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Al Joransen’s
Mark Of Distinction
Published INFORMART Fall 1995   

Among the Cattails

Among the Cattails
24" x 36" acrylic


 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 don’t 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, there’s the sky, there’s 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 Al’s work, it is clear that he’s 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 don’t 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 didn’t 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 don’t always notice what you’re 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.  It’s all identifiable, it’s 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 (Wyeth’s) 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 don’t like that one because it looks like a photograph,’ I don’t 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 couldn’t, so I told the dealer to just order the print and if he didn’t like it to return it.  He didn’t 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 doesn’t.   "A question I’ll get sometimes when someone comes into the booth is, Oh, Bob Bateman?" Al protests heartily, I don’t copy Bateman, or anyone else." This reaction, he says is common with Bateman’s "Artic West (with wolves and blowing snow). People compare it to Joransen’s 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 can’t help it."
Lighting poster

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.  "It’s 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 today’s 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 didn’t 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 don’t train yourself for promoting yourself.  You don’t 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 guy’s print while the other guy only sells one or two.  I can understand one thing… the artist that sells has a story to tell and the other doesn’t. "  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 father’s second brain tumor operation.  "I can remember after the operation hed was lying in intensive care and he said, O’kay, 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 don’t 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 don’t know how close I want to get that situation again."

Even from this painful time, Al was able to learn and appreciate, with an artist’s attitude if not with the actual brush and canvas.  "I stopped painting for about two years during my father’s illness.  In dealing with my father’s situation I always remember a quote from the bible. ‘In your sorrow I will give you joy.’  I’ll have to say that the care process of my father was the greatest joy i have ever experience." Although he adamantly adds,  "I don’t 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 don’t think it is just for ourselves. We’re expressing ourselves, expressing our love.  Hopefully people will see and understand it".

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.


Go to Visions from the Wild home page. 

For information on available prints, please contact Al at (763) 566-0957, or FAX your request to (763) 566-0957.
Mail requests to:
Joransen, Inc.
P.O. Box 43222
Brooklyn Park, MN 55443 

This page, and all contents, are Copyright 1995 by Albert Joransen, Inc. and Weather Eye Systems. The article is provided courtesy of InformArt,Copyright 1995 Westtown Publishing C., Inc.
Updated October 10, 1997 -- Hosted by WeatherEye Systems