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First City of Arts Studio Cruise: Artist’s work shares the story within

Marley Kaul, one of the artists in the Studio Cruise, says his work has evolved over 40 years. Patt Rall | Bemidji Pioneer2 / 2

BEMIDJI — Marley Kaul is hoping that when people come to visit his studio during the First City of Arts Studio Cruise, they will come in close and examine the brush strokes and the colors and try to discover the story within.

I am anticipating bright sunny days during the Studio Cruise so that the experience of walking in Kaul’s studio will be an event that thrills the senses; the kind of awe I experienced upon entering his space.

“My work has evolved over 40 years,” said Kaul. “I have gone through what art historians would call categories; my genre has stayed the same. It deals with the land, and I have not departed from that since I seriously began to paint.”

Kaul went on to explain that he grew up on a farm, and that influence lives within. Therefore, he tends to focus on the things he experiences or sees daily and draws his inspiration from them and his fertile imagination.

It will be too late for his love of gardening to be evident outdoors by the time of the Studio Cruise. But, there will be baskets of tuberous begonias hanging in front of the large windows of his studio; perhaps the same flowers that he has transformed into a picture poem.

“If I could write, I’d be a poet,” said Kaul. “I like the way a poet will combine images with each other that might not have anything to do with each other, but then, in the end, they end up enhancing each other. The idea of poetry came to me many, many years ago."

Kaul went on to muse about a talk he would give his art students.

Some of his former students may recognize the assignment: If Kaul sent both a poet and a catalogue writer down to the edge of Lake Bemidji to note some descriptions of what theyfound at the lake in the same time, what would they bring back? The catalogue writer would define the space, the kind of day and so forth. The poet would make you want to live there by introducing the same information in a very different way.

While visiting the studio, look for the poppy pictures, for they are the yearly focus of at least one of his painting. One of them, “Waiting for the Petals to Fall,” an egg tempera on panel, speaks to a memory held over from childhood of an oft-quoted poem by the late Dr. John M. McCrae. “In Flanders Fields” speaks to the poppies that blow between the crosses, row by row. (See the Bemidji Arts blog at for more about this poem.)

“When I draw the poppy, which I paint every year, it combines with my irises, which are usually in the violet range, and the combination of both is kind of overwhelming,” said Kaul. “But then the poppy has other symbolic qualities to me and, that is, I remember the poppy as being recited in a poem. The poppy doesn’t last very long, because the wind makes the petals fall. Those petals reminded me of soldiers falling, because I had just watched the news on television and it was one of those bad days.”

Kaul combines his grief at the loss of young life with his understanding of the wisdom of a Zen master who places a cloth under the plant to receive the petals torn from the stem, always prematurely, by a capricious wind. Yes, the message is there to discover in each of Kaul’s works, and he does give a hint in the title to help viewers “get into the painting.”

Kaul studied, practiced and taught egg tempera for 20 years, and he is a recognized expert in the medium.

Simply stated, egg tempera is a compound of artist-quality finely ground dry pigment, egg yolk and water that was discovered by the ancients. Some paintings using this compound are visible on Egyptian Sarcophagi, and some paintings dating back to the 1st century AD are still intact. This medium was used by painters through the centuries and around the world until about 1500, when oil paints were discovered. Kaul freely admits that is his favorite medium next to acrylics.

In another painting in progress, an acrylic on canvas, Kaul tells the story of a pair of young crows that are encountering a situation in which their parents did not give them life lessons on overcoming. He watched the family all summer from his studio. They lived in an old tree, and the parents spent the summer preparing their hatchlings for life beyond the nest. One recent morning, Kaul noticed that the water has frosted over in the bird bath and the adolescents were confused because they could still see their images but could not drink. That is the obvious picture but I will leave it to the artist and teacher to tell the rest of the story.

The initial articles in this series leading up to the 2012 Studio Cruise are about three nationally known painters who are willing to share their studios and stories with their guests. And that aspect is exactly what makes the Bemidji arts weekend so different and exciting; one is able to watch and talk with a professional and ask those important questions: “How do you make your lines?” or “Do you draw on the canvas first or just plow ahead with your images and colors?”

Listen well to those stories, for artists tell the story of our lives in different ways, but it all comes out to be the same in the end: a longing to understand and convey their insights of living in an uncertain world.

If you go...

What: Studio Cruise ’12: A self-guided tour of some of the Bemidji area’s best-known artisans in their studios.

When: Friday and Saturday, Oct. 19-20, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 21, ­10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Cost: Free

More information: 877-250-5959 or