Arts Magazine: Night

From Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program

The Essence of the Night: A painter and a photographer explore the Midwestern night

The connections between artists Chris Faust and Mike Lynch extend beyond their mutual appreciation of the night. Their exhibition, simply titled "Night," reveals stunning similarities between Faust's panoramic photographs and Lynch's oil paintings, watercolors, and drawings-all depicting the Midwest's industrial and agricultural landscape at night.

Faust's night images are inspired by Lynch's paintings, which the photographer first encountered twenty-five years ago. Faust's mother, a landscape painter, encouraged him to attend all sorts of art exhibitions, and he developed an early appreciation for Lynch's work.

"I vividly remember a painting of the Hiawatha elevators with the pink light of a early winter morning reflected on the elevators," says Faust, "that particular light of a February morning-not a January morning, but a February morning."

Faust's interest in science led him to study biology at St. Cloud State University. He learned darkroom technique so he could catalogue insects, photographing their wings and enlarging the patterns to determine their proper classification. He went on to study toxicology in the graduate program at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse and then worked as an aquatic toxicologist for the federal government, registering the effects of toxins on fish, insects, and plants. Though fascinated with living systems, Faust craved a more open-ended process for exploring the world. He shifted his study from toxicology to media science, though he still retained his position as a science photographer.

In 1986, Faust was diagnosed with a brain tumor, which, he says, ironically provided the catharsis he needed to begin working as an artist. A year later, with his medial crisis resolved, he set out to create personal photographs. Still observing like a scientist, Faust explored the industrial landscape-dockyards, grain elevators, and railroad tracks. He found that a panoramic camera most suited his expressive interests.

Through workshops with John Sexton (a student of Ansel Adams), Faust learned a process called compensation development. This technique involves making a ten-minute exposure and leaving the film in the developer for a long time. With Lynch's night paintings still clear in his memory, Faust wondered if he could create the same kind of mood photographically.

Compensation development served him well; his long exposures allowed him to capture things that the naked eye cannot perceive in the dark. Stars trailed across the photographic sky, and the mid-tones were luscious and full, lending a beautiful, almost emotional depth to the pictures.

Faust pursued the work of photographers known for their night photography, in particular O. Winston Link, Minor White, and Michael Kenna. Over the next decade Faust became well known for his panoramic cultural landscapes, and participated in numerous exhibitions and projects. He was one of the founding artists to establish the pARTS gallery in Minneapolis, now an important venue for photography. He is represented in numerous private and public collections and in a recent book project with the Minnesota Historical Society, in which twelve photographers documented Minnesota at the turn of the millennium.

The inspirational connection between Faust and Lynch illustrates the impact that one artist's work can have on another-a force that can be as potent and mysterious as talent itself.

Mike Lynch was born in 1938 and raised in Hibbing, on the Iron Range of Minnesota's Arrowhead region. His father was for twenty years a night watchman at the Scranton mine. Lynch and his older brother, Jack, visited their dad at work on Sundays. It was a fantastic place for the boys to explore, with a huge building where the trains were repaired, offices filled with drafting tables and maps of the mines, and a chemistry lab for analyzing the ore. (It is notable, but not intentional, that many of the paintings and drawings that Lynch has produced over the past five decades depict precisely what a night watchman would witness at dawn or dusk).

At 15, Lynch "stopped drawing pirates" and began painting in earnest. Nightscapes quickly became his hallmark. He started mixing his own pigments, collecting earth samples from the mines for a wide range of reds, browns, ochres, yellows, and grays. Still in high school, Lynch attended classes at the Grand Marais Town Hall Art Colony, studying with the painters Birney Quick and Byron Bradley. He left the Range in 1956 to attend the Minneapolis School of Art (now the Minneapolis College of Art and Design), where he studied with the painter Austin Erickson.

Since the late 1960s, Lynch has worked steadily to capture the essence of Minnesota's small towns and urban and rural industrial sites. His approach to realism, he says, is more like listening than it is like talking.

Lynch is known for paintings of rare economy and sensitivity. The reductive, tonal quality of his work is partly due to his working at night. "When you look at a tree in the day you see a million leaves; at night, it's a simple form," he points out. And while Lynch's night scenes depict many signs of human activity, they are almost always unpopulated, their emptiness heightening their emotional impact.

Lynch employs a modified version of nineteenth-century British watercolor technique, epitomized by J.M.W. Turner and John Cotman.

Over the years Lynch has perfected a unique approach to working onsite, painting and drawing in his car, using a headlamp to illuminate his drawing or painting surfaces. His interest in ore pigments and Minnesota geology has been intense over the last twenty years. He keeps detailed notes in a handmade Ore Sample Book, with specific details for each sample as well as beautiful drawings of the mines from which he collected the samples. Lynch's work is represented in countless private, corporate, and public collections throughout the Midwest. While he is most often recognized for small-scale paintings, he occasionally works on a large scale, as he will this coming year on a percent-for-the-arts commission for the Minnesota Department of Revenue-a 10-by-18-foot painting of St. Paul, as seen from the Indian Mounds on the city's east side.

The exhibition "Night," a project conceived out of mutual respect, presents a unique opportunity to witness the reverence between two artists.

Cynde Randall is Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program Associate at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Citatiion: Cynde Randall, "The Essence of the Night: A painter and a photographer explore the Midwestern night," Arts 23, no. 9 (November 2000): 18-19.