by Maggie Chartier
Every artist leaves his or her mark of distinction on the
world of art. For Al Joransen, his mark is the inspiration behind the imagery: "There
must be an inspiration to do it." Referring to his piece "Sovereign Power," he says, " I was just flipping
through a magazine when I saw a quote by Wordsworth, and I thought, Wow! That goes
with my bear." And so inspiration is born.
Joransen grew up in Minnesota, surrounded by the loving support his family.
"They are always there, always encouraging." Al says, fondly describing his
immediate family while displaying pictures of paintings he had done of his nieces and
nephews on the beach.
Even while at the University of Minnesota, art dictated the course of his life.
He started out studying geo-engineering; that lasted about a year. What about art?
"Art teachers can be kind of spacey without being able to really help you. I
was interested in science and I thought I should probably have a secure financial
direction. In geology there was a little freedom in trying to figure out how things
were formed, a little creative aspect to that side of it which I enjoyed. But art
was just something I always did
and that was what I felt the most, so ultimately i
had to go with it." His passion turned into a career about twenty years
ago when he dropped out of school and went to work for a construction company.
"Then they went bankrupt and I went into doing only art from there.
"What you do helps determine who you are, but who are comes also from your
character. I dont think you should look at yourself as an artist or writer or
anything else. That is what you do. Who you are and what you do go
hand-in-hand. You are given a certain talent and then it is up to you to develop
that talent even if it is digging ditches.
"You have to get out there and learn for yourself. I forget who said this,
it was an old master I think, but he said once someone came up and asked him if he would
teach him. He pointed and said, There are the trees, theres the sky,
theres the field, those are your teachers, go and learn from them"
There are two sides to painting: the intellectual and the emotional. Technically
the intellectual can be taught, but the emotional, the passion, must be inside. "What
I tell people whenever they come to my booth at shows is that I paint until it feels
right. That is probably the emotional side of it." Joransen relates a
story from a show in Florida. "A guy who was an engineer from the Kennedy space
center came into my booth and asked me how I do this. I gave him the same
explanation until it feels right. He said that was not good enough. He needed
an equation almost, on how I got to a certain point." Although there may not be
any specific equation to Als work, it is clear that hes doing something
right. "There is a little quote in my room by John Ruskin that says,
Quality is never an accident, it is the result of intelligent effort. I
dont know how much intelligence goes into my efforts, but once in a while I think
there is a little bit of quality."
When researching and preparing for a piece, Al draws from a multitude of sources.
"I can pick up a magazine, I might look out a widow, or look at a photograph and be
reminded of a certain thing. I think the Cattails piece is an
example. The form of the cattails themselves didnt really strike me when I was
there, but when I got back and looked at the photographs, I said Gee, I really like
how those forms are going. You dont always notice what youre
seeing when you are there, and even with a sketch sometimes it might not look too hot when
you first do it, but later on, you may get another inspiration that brings it
together. The old impressionists practiced that quite a bit. They liked going
out into the field and then run back to the studio and paint what they remembered, what
they thought was most important. When you copy a photograph you do not remember what
meant the most to you, you are just putting down the image. So you just use it as a guide,
when you are looking for detail or when you can not remember all the specifics."
In his early artistic years, Joransen considered himself an impressionist of
sorts. "The terms I like are simply representational and
nonrepresentational. Its all identifiable, its just how far you want to
take it." Even then, however, he remembers loving the work of Andrew Wyeth, in
addition to the early impressionists like Winslow Homer and James Whistler. "In
a sense you are looking at his (Wyeths) stuff and saying that it is very realistic,
but when you break it down, particularly his landscapes, they are not very detailed, they
are very loose and free. The brush strokes capture it all."
Whether a painting was drawn from memory, sketches or photographs, it is the creativity
of the artist that brings it to life. The variety of responses to his work tells al
that his creativity strikes different people quite differently. "Some people
may walk into the booth and say, oh they are photographs; or another person
might say, I like this one because it looks like he painted it, or
I dont like that one because it looks like a photograph, I dont
see what they are seeing. What I see when I look at a painting is the picture itself
as a whole." He laughingly remarks. "If you look at a Carl
Brenders you think it looks very realistic, but when you get up to it you can see every
brush stroke, breaking it all the way down to see how he did it.
"I had a dealer call me from Oregon and ask, how do you compare yourself to
Carl Brenders? With Brenders as a ten how do you rate yourself? With a laugh Al recounts
the incident. "How do I answer this question? I couldnt, so I told
the dealer to just order the print and if he didnt like it to return it. He
didnt take me up on that one. Whatever he was looking for, I could not answer
it. Let the viewers compare. If they like it, let them buy it. Let the
art speak for itself."
|So how does Al compare himself to other artists in his
field? He doesnt. "A question Ill get sometimes when
someone comes into the booth is, Oh, Bob Bateman?" Al protests heartily, I dont
copy Bateman, or anyone else." This reaction, he says is common with Batemans
"Artic West (with wolves and blowing snow). People compare it to Joransens
painting of a Rocky Mountain cliff with big horn sheep, "Living Life on the
Edge." "Because there was snow blowing in both, people connected the two.
How do you respond? You let it go by you. There is influence of other artists in his work,
"we all influence each other, we cant help it."
Lightning acrylic poster
This influence is not exclusive among contemporary artists, either. Artists learn
by studying those who came before them. Joransen began by picking up books and
reading about the impressionists, going over and over what they did and how they did
it. "Its looking at Delacroix and observing the way he painted water
drops on the skin. That was more or less the start of impressionism because he
painted with blue, a red, and a yellow palette, and that was about it. You
would think his paintings were more detailed, but when you get right up to them, it is
just paint right from the tubes." Joransen learned from these old masters most
certainly, but he does not in any way discount what todays artists are doing.
He looks at their approaches, and learns from them as well.
How does an artist choose the direction his art will take? For this artist there
was no immediate decision, but rather a gradual transition from religious scenes to
wildlife art. "When I was doing the religious scenes, I thought that to be
Christian meant painting religious scenes. But I did not feel great commitment to my
work until I moved to the wildlife genre. Since then I have been happy and enjoy my
work. I think it was something that just came and I am grateful to the Lord for
giving it to me. For a while I was just doing landscapes but I was
dissatisfied. I didnt know the reason until I slowly moved into wildlife --- I
have not been unhappy or dissatisfied since, it has been very fulfilling. So, in
essence, that is what I was called to do."
The painting is the easy part for Joransen. So what does he find to be the most
difficult hurdle in his career? The business end. "You dont train
yourself for promoting yourself. You dont train yourself for dealing with
dealers and calling or just dropping in on people, which I am not necessarily that good
at." So what is the secret to good business? "Why is that person
selling over here while this one is not? Two people can be across from each at a
show, with a tiger here and at tiger there, and people will consistently buy one
guys print while the other guy only sells one or two. I can understand one
the artist that sells has a story to tell and the other doesnt.
" Understanding things like this, one of the many nuances of the business
end, "is taking up more and more of my time."
Through all the trials of painting, Joransen still comes out ahead and continues to
leave a mark of distinction. One of the more recent and most touching of these
surrounds his piece "Among the Cattails". He tenderly describes a scene in
the hospital after his fathers second brain tumor operation. "I can
remember after the operation hed was lying in intensive care and he said, Okay, so
what are going to do about this? About what/" was my response.
About this. You have to give something back to those who helped us."
After the Reverend Stuart Joransen died, his son chose to donate half of the proceeds
from the sale of the print "Among the Cattails" to brain tumor research and
family support programs. Al believes that he is repaying a service that helped him
through a very difficult time. "It was nice to go to the support groups.
Dad enjoyed them immensely, though I dont know that I could go back now. There
is always that pang in your stomach when you see someone else going through the same
thing, because you know how hard it is. I dont know how close I want to get
that situation again."
Even from this painful time, Al was able to learn and appreciate, with an artists
attitude if not with the actual brush and canvas. "I stopped painting for about
two years during my fathers illness. In dealing with my fathers
situation I always remember a quote from the bible. In your sorrow I will give you
joy. Ill have to say that the care process of my father was the greatest
joy i have ever experience." Although he adamantly adds, "I dont
want to go through it again, but it was a strengthening time, a learning time."
Faith for the Joransen family was and is strong. "It is a central point, a
guiding force for whatever I do and wherever I go, a calling about what I want to do with
the rest of my life. I think wanting to give to people is a basic part of me.
Think about the artists sitting alone in there studios for however many hours a day, and
who are we painting for? Ourselves? I dont think it is just for ourselves.
Were expressing ourselves, expressing our love. Hopefully people will see and
The inspirational work of Al Joransen continues. As an extension of his being,
his painting allows him to reach out and give to others while, at the same time, giving
himself the joy of working in a field he loves.
INFORMART FALL 1995