Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013

Craig Blietz: A Passion for Painting Farm Creatures

A Painter's Time to Prepare for Solo Exhibitions

By Peggy Sue
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How much time does an artist require to prepare for a solo exhibition? When visiting Craig Blietz in his Door County studio last summer, the artist offered a clue. Tucked away on an inroad off of Hwy 42 in Sister Bay, Blietz’s two story high studio sits on a plot of land with a house, garden and then blissfully wild fields surrounding his painting sanctuary. 

Several monumental sized paintings hung in process throughout the huge, yet orderly space. The art was being readied for his traveling exhibitions which opened at the Plymouth Arts Center in October 2012 and Brookfield’s Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts this January 2013 titled “Yard: The Art of Craig Blietz.” New paintings that he finished this summer on display at the Wilson Center include Hircus Circus, a 60 x 188 inches triptych, which has Blietz’s domesticated goats circling the ground while observed from a bird’s eye view. Or a study titled Big Yard, an acrylic on muslin 96 x 112 inches on panel that represents another grand expression featuring his familiar Holsteins. 

Large-scale paintings require time to paint but also forethought into how to construct the “canvas,” and then to assemble/reassemble the painting for a traveling exhibition. For Blietz, this work begins long before the show opening, perhaps 24 to 18 months ahead of time. Often small sketches or watercolor studies precede larger acrylic paintings to perfect the color selection, composition and perspective for his increasingly meditative paintings. And while Blietz has painted these animals for numerous years, he still refers to individual animals for his paintings. 

First drawings or watercolors, while beautiful art in their own right, can be seen lined in a row for continued revision on one wall of the gallery. Opposite, on the studio's other wall, more finished yet smaller paintings detail aspects of these larger artworks, still open to change, including an animals personality or position, that are in various stages of the creative process. Blietz explains, “The recent convergence of opportunities this year allowed me to do [the monumental scale] this. These spaces in the exhibitions have been larger, so I’m experimenting.”

These massive paintings were constructed of Baltic birch panels with muslin stretched on top to provide a sound ground for the painting, and then the separate panels delicately screwed together. Blietz discovered this process offered better support and “skin” when he also used a muslin canvas with a fine weave. The combination of lightweight materials with innate strength allows the panels to travel in specially made wood crates planned for by Blietz, to protect the precious artwork that he spent months creating before being installed for the exhibition. 


In the instance of his spectacular image Hircus Circus, Blietz then discusses the formal aspect that repeats in these three panels rendering the multiple rings his Door County goats complete, as if they might be performing "in the ring." The six goats featured in the painting actually roam in a field one block east and then north of Blietz’s studio. So his four legged models can be readily reviewed if necessary to finish such an extensive artwork over a period of time. 

Miles north of Sister Bay, and then traveling over a Ferry Line, Washington Island houses what Blietz calls a wonderful little farm with beef cattle, where Holsteins and other breeds can be found. A more recent addition to his renderings of domesticated farm menageries is the pig. His painting Pink Storm was an animal image that Blietz encountered at the Wisconsin State Fair’s Hog Barn, “When one of the pigs came loose, and the farmer was chasing him down the aisles.”

Blietz’s exhibitions over the past few years have been following a continuum that involves progressively more complicated elements and techniques, which Blietz again reiterates concentrates on,“The more formal aspect of pattern instead of the narration.” 

Elements where domesticated farm creatures inspire in Blietz reflections on another circular life cycle. Different from a pet, with a less cherished or pampered existence, one that supports a human with milk, meat and an animal's very own hide. A life style which Blietz then comments, “We rely on them and they rely on us.” 

Congratulations to Blietz on this stunning series of solo exhibitions portraying humble farm animals that honors their daily contributions, years in preparation, as well as his marriage in summer 2012. To complete an extraordinary body of work for any exhibition requires patience and support from family and friends. In the catalogue, “Yard: The Art of Craig Blietz” the artist dedicates this exhibition to his parents, “Who have provided encouragement to everything I have attempted in life.” 

And then Blietz acknowledges on the catalogue's final pages his new bride, Kimberly Steger, “For her understanding of what it takes for me to follow my passion.”  

Blietz appears at all the exhibitions for their openings, the last one shown in the Carol and Robert Bush Art Center at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin beginning March 1 (snc.edu/artgalleries). The Wilson Center hosts a Milwaukee reception for Blietz on January 25, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Smaller works by Blietz may be viewed at Milwaukee’s Tory Folliard Gallery, with a special color catalogue including the various exhibition selections available at Folliard and the Wilson Center. For further information in Milwaukee on Craig Blietz, please visit www.wilson-center.com or toryfolliard.com. 

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