Grain storage bins just up the road from my home in Burlington, Wisconsin USA. After the fall harvest, you can hear the giant fans blowing to dry the grain. However, all is quiet on this hot, sticky summer night.
Faith. Family. Friends.
Add strokes of contrasting colors and blend the soul of the artist with the soul of his subject until the two merge on an oversized canvas.
Then you have the portrait art of artist Frank Korb. Korb is a Burlington, Wis., resident and Waterford Union High School art teacher.
Korb opened a show April 12 at the River Arts Center, 105 Ninth St., Prairie du Sac. A number of portraits, and a selection of preliminary sketches and color studies, will be on display through April 28.
Korb’s foray into his signature portrait art – one of his biggest challenges – started about seven years ago.
“I always remember portraiture as being very difficult,” Korb said.
“Faces are hard. But that’s what I paint.”
He took on the challenge, anyway, sketching the concept for a large-scale portrait.
Unsure of which direction to go, he let the project sit for an entire summer.
Then, inspired by the works of Chuck Close and Alex Katz, Korb started playing with colors and techniques, using the large canvas, bright colors and broken-up shapes reminiscent of the 1960s pop-art movement.
Korb’s style, at the time, was looser than his more recent works – “the shapes were not real well-defined,” he said.
Now, he said, his portraits tend to be “very fussy,” using specific shapes to create the whole image.
“I think the final picture is very full of depth and form, but it’s broken up by these very definite shapes,” Korb said.
“It’s fun to see things evolve like this.”
Korb spends a lot of time on preparation before paint ever touches the canvas.
A piece starts with a photo of a particular subject. To date, almost all of Korb’s subjects have been family members or friends.
“I think the fact that I know the people makes the paintings better,” he said.
He likes to make his own photos, because doing so gives him more control of the finished piece.
He prefers catching his subjects in candid moments that reveal their personalities and expressions.
He makes 20 to 30 photos, then sorts through them until he finds a favorite.
Next, he creates a detailed sketch of the image; then he traces that image on thin paper, creating the shapes that will form the final painted work.
Korb sometimes uses colored pencils to fill in the shapes and get a sense of how the finished painting will look.
He puts the tracing in a machine that projects a giant-sized image onto a prepared canvas, and then sketches the shapes that will be filled with paints.
Oils are Korb’s medium of choice, although he has used acrylics. “I like the smoothness, the creaminess (of oils),” he said.
Most people look at the portraits and assume they are acrylics, because the colors are so flat, he said. He mixes his paint colors on a palette before they touch the canvas, whereas many artists mix oils right on the canvas.
The River Arts show features a video of Korb’s start-to-finish progress on a paint-ing, to better demonstrate the work behind the work.
Korb said that is the teacher part of him coming through – he takes every opportunity he can to educate people about art.
FAITH IS THE CORE OF ABSTRACT WORKS
Korb also makes abstract art, using familiar shapes and forms to help people understand complex concepts like faith, life and death.
“A lot of the abstract work that I started with…was a reflection of my faith,” he said.
“I started with the Bible as a source to build things on,” he said.
He used Bible pages as the base for a number of paintings, as well as for “Trinity,” a mixed-media series.
The viewer can’t necessarily read the pages, since he generally paints over them.
“But I’ve continued to use the Bible as a ground,” he said.
The abstract works are a way of “trying to share my beliefs, (though) I certainly don’t want to shove anything down anyone’s throat,” he said.
He uses circles, squares and house-shapes throughout the works as well.
“These are things that we see (in art) through history. All cultures have circles, have a house,” he said. “They’re recognizable shapes.”
He specifically uses the familiar to illustrate the abstract, hoping to give the viewer a key to understanding a piece.
Korb’s daughter, Abby, 8, provided a bit of input on his abstract art.
One particular piece hangs in the Korb family kitchen.
“I drew the circles when I was little. I can draw circles better than that now,” Abby said, pointing to the fluid oval shapes she drew at age 5. Her contribution creates an interesting contrast to the angular grid in the painting.
Abby has her own space in Korb’s basement art studio as well, where her cheerful, smaller-scale drawings and paintings commingle with her dad’s on softly sunlit walls.
The painting pair recently worked together at the Art Bar in Milwaukee, where an artist or artists work for six to eight hours on any given Sunday, painting a giant canvas. The Art Bar displays the painting until the next artist paints over it the following week.
Korb said he uses the same concept for his WUHS art students. A canvas hangs outside his classroom door. A student has a week to paint the canvas in his or her free time. The painting is displayed for a week – then the next student artist takes over.
It gives other students the opportunity to see what goes into making a painting, Korb said.
“I think involvement in or at least appreciation of the arts makes for a more well-rounded person,” Korb said.
Korb said he teaches his students that hard work and perseverance are the keys to success – and it helps that he is a working painter.
“I think for myself it’s equally important – or maybe more important – that I am a painter who teaches.”
He upped the ante a bit last June, challenging himself to make one painting a day for an entire year.
The fruit of his nearly year-long effort will be displayed at the Daily Brew in Burlington in May.
“I paint every day,” he said. “It’s a commitment and practice and (I) just have to do it.”
“There are days I don’t want to paint,” he said.
“So often people want the muse to come to them, to come inspire them. You have to just do it.
“That’s the frustrating thing for my students,” he said.
Korb wouldn’t have it any other way. “I love what I do,” he said. “I’ve got a family that loves and supports me. I grew up with parents who supported everything we did.”
To see more of Frank Korb’s artwork, visit http://www.frankkorb.com
And shiver me timbers! A barnacle barge made its way across Tichigan Lake carrying a bevy of buccaneers that included the likes of Cap’n Jack Sparrow (alias Dave Reynolds) and his wondrous wench, Elaine Luisier, surrounded by a gauntlet of skull and crossbones flags snapping in the breeze.
Sometimes last Christmas, the Honey Creek, Wis. couple decided to walk the plank and become mateys for life in a pirate-themed wedding celebration.
“I told her, ‘You’re marrying me and that’s the way it’s going to be,’” Dave said. They thought they’d like to have the wedding on Lake Tichigan, since that was where they first met. And it was where Dave drew Elaine a picture that won her heart.
“I’ve always been into skulls,” Elaine said, explaining that when they met, Dave said he was an artist. She said he drew the most beautiful, detailed skull she had ever seen.
“One of her friends said, ‘Why don’t you have a pirate wedding?’” Dave said.
The idea took on a life of its own from there. Rochester jeweler Brian Popp, owner of Angel Acres Jewelry and Gift, designed and made the matching skull wedding bands.
Dave’s mom, Toni Jackson, stitched up a storm. She sewed skull-themed bags for the flower girl and ring bearer as well as numerous parts of pirate cos-tumes for the bride and groom, herself, and other family and friends.
“It turned into this big pirate fever,” Dave said.
Dave and Elaine and their guests dressed in pirate garb. Even the justice of the peace, area attorney Tim Daley, wore a monk’s robe as the couple exchanged vows – and matching gold rings featuring skulls with ruby eyes.
One of the few things the wedding did not feature was pirate food. After some research, Elaine discovered that pirates pretty much ate anything, including rat stew.
“Whatever was dead, they put it in there,” she said. “I was going to serve pirate food, but I thought – nah.”
They settled for playing Celtic-themed music, singing, dancing and having a great time.
Later this fall, Cap’n and Mrs. Reynolds will cross the high seas to England for their honeymoon.
Perhaps they’ll take a pirate ship.
(Photo courtesy of Dave and Elaine Reynolds)
I vaguely remember my own high school graduation 25 years ago. I was an “S” among 750 students or so, so the ceremony was long and hot. Portable video games weren’t invented yet, so I’m not sure what I did to amuse myself during the hours I waited, sandwiched between my classmates in a sea of red gowns, wondering when I could escape to eat dinner with my family then hang out with my friends.
Now I’m on the other side – my two sons will walk the stage at Burlington High School this weekend, and I’ll be somewhere in the crowd, frantically snapping photos between tears, wondering how 18 years could have gone by so quickly, and did I teach them what they need to know?
And frankly, where the heck did the time go?
As they stand before me – both well over six feet tall – my heart sees my blonde, blue-eyed babies wrestling each other on the lawn, taking apart their room, peering at me from the top of an ancient pine tree (as I prayed they wouldn’t fall!), hanging upside-down from the monkey bars and, more than occasionally, falling down.
My mom-brain is a scrapbook of images – of trips to the zoo, hiking up rocky paths, camping next to Lake Superior, and slapping mosquitoes during summer Little League games.
I see my boys sitting with their big sister as she teaches them to read although they won’t be in school for another year. I see all three zooming down a snowy hill on makeshift sleds, the dog chasing after them.
Somewhere, somehow they started focusing on their interests and talents – learning to play instruments and sing, things I never learned to do.
Fast forward to my sons’ graduation day, and I know I will feel a bit left behind, my job basically done yet never really over. I want to leave them with a list of things I learned over the past 25 years – things learned the hard way, which is probably the only way a lesson really sticks.
A mom’s list for life:
• You may have graduated, but that doesn’t mean the learning is over. Always be full of wonder and curiosity, and try to learn something new every day.
• You have so many options – don’t be overwhelmed. Enjoy each day as it comes. Make plans, but be flexible. Often things don’t turn out how you want or expect them to, but if you’re flexible you’ll be amazed by the things you can learn to do.
• Let your lives be filled with adventure; adventure keeps you from becoming stagnant.
• Treasure your families, because they are the ones who will always be there for you, rain or shine.
• Be sure to say “thank you,” then pay it forward by doing something kind for someone else, no strings attached.
• Keep your faith; it will sustain you during difficult times.
• Clean your room – not because I said so, although that seems like a good enough reason, but because you’ll be able to find everything in a hurry and not have to think about it later.
• Throw the stuff away that you don’t use or need. Clutter just creates more work.
• Work hard, then take time to play hard as well.
• You have the ability to change the world, one moment, one day at a time. Now, get out there – and go for it!
• Always remember that someone loves you, even if that person is “just” your mom or dad.
Congratulations, Class of 2006 – especially to Eddie and Alex. You’ll always be my babies, even if you do tower over me!