The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of expanding the conversation about how public policies impact the daily lives of people in our state. Lore Brack is an author who has worked in programs and publications for the Salina Art Center, as a college and community writing teacher, and as the director of a foundation-funded artist development project in Salina. She lives in Luke.
LINDSBORG – The painter Mike Hartung doesn’t read much fiction, but many of his paintings start with a sentence that he can’t get out of his head. He says we’re going through a very dark time and “I’m not sure we’re not going to get out of it.” Regardless, he keeps making paintings that are critical of the social and political moment.
He has produced more than 700 large panels in his lifetime, many of them in an upstairs studio in downtown Lindsborg since 1975. Hartung paints people we often don’t want to see—distorted Oxycontin addicts, bullied women, lonely souls in the night—but he does so with a vitality that draws us in even when we want to turn away.
“It’s work,” he said.
Despite the contradictions, Hartung is clear, focused and single-minded. After working as a commercial printer for 45 years, he is devoting his retirement to painting and gathering volunteers from Lindsborg to open what he calls “a fairly simple, people-friendly, informal place for people to come in and out of the street deal with art,” calls .”
Hartung bought a building in downtown Lindsborg where he lived and painted for many years to create an art space that promotes, supports and develops local and regional art and artists. The Smoky Valley Arts and Folklife Center opened January 14 with a display of 10 new Hartung paintings (plus three 1980s panels) in an exhibit titled “Not for the Faint of Heart” running through March 13 you can see.
On opening day, Hartung tended the gallery along with Marsha Howe, a founding member of the SVAFC committee and director of the Red Barn Studio Museum, just down Main Street from Main Building at 114½ S. Downtown.
After an “Open” sign was unearthed in the back room used as a space for art classes and workshops, the couple decided to hang it in the front window.
“Yellow and blue! Swedish colors!” Howe said, the first time they turned it on. Hartung stepped outside to see what the electric “Open” looked like in the window and came back with this assessment: “Looks like a bar and grill. People will say: Hey! Another place to start my bill!”
His enjoyment of talking to others about his work began after his friends, artists Laura and Richard Klocke, photographed his paintings and encouraged him to exhibit, which he began in 2017.
“I love the character,” Hartung said, referring to a painting titled Intruder in the Sun, in which a sunbather is interrupted while reading.
“I don’t use models. I want this separation. The advantage is that I don’t have any luggage. The downside is that I don’t want to convert to routine. If that sounds familiar to me, I don’t want to do it,” he said.
A recently completed panel entitled “A Simple Procedure. A woman’s right to determine her reproductive path ended by a band of devout zealots who cling to superstition cloaked in myth and dogma. Abedted by Jihadist Judges features a cleric wearing blue surgical gloves and a headdress with jester’s bells. The figure presides over a room that is simultaneously a church, delivery room, and Supreme Court. Below, one of five goat-headed creatures dressed in black is sticking pins into a female puppet-like figure, while another holds up a fanged yellow snake.
The painting makes a powerful statement in a state where we generally seem to agree on the wisdom of silence and politeness when we meet at the local coffee shop. However, Lindsborg has always owed it to artists who disrupted the harmony of style and content.
An exhibition of Hartung’s paintings a few years ago required a quick move to another location less visible Main Street and more open to artistic freedom (The Red Barn). That show, also sponsored by SVAFC, featured one titled “The Golden Turd,” which featured former President Donald Trump and a hilarious (and perhaps prescient) painting of former Bethany College President William Jones. who was released in November from Georgetown College following allegations of sexual assault.
The new gallery group began experimenting with exhibitions in rented spaces in August 2020.
“We didn’t have a dedicated room for workshops, which is so exciting,” Howe said. “Every year there will be a folklife exhibition – traditional works like Swedish sjold (crafts), ljuskrona (chandeliers) and folk costumes.”
Howe said the idea for a gallery and arts center had been in her head for years, but when Hartung came to The Red Barn in 2017, “he told me he had 700 paintings and wanted a place to leave them. “
So Howe joined the committee and wrote a grant application for Reimagined Spaces to the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission. When the project was funded, SVAFC received the financial and artistic boost it needed to get serious about the housing hunt.
Ultimately, Hartung’s paintings and the building will remain in a legacy that will ensure that SVAFC and the paintings are part of Lindsborg’s future cultural life.
Shortly before the end of the opening exhibition, a short film by Patrick Troll entitled “Hartung: Not for Sale” will be premiered on March 5th. In the film Hartung says: “I disturb my peaceful retirement by still painting. That’s all I ever wanted to do. In a strange way, I consider myself a writer with only a brush for vocabulary.”
Spending time with Hartung’s new paintings—a family at Thanksgiving dinner in their car, a woman comforting a child on a sleeping porch, a dominatrix washing a man’s hands, a woman watching a burning fire from her home Watching Cactus – It’s Like an Afternoon When you read one of these books, you never want to end.
For information about the Hartung Unfiltered benefit film premiere and the schedule of exhibitions, courses and events for 2022, visit of the center website. The center is open from Friday to Sunday from 1pm to 5pm and by appointment via email [email protected]
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