Saturday, April 16, 2005

Granddaughter’s Eye

Last week, Maddy (age 5) was visiting the house. She looked up from her lunch at a lithograph hanging on the wall of our breakfast nook. She asked, “What is that?”

Like most adults, I took the long way ‘round to explain: It’s a lithograph, Maddy – kind of like an artist’s print – of a hand. I bought it more than 30 years ago from an art gallery in Minnesota, before I even met your grandmother. It’s by a man named (and I squinted to look at the artist’s signature, to remember) Dennis J. Flynn.

The litho, measuring about 20” x 30”, is of a large-scale handprint, created in different primary colors: the thumb in red, the heel of the hand in purple, and so on. I recalled that there had been a much larger painting, oil or acrylic, of the same subject, at the gallery – but I couldn’t afford the painting; there was an Artist’s Proof litho, however; so I purchased that, from the 118 Gallery in Minneapolis.

Maddy was content with the explanation, but I wasn’t. I realized I had no idea what had happened to the artist who created the lithograph that has been hanging on one wall or another of every house I’ve lived in since 1972.

So I Googled “Dennis J. Flynn” and “Artist.” Found him in New Mexico. I sent him an e-mail – and he called me back half an hour later. It was one of the most enjoyable conversations I’ve had in months.

Dennis Flynn was born December 26, 1942, in Fennimore, Wisconsin. (That makes him three years older than me.) He earned his BFA degree at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and MA and MFA at the University of Iowa. He taught art in various colleges including Minneapolis College of Art and Design, University of Texas at Arlington and the University of Idaho. It was during his stay in Minneapolis that he produced the hand painting and lithos – he said he had no idea what had happened to the painting. Last he’d heard, it was somewhere in Wisconsin, but he’d lost track of it.

Dennis has exhibited widely in the United States and abroad including Ljubljana and Colombia. This year he has been invited to represent the United States in the Florence, Italy, Biennial of Contemporary Art. Museum collections include San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Art Institute of Chicago, and Minneapolis Art Institute. He’s currently part of a major exhibition at the Las Vegas Art Museum, ‘15 Santa Fe Artists.’ Approximately 125 paintings by 15 living Santa Fe artists are featured in the exhibition, which is curated by Dr. James Mann. The artists range in age from 28 to 70 years old.

“This exhibition features 15 Santa Fe artists whose works are transcending the analytic reductivism of the second half of the 20th century, from abstract expressionism through pop art and the movements which treat art as ephemeral, principally conceptual, installation, performance, and environmental art,” explains Dr. Mann.

“That is the general critical framework within which the artists were selected, not any more specific similarity of style, approach, or appearance. Each finds an individual way to reconstitute the art of painting from the ruins of its deconstruction and abandonment, the reductive mode that still dominates in establishment international art but is destined for extinction. Above all, these 15 artists were expressly selected because they do not employ the typical imagery of Southwestern art, which has its market epicenters in Santa Fe and Scottsdale.

“Recognizable imagery is most plentiful in this exhibition, although some abstraction is included. Highly non-traditional landscapes are included, along with subjects employing the human figure. The exhibition aims to be completely groundbreaking, the diametrical opposite of what is familiar or predictable. It is not meant to be a representative survey of art being made in Santa Fe today, but rather to frustrate ordinary expectations of what 'Santa Fe' art is at the present time. Innovative originality, contrary to what is typical, is the salient quality that the artists selected display.” (Here’s a man who talks too much.)

Today, Dennis’s work looks absolutely nothing like the “hand” I purchased 30 years ago. You can see what he’s been doing at

Maddy isn’t ready to see these differences, but I am. The artist has moved on but I still prefer the 30-year-old lithograph. What’s odd is that Maddy, looking up from her McDonalds Happy Meal, really saw it for the first time, even though it’s been hanging on the same wall for years. Me, too.

1 comment:

Eric V. McKay said...

Dennis Flynn Now has a new website at:

E. V. McKay