|FROM CITY'S TONE, VOLUME 1, ISSUE 12, DECEMBER 2001:|
What Does Chainsaw Have to do with It?
by John W. Hays
Flanders Contemporary Art in Minneapolis is showing an exhibition including
artwork produced by my longtime friend, Todd Severson. We grew up in the
Twin Cities. In high school, I watched Todd play on our hockey team, and
later, during the early college phase, we were housemates. Then, while
I was distracted by marriage, house, and kids, Todd established himself
as an international artist of distinct merit. What I learned from his curriculum
vitae has brought my respect for this friend into much greater focus. Todd
studied art at a variety of institutions in Minneapolis, Nova Scotia, and
Baton Rouge in the '80s. He moved among Nova Scotia, Minnesota, London,
Hamburg, Louisiana, and Texas throughout the last 15 years, living for
an extended time in each place. He points out, "This kind of 'traveling'
has been an incredible influence on my life and work." There is a decided
integrity to his work that has stuck with him the whole way.
Currently, Todd has two studio spaces in Germany and one in northern Minnesota, near the Canadian border, with different things happening in each. One of the tools Todd has come to be known for is the chainsaw. His artwork is not at all what most people visualize when that power tool is mentioned. "Large men often ask me what kind of chainsaw I use," Todd will tell us. "They always ask how big it is. I tell them it is a Mercedes. Then they are quiet." I have great appreciation for his quirky, yet insightful, perspectives and playful sense of humor. He holds an unconventional take on everyday life.
I remember Todd doing a lot of drawing and painting, but I am more familiar with a period of ceramic work, and other three dimensional creations. More recently, he has seemingly combined these experiences, creating images by layering bold colors of paint on a panel and then scoring the surface with the blade of his chainsaw. During a brief visit last summer, I had my first opportunity to view some of the exceptional, dramatic outcomes of this process. I have been talking about what I saw ever since. Your eye will become entranced, focused close at the variety of colors that play about, each blade stroke revealing unique combinations of depth and hue. Meanwhile, in a wider field of view, the blur of colors revealed by the blade become lines of a face or other object/scene.
Why the chainsaw, you might wonder? Todd recently explained, "For many years I have had a private dialogue with myself about the necessary distance I should or could have from the work, and the amount of control I want to have over certain elements in the work, or aspects of the appearance of things- In art school, thousands of years ago in Nova Scotia, I was drawing for a while with an 8 ft long piece of steel rod through wet paint," he recalled. "Also, working for years with ceramics teaches one a lot about different surface, surface form relationships, and our ability to predict or achieve what we want the end result to be... a chainsaw is not the only way to achieve the kind of three dimensional line used in these works, but I feel comfortable using it. I thought of a chainsaw because I wanted to do a series of car works: Lowriders, MonsterTrucks and Motorcycles (complete with 'pin-up' females); in other words, a machine drawing a machine."
Many of Todd's projects manifest as a series of small portraits that are collectively displayed as one work. It offers an additional level of perspective as the viewer is allowed the opportunity to experience a range from rainbow colored surface scars, wide vibrating lines, then further out to the emotive image of a facial expression, and finally to a wall of various faces that combine to produce their own dramatic impression. In the coming year, exhibitions are planned for Germany, Texas, and also at the Minnesota Institute of Art, in Minneapolis.
I asked Todd what a person might find if they were to visit a studio of his today. "I am currently working on a series of TOP secret things. I continue to work on expanding similar ideas as the works people will see in this upcoming show, for me though it is always something new," he described. "Anyone who comes into my studio right now will bump their head unless they immediately turn to the right, then they will trip, unless they look out for the step."
A much safer way to experience Todd's art is available for us from Dec 7 through Jan 12 at Flanders Contemporary Art.
Flanders Contemporary Art is located at 400 1st Avenue North, Mpls.
Gallery hours are 10-5 Tuesday through Saturday. For more information call
612-344-1700 or visit www.flanders-art.com.