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November 05, 1982 - Image 12

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1982-11-05
Note:
This is a tabloid page

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Guest Appear

2 FREE TOKENS WITH THIS COUPONj
(U of M Students-Expires Thurs.. Nov.11)
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Rockwell Kent-An
of His Works

Anthology

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SECOND
CHANCE
WED., NOV. 10,
1982

Pp" Tickets: 511.50,10.50,86.50, Reserved Seating.
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2nd Show- Dec.4- Detroit - Madison Theatre

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Fridolf Johnson, ed-.
Alfred A. Knopf, 358p.
By Steve Miller
R OCKWELL KENT was and always
will be one of this country's
greatest commercial artists. He is an
American equivalent of the Renaissan-
ce Man-artist, writer, lithographer,
explorer, outspoken political activist,
and above all a proud and meticulous
craftsman.
In Rockwell Kent-An Anthology of
His Works, editor Fridolf Johnson
presents brief, detailed glimpses of the
varied elements of Kent's life, like ver-
bal snapshots. The first third of the text
is a biographical sketch, but Johnson
uses Kent's own writings to fill the rest.
There are selections from Kent's
autobiography, his travel books, and
scores of letters to friends, associates
and political figures.
Words are but a small part of the
story, though. They aren't what Kent
will be remembered for in the murky
paths of the future. The paintings and
illustrations, his designs and graphic
works, even a simple Christmas card or
a bookplate for a friend, are the
justifications of his fame. The words in-
terpret one man's life, but the pictures
interpret all life, and the hundreds of
fine examples in this volume show well
the consistent and carefully plotted
philosophy behind everything Kent at-
tempted or achieved.
His philosophy is that of a master
craftsman-not a genius unloosed from
the bonds of normal human existence,
but a man in love with reality. Self-
expression disgusts Kent; instead, he
tries to capture what is truly there.
"Express myself?" he says. "What
sacrilege! Who talks when God is
speaking?"
These words were a disavowal of Im-

pressionism, an art form Kent didn't
understand and thus mistrusted, but
were not a total denial of the artist's
role in the art. Kent's own style is
distinctive and individualistic, but
never difficult to comprehend. Cer-
tainly his interpretations are the
product of objective rules demanding
clarity and drama, and the mastery of
the tools of his trade, but something in-
side the artist tells him what to listen
for even when God speaks. Something
strange and unknowable happens bet-
ween an artist's eyes and hands to
make him great or leave him in the
ashes of history.
Kent searched for extremes to make
these mysteries happen: He spent years
at a stretch living in the Arctic or
travelling in the tropics, always pain-
ting, sketching, and filling notebooks
with his impressions. Then, after retur-
ning from the edges of the world to the
bustle of life in New England, he sold
his works and spent his commissions.
Johnson offers other less noble
reasons for Kent's flights from the
"regular" world. Pressure from his
wives and mistresses to live his life on
their terms drove him out on some oc-
casions. Social obligations and money.
problems provided pretexts to pack up
and leave...
Whatever the causes, the end results
are beautiful, haunting, almost mystic
works.
Kent does have his flaws, of course.
He has definite strengths and
weaknesses, reasons for the appellation
''commercial artist." His paintings,
those meant to stand on their own, are
often unexciting and repetitive. Here is
the same mountain range in the distan-
ce, there the same perspective of only
slightly different scenes, and many of
the paintings are indistinguishable
from each other.
But when Kent illustrates a book, as
with his masterwork for Moby Dick, his
powerful and unsubtle style augments
the text without ever interfering. The
drawings for Shakespeare, The Canter-
bury Tales, and the numerous
illustrations for his own books evoke
clear emotions and quiet charac-
terizations of scenes.
His paintings also merit their share of
the praise. Though an eminently
American artist, he is widely popular in
Russia, where many of his originals
hang. He was the first American artist
to have a major show in Russia, a coun-
try where he felt his realistic style was
This weekend:
BLIND JIM BREWER
with Andy Cohen
For further information call
996-8555
FRIDAY NIGHT SPECIAL
A mug of Old Vienna beer
with paid admission.

properly appreciated. Senator McCar-
thy's people gave him a lot of grief for
this in the late '50s, but after he won a
landmark lawsuit against the State
Department, they were unable to touch
him.
Kent was born in 1882 and died in
1971; he lived his life the way he wan-
ted. He did everything he wanted, and
played the man about town whether in
New York City or an Eskimo village in
Greenland. His life was as fascinating
as his art, and his editors have chosen
amply of both.
The book is probably intended for
those who can afford expensive ad-
ditions to their coffee tables, but
nonetheless it is a fine example of that
genre. It is worth a look even if you
can't afford to buy it.
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Furs

/I

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around David Bowie's name as a
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The Psychedelic Furs are one of the
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1. 1 ________________________________________

2 Weekend/November 5. 1982

.1.5

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