Shakespeare inspires local artists

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Shakespeare fever is spreading through the city.

Earlier this week, the Duluth Art Institute Galleries, fourth floor of the Duluth Depot, 506 W. Michigan St., opened an new exhibit to celebrate the arrival of Shakespeare's First Folio at the Tweed. More than 40 local artists submitted work to "My Mind's Eye: Portraits Inspired by Shakespeare's First Folio."

"Originally we thought there'd maybe be 10 pieces. But the outpouring has been incredible," said Anne Dugan, DAI executive and artistic director. "It's a testament to Shakespeare's legacy that these characters provide such a rich pool of inspiration for our visual arts community."

The works in "My Mind's Eye" are primarily narrative depictions in paint (watercolor, oil and acrylic) but almost every other media is also represented in the exhibit, including a serigraph print, Chinese brush painting, two painted chairs, a wood relief carving, a pencil portrait, a photograph and mixed media works. Dugan found that artists were very passionate about which character they selected.

"I had artists who came up to me and said, 'Well I know everyone's going to do Lady Macbeth, right?' But we really had a good variety across the board. There are a few repeats, but there's a pretty broad breadth," Dugan said.

Some interpretations are inspired by popular media, such as a painting of Juliet as played by Claire Danes in the 1996 film, "Romeo + Juliet." Others are influenced by performances, such as a painting of Romeo and Juliet as presented by the Metropolitan opera.

Some artists are highly personal in their renderings, with two who depict their grandchildren as fairies. More unusual versions of characters include a painting of Iago as a fancy rooster.

Fourteen pieces were created by students at the University of Minnesota Duluth, as part of Joellyn Rock's Digital Mixed Media class.

Local artist Edie Michalski was inspired by the name of local theatrical company Wise Fool Shakespeare. Although she's normally a serious watercolor purist, Michalski created a mixed media portrait of a smiling Shakespeare with a jester cap.

"But most of the paintings that I see of Shakespeare look so serious. I thought, well, he was very witty and funny. Because he's a mixture of comedy and tragedy, I'm going to do him as the wise fool," Michalski said.

On his vest, she painted the names of all the plays included in her edition of "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare." On his sleeves, she wrote down the names of the actors who acted in the plays during Shakespeare's lifetime. She made two giclee, high quality prints, of the artwork. One went to the Wise Fool Shakespeare company and the other to Matt Rosendahl, director of the UMD library and museum.

Artist Tim Beaulier was inspired by a lesser known play, "Timon of Athens." His wood-relief carving, created out of scrap wood and oil paint, "Ghostly Friends," shows Timon's friends turning away from him, like vaporizing ghosts.

"I read the play recently. It's a wonderful little story about a wealthy person who is very and generous to his friends. But when he ends up rather destitute, his friends kind of turn away from him," Beaulier said. "He goes into the forest where he finds a cache of gold, which reestablishes his wealth, but he's also developed a contempt for those around him based on how he was treated."

Kris Nelson created two painted chairs for the exhibit. One features a mystical wooded scene, similar to the one described in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and a painted hockey puck which represents the character Robin Goodfellow, also known as "Puck." Turn Puck over and you can find his famous line, "Lord! What fools these mortals be."

"I've always loved the play, so I wanted to have a little fun with it," Nelson said.

Her other chair is titled "Under the Willow Tree, Like Ophelia." This chair is based partially on the character Ophelia from "Hamlet" and partially on a photo of Nelson's mother-in-law from the 1940s.

"I started reading about Ophelia and learned that she died because she was sitting in a willow tree and the branch broke while she was picking flowers. That's how she drowned," Nelson said.

Though, in Nelson's interpretation, Ophelia is sitting serenely in a boat upon the water.

The show opened on Oct. 3 and will remain until the end of October.

Related: Shakespeare's First Folio opens at Tweed

Duluth gets a fardel of The Bard