Tag Archives: Norman Rockwell

An Expressionistic Representationalist Take on Dirtbags

March 16, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Stephen Dinsmore was meant to be a painter. It just took him about three decades to be at peace with that fact of his life.

“I was not one of those kids who thought of being an artist or had anything to do with it really,” Dinsmore, 63, says from his Lincoln studio. “The art kids always seemed a little bit out there to me. So I went in a different direction.”

The Omaha native went corporate out of college despite becoming hooked on paint and canvas at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. But as Dinsmore began accumulating stuff and status through his steady 9-to-5 as a technical writer, the urge to paint only intensified, which took a toll on
his happiness.

“I finally said one day, ‘I’m either going to die the most unhappy, corporate, schlemiel writer in the world or I’m going to start painting,’” Dinsmore says.

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At 32, he quit his job, sold his house, and moved to New York City where he painted by night and handled Francis Bacon and Mark Rothko paintings by day. Indeed, it was during this period of Dinsmore’s life—in a warehouse next door to the famous Marlborough Gallery—where the self-described “expressionistic representationalist” says he developed his style and craft.

“I just kept at it and kept at it and I got better and felt stronger and more confident. I started showing and started selling and it started to take hold and I quit my day jobs after five years,” Dinsmore says.

He hasn’t had another job since.

“The key is, the real measure is, if you’ve got that flame that doesn’t go out—that’s really what’s required, that’s what’s going to drive you on through the whole thing,” Dinsmore says, describing how he’s battled artistic setbacks and self-doubt throughout his career. “But without that, it’s unlikely you’ll make it.”

Dinsmore’s style is a polygamous marriage between Expressionism, Americana, and Ashcan art. It’s Norman Rockwell minus the warm fuzzies; Edward Hopper without corrective lenses. There’s a meditativeness and vitality to his soulful landscapes and still lifes. And his baseball paintings drip with mythos and nostalgia.

“There’s such a poetry to the game: the beauty of the field, the ironwork of the stadiums, uniforms, of course, and some of the insignias,” he says. “It’s all really quite beautiful to me. Yet there’s an ennui to it—there’s an emotional pull.”

The artist’s gritty, sometimes bleak depictions of America’s national pastime, he says, can be found most summers at Anderson O’Brien Fine Art during the College World Series. Dinsmore is also represented by Modern Arts Midtown and is a regular at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, among the plethora of galleries that represent him nationally.

Although validating, showing art will never define his career, Dinsmore says.

“If I never sold another painting again and that was the end of it, I’d still be painting,” he says. “It’s something that, when it works, is just so deeply satisfying to me.”

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Christopher McLucas thinks laughter 
is the best 
medicine.

December 20, 2013 by
Photography by Keith Binder
Illustration by Bob Donlan

Way down on the Giggle Farm, the Guffaw family grows grinning laughing stalks and chuckleberries by the bushel full. Farmer Guffaw and his wife proudly watch as their children spend days playing outdoors, inventing clever contraptions, daydreaming, and getting lost in reading. Soon, though—as is the case in all families—their children grow up and move away to lead their own lives. The Guffaws become sad and lonely while the laughing stalks wither and the chuckleberries shrivel.

Spoiler alert: The story does have a happy ending. The Giggle Farm, by 25-year-old Christopher McLucas, is a rare kind of children’s book, one that is funny and profound by turns. That’s because the young author didn’t want to write a typical children’s book. Instead, he set out to create the kind of story that would take both parents and children alike on a thoughtful and interactive journey.

Laughter: Something kids and adults love

Focusing on laughter as the book’s theme was a logical choice for McLucas, whose previous book Feint Peace & Other Stories, a collection of science fiction stories, was published in 2012. “I didn’t want the message to be just for children. I wanted it to be for adults, too,” he explains. “I wanted to communicate that laughter really is the best medicine. Laughter is what gets us through a lot. I thought it important to reference what both children and adults would know.”

A laughing stalk shown as a positive rather than a derisive term provided McLucas with his starting point. “I thought, ‘What if laughing stalk was something you could grow?’” he remembers. “The whole story started rolling from there and didn’t stop. I could see the entire idea in my head.”

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That idea involves witty puns, crisp story telling, and an imaginative interpretation of traditional family life. As a child, McLucas was particularly fascinated with how artist Norman Rockwell encapsulated entire narratives in his paintings. “There were stories locked inside them,” he says. “I wanted The Giggle Farm to be like that and to be an ode to Norman Rockwell. I wanted New Age Americana. We can all associate with this family.”

This is what gives the book a charming retro feel. For example, the small town of Gale (as in gales of laughter) has old-fashioned storefronts featuring a barber, a dry goods shop, and a laugh ware store. In place of a traditional county fair, there is instead a more playful Funny Festival. There are no video games, mp3 players, or cell phones. They use their imaginations, which McLucas sees as deeply important to 
childhood development.

It’s another reason why he wanted to make The Giggle Farm interactive and developed it as a coloring book. “I want parents and children to be able to work on it together,” he says. “It changes the dynamic of family reading. It makes reading time a family activity.”

Interaction: Something kids and adults need

McLucas also envisioned using coloring as a way to reinforce reading. The letters are in a plain, white, bubble font so that children can sound out the words as they color them in. Participating in how each page looks makes the experience personal and creates a sense of ownership in the book. “That way,” McLucas says with a smile, “it’s more yours than mine.”

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Illustrator Bob Donlan perfectly captures the Rockwellian mood that McLucas’ words convey. His illustrations have a gentleness to them and are filled with the kinds of details children can get lost in for hours. Donlan says he was impressed with the author’s vision for the book. “Chris wanted an interactive book for children to read and color. He liked the idea of a coloring book that would have sophisticated art,” he says. “He wanted it to have an imaginative quality. It is completely original.”

The element of The Giggle Farm with the most impact, McLucas thinks, is the dialogue that will occur between parents and children. “I really want them to talk about the story and for children to come back to it over and over.”

A book signing and launch party for The Giggle Farm (CreateSpace; $15.00) takes place on Jan. 23, 2014, at 6 p.m. at Legend Comics at 52nd and Leavenworth. You can also find the book at Chapter Two Books in Bellevue and on Amazon.com.

Surreal in Omaha

October 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“I’m into surrealism, as you can probably tell,” says artist Conrad Hinz with a laugh. That may be the one thing all viewers will agree on about his collection, showing at Hot Shops Art Center in November. Dream-like paintings with titles like Spirit Pope, Going for a Ride on the Other Side, and The Minotaur all but guarantee each visitor will walk away with a unique interpretation of Hinz’s work.

A Journey Through Surrealism and the Experimental contains 27 original pieces, the work of two to five years for the Nebraska artist. “I use a lot of Nebraska imagery,” Hinz says, “but I pull a lot from dreams, too. They show irrationality. It makes things more fun.” His laugh is always at the ready. “I like to have fun with things.”

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Though Hinz is following in the footsteps of the surrealist greats by studying Freud (as did his inspiration, Salvador Dalí) and using the glazing technique of the old masters, he has his own ideas about what makes great art. “If someone doesn’t stop and look at art, I’m not sure if that’s a successful painting.”

For Hinz, the true tell of a great painting is the passing of the thrift store test. “Fifty years from now,” he says, “would someone pick up my art in a thrift store so they can have the frame, or would they want to hang my own painting on their wall?”

He’s picked up more than a few pieces himself that way. For example, two paintings hanging in his living room reflect identical scenes at Cadaqués, a small fishing town where Dalí lived in his adulthood. One painting is circa 1898 and from a thrift store, and the other was buried in Hinz’s mother’s closet and dated 1925.

 “I use a lot of Nebraska imagery. I pull a lot from dreams, too. They show irrationality. It makes things more fun.”

Speaking of Hinz’s mother, the influence from her half-Lakota heritage can be seen throughout his artwork and specifically in his Sundance piece. “The spiritualists, the healers. They were the celebrities in that age.” Hinz says he tries not to “hit people over the head” with his spirituality in his art. “There’s no agenda. I just want to make people aware that God is there. We’re more than our body.”

Spiritualism and Hinz’s sense of fun come together in Radio Spirit. “My grandpa was a ham radio operator,” he says, “and I just thought, wouldn’t it be great if I could talk to him through one of those things?” The Norman Rockwell-esque painting depicts a young man with headphones watching in awe as a ghostly figure emerges from his radio. “I think I like to tell a story,” Hinz says of the piece.

Radio Spirit is a painting inspired by Hinz's grandfather and the works of Norman Rockwell.

Radio Spirit is a painting inspired by Hinz’s grandfather and the works of Norman Rockwell.

As with his art, Hinz has a specific feel that he wants his Hot Shops show to generate. “I want people to have a bit of fun,” he says. “Laugh, joke—I want it to be like going to see your favorite musician. I hate things that are stuffy and too quiet.” He adds that he’s tossed around the thought of hiring a mariachi band or maybe riding in on a bike with tin cans.

Hinz says he’s always exploring, whether it’s deconstructing the traditional gallery show or testing a new perspective in art. “Why would I not explore? Sometimes you get nowhere, but at least you tried something. It doesn’t matter if fame is there or not.”

You can see more of Hinz’ works at Hot Shops Nov. 2-25, 2012. For more information, visit hotshopsartscenter.com.