Sioux County Capitol-Democrat

Lifestyles: People in Portrait by Janine Calsbeek

The ruins may be more interesting than the original.

Dan Addington Don't treat your art-in-process as something precious. Take a risk. Possibly lose it all. Be left with ruins. "Be willing to sacrifice anything," said Dan Addington. And he follows this advice. That means a mistake may be more. It may actually be a hidden intent trying to announce itself. Even the process of removal is significant. You never return to the same pristine canvas -- you return to a work of art with history, he said. The mistake is a part of the next step. In fact, the ruins may be more interesting than the original work. So embrace those missteps.

Take a look at Addington's Angel of Ulster now on exhibit in a show of his work at the Korver Visual Art Center at Northwestern College in Orange City. Addington visited Ireland eight years ago and was touched and disturbed by the violence in the north. And of course he was especially shocked when a bombing near a school killed children. So, unintentionally some of his paintings became memorials to those kids, especially Angel of Ulster. Part of the work is a painting of an Irish sculpture, a face with a sense of mourning. He postponed using this downcast face, fearful that it would look overly sentimental, he said. And when he painted it with heavy tar, he didn't like it. It was too dark. So he began wiping off the tar, with a rag soaked in mineral spirits. At the fourth or fifth pass, he took a look, and he stopped. The leaves were less precise. There was still the hint of an angel wing. The face was more subtle, with drips down one side of it. And the hand which he had actually liked was gone. Sometimes you sacrifice small things for the sake of the whole.

Addington is an artist, a gallery owner, and a Northwestern College graduate. He grew up with his familiy in Colorado, Montana, and Alaska, and graduated from high school in Iowa. He majored in art and theater at Northwestern, graduating in '85. He exhibits his work in a gallery in Atlanta, as well as others around the country. He does college and university shows, too. And he co-owns a gallery, the Gwenda Jay/Addington Gallery in Chicago. His wife, Stephanie Roberts-Addington, is a painter and teacher, and the daughter of a pastor who now lives in Brussels. It gives the Addingtons a great excuse to visit Europe...and see lots of art, he said.

But it was that trip to Ireland in '96 that influenced his work dramatically. Addington had been playing around with some unusual materials, such as wax and tar. "I was fooling around with them, off to the side...with sad results" he said. Until then he had largely been painting with oils. But the ruins in the Irish countryside impressed him. He saw dozens of "amazingly beautiful gothic cathedrals" that had been destroyed by the Vikings then rebuilt, destroyed by the Normans then rebuilt, torn down by the British and rebuilt...and finally, not rebuilt. The ruins were beginning to look like rock outcroppings, like "they were being reclaimed by the earth. I was completely overwhelmed." He returned to the States, and delved into processes involving wax and tar. There's something in those materials that carries a message, something of the earth. "The qualities of the materials themselves carry content. They're not just a means to an end." Wax is pregnant with meaning, with possible allusions, he said. "It's translucent like flesh. Light penetrates wax and resides there." It's from the earth, an organic material. So is tar. He loves how light interacts with both materials.

Angel of Ulster Then there's his process. He uses a clear acrylic medium to apply collage to a thick wood panel...paper, pictures, text, pages from his sketch pad, fabric. On one work he includes a cross from a Greek Orthodox text. On others he has figures from anatomy texts, and patterns from heavy upholstery fabric. He begins with a collaged image, then improvises, he said, like a musician. He sometimes draws into the surface, or scrapes a design. He applies paint and stain to the surface. Then he removes what he just applied. Well, not all of it. "But it's just as much reductive as additive," he said. He scrapes aggressively. "It's a crackling, sanding and scumbling of the surface. " It becomes weathered... something that would happen naturally if he had the patience to wait. Of course, he seems to enjoy the process too much to leave it to nature. He wants this "musculature" of his painting to be intriguing, a work of art in itself. Next he covers the painting with wax. And later, he adds the tar, ordinary roofing tar mixed with varnish, and begins to develop an image. And sometimes he removes that image, or part of it, as in Angel of Ulster. He sometimes adds color via paint at the end. It's evident he loves these materials. "They're kind of debased. They're not in the pantheon of art materials. There's a sense of discovery here. " And something in these materials speaks of reclamation and redemption, he believes.

Addington likes the challenge of cliches too. "Can I infuse meaning into something that's been stripped of meaning?" He does it. One of his paintings, The Merrymaking of Loss, features rows of shamrocks, "an ultimate cliche." The painting "is like an ode to the shamrock." But it expresses some of what he felt wandering through the murky ruin-filled countryside of Ireland...the interaction of history, culture and nature. His titles are unusual, too, such as Sound of Things Falling Apart, Seduction of Legend, Memory's Offering, Lessons of Surrender and Bound on Earth. Some titles relate directly to the imagery. Others are words and phrases that strike him from whatever he's reading at the time, such as, currently, the poems of Yeats. Often he will title his work, and later see the connection with the painting.

Differences in context intrigue Addington. In a secular context, people percieve his imagery as historical sculpture. In a spiritual context, people see "angels". When he works, he's thinking about art history, or the refuse of art history, actually, since many of his works are based on anonymous cemetery sculpture. He is also fascinated with public art in Europe, which according to conversations he's had with Europeans, historically helped create a sense of identity and community, as opposed to some of today's public art, which is often about corporate power.

Addington encouraged Northwestern students to follow their passions, and to embrace contrasts and ambiguity. "As a student you're taught the rules, then urged not to follow them." It can be disconcerting. He remembers a student trip to the Walker Art Center in the Twin Cities, and his own confrontation with artists such as Jim Dine. " (The work) was both abstract and figurative. I had never seen anything like it, and it was challenging. I was dumbfounded and mystified. I didn't get it. It drove me crazy. " Later, Dine became one of Addington's favorite artists, and an influence.

The opening reception of Addington's Exhibition was Monday, Aug 30, but his work will be on display through October 8 at Te Paske Gallery, Korver Visual Arts Center. Gallery Hours are 8am to midnight Monday through Saturday, and 1 pm to midnight Sunday.

Pictured above: Dan Addington, "Angel of Ulster", oil, wax, tar on wood, 36x32x4

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