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An Interview with Craig Blietz

Self portrait by Craig Blietz.

The Miller Art Museum will open a new exhibit, “Craig Blietz: A Twenty Year Survey,” on Sept. 14. The following interview is an excerpt from an interview to be published in the upcoming book, Craig Blietz: Pastoral Dreaming.

Deborah Rosenthal (DR): What is your art training and background?

Craig Blietz (CB): I have been extremely fortunate to have had the training I’ve had; a rigorous academic curriculum, like what was used in the 19th century in Paris and Munich.

From grade school through postgraduate studies, I had very effective arts training. I’ve had tremendous opportunities to study in Europe in an obsessive and focused manner. I was always able to study at and with the very best institutions, instructors, and mentors.

I’d like to touch on mentors given how important they are. Mentors aren’t necessarily involved in the area of your pursuit. Two of my primary mentors came along during my teenage years. One was Joe, my first “boss.” He showed me what hard work was and the satisfaction that came from performing it in a diligent and prideful manner. Second was Leo who restored classic automobiles and taught me how to work on the various cars I owned in my teens. He showed me how important it was to find your passion and work at it in a fever pitch. Commit to it. Eat it. Sleep it. Wear it. Live it!

Other mentors more directly related to my career as a painter are Fred Berger (d. 2006), and John Rush who I continue to meet with each year and who offers me his most direct and unfiltered opinions for which I am forever grateful – even though they are tough to hear sometimes!

DR: Did your parents influence your artist’s path?

CB: Absolutely. I believe we are a product of our upbringing and family environment. My sister, brother, and I followed atypical career paths, each ending up in the arts; my brother as an audio technician in the music industry, and my sister involved in teaching music. My father is an excellent photographer. I learned much about image planning from him. My mother is very creative and particularly good at pursuing and accomplishing an objective, an incredibly important skill for one to have when self-employed as an artist. I thank her for helping me learn that life lesson. My parents did not judge my choices, and were very supportive of what I chose as a career.

DR: What were your early aspirations for your art and how do they compare to now?

CB: Time sorts out a great many things. I recognize as time passes I have become riskier in my choices. In the past I was tethered to my academic background and traditional aesthetic. I pursued clearly defined subject matter in the way our early predecessors in art history had. I have more confidence in my personal “lens” now and believe the pursuit of bringing clarity to that “lens” has become more of a priority.

DR: What motivated you to move to Wisconsin from studios in Chicago and Evanston, Illinois?

“Incline,” oil on linen by Craig Blietz.

CB: In 1985 I had a notion I would like to live and have a studio in a restored barn. Because I was living in an urban environment I hadn’t the least idea how to begin pursuing this dream, so I shelved it. Ten years later a friend of my father, and former private art instructor of mine, suggested I visit an artist in Door County that he was personal friends with named James Ingwersen. He thought it would be a good idea to show my work to Jim and for me to see his work.

So I packed up some work and went to visit Jim and Phyllis at their home and studio in Sister Bay. Jim is a world-class portrait artist. In addition to this he does other figurative work that is steeped in his rural life style. I was very impressed. When arriving, there I was…right in the middle of the dream I had ten years ago! It was all laid out in front of me…home, studio, lifestyle. I just needed to figure out how to get there.

In April of 1999 I moved my home and studio from Chicago to Sister Bay. As it is for Jim, this place has had an enormous impact on me and my work.

DR: Do you set goals? How do you decide what to work on?

CB: I arrive at ideas in a rather oblique manner. I don’t specifically look for a concept with cross hair certainty. Ideas “occur” as I am working, sometimes on something unrelated. Ideas or visual concepts appear in my mind and I take note of them in my sketchbooks. I am constantly doing this.

Over time, certain ideas reappear and validate themselves. Multiple sketches become a hybrid and stronger whole than are the independent sketches. I will often look through old sketchbooks, finding pertinent images to what I may be currently contemplating. It really is a rather messy process. I’ve tried dating and numbering my sketchbooks to aid in the referencing process but it’s not helpful. I find myself still periodically and casually thumbing through sketchbooks without direction or intent. Visual stuff emerges best this way.

With regard to setting goals, I tend to work in bodies of work. The conclusion of things most often tends to be set by outside influences such as an exhibit deadline. Fortunately a good work ethic was instilled in me early on. So, I am always producing work, whether it’s for the next body of work or just an independent piece.

“Craig Blietz: A Twenty Year Survey” will be on display at Miller Art Museum from Sept. 14 – Nov. 5. An opening reception will take place Sept. 14 from 5 – 6:30 pm and feature wine and appetizers. Blietz will speak about his work on Oct. 10 at 10:30 am.

Miller Art Museum, open Monday from 10 am – 8 pm and Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am – 5 pm, is located at 107 South 4th Avenue in Sturgeon Bay. For more information call 920.746.0707 or visit millerartmuseum.org.

Peninsula Arts and Humanities Alliance, Inc., is a coalition of non-profit organizations whose purpose is to enhance, promote and advocate the arts, humanities and natural sciences in Door County.