 

“I thought it was good to bring them back to flesh out the show,” Fortune said.

He has never displayed his photographs of moon reflections on water.

“They are very dark but very luminous. What I did, I had all of them printed out and framed in square format. I have 10 of them lined up on the wall. That square format of the new moon series connected with the ‘Echo’ series that is in a grid format. Multiple grids make up one piece,” Fortune explained. 

“I wanted the show to be cohesive and connected, but also it’s a connection with my past work and creating some new pieces to go with it.”

Fortune is mostly known as a painter, and there is one self-portrait, “Painting the Moon.”

“The moon is at the top and painted with my fingers with white paint,” Fortune said. “I rub them from the moon coming down. I’m sitting there looking quite tired with my hands folded and covered with white paint.”

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IF YOU GO WHAT: "Icons - Lunacy & Scribblings." WHEN: Through Saturday, May 11. WHERE: BluSeed Studios, 24 Cedar St., Saranac Lake. HOURS: 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday or by appointment. CONTACT: 891-3799.