Arts Magazine: Bewildered Image

From Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program

Bewildered Image2: New Paintings by Lance Kiland and T.L. Solien

Lance Kiland and T.L. Solien have been committed to the primacy of painting for 25 years. They first met in the 1950s as children in their hometown of Moorhead, Minnesota, and they later attended the same undergraduate school-Moorhead State University-to study art. Their devotion to painting persisted, even during those difficult times when some in the art world claimed that "painting is dead."

Although some of their images reveal strong similarties-for example, shallow theatrical spaces populated with what they call "eccentric mental architecture"-Kiland and Solien have, over time, created substantially different bodies of work based on unique personal styles, sources of inspiration, and regard for process. Both men have exhibited extensively in galleries and museums nationwide. Now, their most recent work is featured in the MAEP's exhibition "Bewildered Image2," on view in the Minnesota Gallery from August 11 to October 15, 1995.

Lance Kiland left Minnesota in 1970 to attend graduate school at the University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale, where he received a master's degree in fine arts in 1972. He and his wife, Kathleen, lived just one block from the iconoclastic designer Buckminster Fuller, who was then lecturing at the university; "I chose the school because Fuller was there," says Kiland.

While Kiland has always seen himself as a painter-a role he fulfills seven days a week-he has had a high regard for graphic design and printmaking since the mid-1960s. He has, in fact, taught printmaking, painting, and graphic design at North Hennepin Community College for 23 years. During the 1970s Kiland established and ran his own graphic-design business. He appreciates the analytical energy of graphic design, finding its technical aspects (computer technology, photography, typography, digital imaging) a welcome counterpoint to painting, "which is so archaic." In 1987 Kiland worked with master printers at Landfall Press in Chicago to produce a series of lithographs and woodcuts; later he produced a series of monotypes through Landmark Editions in Minneapolis.

For Kiland, painting is guided by intuition and "visual thinking," by a process unrelated to logic. As an artist, he operates in a mysterious realm of pseudo-abstraction filled with puzzling architectural towers, truncated figures, transparent machines, and biomorphic patterns. His forms sometimes hover above shallow or turbulent spaces filled with light and color. Others perch like strange still lifes on irrational planes, waiting for an honest reaction from a viewer patient enough to see their simple essence.

Kiland is quick to point out that there is no narrative to these works-no symbol, no metaphor, no universal truth. Instead, there are echoes or impulses that reflect the artist's relationship with life. They illustrate his "visual thinking"-an intelligence that functions without language. "It's like instrumental music," he explains. "We don't ask what music means. We're able to appreciate the sensory experience of being alive-of recognizing harmony, pattern, and pulsating rhythms."

Kiland's visual thinking, as well as his wholehearted belief in the actual process of painting, characterize his work. He typically approaches the empty canvas without preconception, trusting that his respect for paint and his optical intelligence will lead him into the work.

Sometimes he paints for many months on a single canvas: "If I'm patient enough, the image appears." And as he paints, Kiland builds and bisects forms, turning shapes inside out to reveal their inner workings. "I attempt to create new worlds where organic and architectural forms integrate and respond to their environment," he elaborates.

Lance Kiland's primary goal is to transcend his materials. He believes that art is supremely honest and that to contemplate it is a humbling experience. "If you're patient and let the work happen," he says, "you'll see the life it has to offer."

T. L. Solien received his master's degree in fine arts from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in 1977. He married the following fall and moved with his wife Deborah, to Minneapolis, where their daughter was born. After realizing that the city's warehouse district wasn't conducive to child rearing, they moved to Verges, Minnesota, then spent one year abroad, and ultimately settled in Pelican Rapids, Minnesota, population 1,8000, where their son was born in 1984.

Solien explains that much of his work until 1990 was "specifically responsive to place" and incorporated myriad symbols to reflect his relationship with family and a particular kind of home. The work produced at Vergas, for instance, contains numerous references to folk art, livestock, and nature and "was largely about repositioning a nuclear family in a rural area." The canvases produced in Europe reflect the architecture, color, and history of Paris. And his paintings from 1982 to 1990, replete with houses, mushrooms, flowering plum trees, bats, and other animals, mirror life in Pelican Rapids; in various ways these images all address the challenge of achieving Solien's dream of an artist supporting a bucolic family life.

The addition of schematic and sometimes-comic representation of characters like the tin man and the devil signified a serious self-examination of Solien's capacities as a father, husband, and artist. At times these images portrayed personal challenges that Solien found difficult to articulate verbally. Solien's iconography shifted dramatically in 1988, when eliminated all direct references to self and produced work that seemed obscured by an abundance of tangled vegetation.

In 1990, for the first time, Solien had to leave his semirural home to supplement his income. Invited to be visiting artist at Ohio State University in Columbus for six months, he produced a series of small fresco works there in a limited studio space. Since 1992 he also has served as a visiting artist at the University of Iowa City, where his family joined him for the 1994 academic year. The Soliens do, however, maintain their home in Pelican Rapids.

In Iowa Solien selected specific "triggering devices," as he calls them, from art history, such as Italian Mannerist painting, to inspire the creation of large canvases. Appropriating various styles and responding to particular artists (such as Picasso, Velasquez, and Bacon), he began a reinvestigation of self. He also became intrigued with early British society portraits, in which the artist subtly and often wittily undermined the self-importance and bravado of their elite subjects. Applying the same irony to his own self-portraits, Solien continues to dissect his personal identity. The results, which are featured in "Bewildered Image2", are both haunting and bizarre but highly humorous expressions of two universal complexities: the comprehension of personality and the achievement of a balance between art and family.

Cynde Randall is an artist and the program associate for the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program,

The Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program is made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Citation: Cynde Randall, "Bewildered Image2: New Paintings by Lance Kiland and T.L. Solien," Arts 18: no.8 (August 1995): 6-7.