Legendary MC artist to be featured at First Friday event
MICHIGAN CITY — Neil Kienitz’s light will shine in more ways than one beginning Friday.
SFC Gallery will host “Roots” – a solo exhibit of the legendary local artist’s paintings – as part of the Michigan City Mainstreet Association’s First Friday event in the Uptown Arts District.
Kienitz will be on hand to greet visitors and discuss the 18 featured pieces – many of which very few people have seen – he created with watercolors, oils and acrylics. The exhibit runs through October.
“I try to make light tremendously important in all I do,” said Kienitz, an artist and illustrator who became interested in art at age 6 and has received more than 100 national and regional awards. He is known as a Great Lakes region artist who captures the subtle timelessness of emotions.
He has a long list of selected commissions; has taught art locally at several galleries; and has been the subject of hundreds of features.
One of only two acrylics in the exhibit, “Stirring the Spirit” features a lighthouse in a South Shore poster that has seen tremendous sales, Kienitz said. Unlike the official series of South Shore posters made by Kienitz and seven other artists in the 1990s, this one was created on a private basis, something Kienitz and others artists have done after the commissioned series.
“The most common comment about it is the colors,” he said. “These colors are available to anyone, but it’s how you use them in relation to the design. Understanding elements and principals of design is critical to any artist wanting to say something significant,” he said.
“As artists become more experienced and accomplished, light becomes essential in creating good paintings. The quest becomes how do you achieve the illusion of light with pigment.”
Another painting, “Soaring,” features only the top of a lighthouse.
“It has a different feel to it than any other lighthouse painting I’ve done,” Kienitz said.
Also part of the exhibit is “Come Unto Me” – a 4-foot-square oil painting of Jesus Christ with hands outstretched with the cross behind him. It’s based on Matthew 11:28 with the words: “Come unto me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”
There’s the illusion of light behind the cross. Light is also signified on a spiritual level as Jesus is “the light of the world,” Kienitz said. “The title came to me very quickly.”
He said he included the portrait of Christ because his faith “is the most important thing in my life by far.”
Kienitz explained in an artist’s statement on his website, neilkienitz.com: “Through my artwork, I attempt to convey the beauty and magnificence of creation which attest to the sovereignty and power of our truly awesome God … these are examples of some of the images that excite me and for which I praise God that he has allowed and enabled me to express the simple, yet infinitely profound beauties of all that he has made.”
“ ‘Roots’ is reverting back to some of the things that I did 30 to 40 years ago,” Kienitz said, referring to the use of rural themes in his work.
In particular, he’s always enjoyed painting barns, often featuring those owned by his uncles, Otto Gruenke and Louie Gruenke, south of Michigan City.
The exhibit’s featured piece, an oil painting titled “For Elizabeth,” has a barn in the background and an older man gently carrying a pumpkin to “Elizabeth.”
“It’s the featured piece, but not necessarily the most important,” Kienitz said. Other paintings in the exhibit also feature pumpkins and fall-themed items.
Having built a reputation for watercolors, the “Roots” exhibit is an opportunity for the artist to feature the medium of oils that he’s more recently embraced.
“One of the things I love about being an artist is I’m constantly creating new styles and I have a different balance of the media I use,” Kienitz said. “What I was using for many years was watercolors, but now there’s a balance … I really am loving oil probably as much as watercolor.”
Kienitz said he previously avoided oils due to toxicity issues, but water-solvent oils have now been perfected for easier and safer clean up. And paints containing toxic materials, including cadmium and cobalt, have been replaced with alternatives called “comparable hues.”
All but one of the paintings in the exhibit are available for sale. The painting of a lighthouse without a light – “Long Big Sur” – is based on California’s Highway 1. Created with watercolors and gouache, it’s a favorite of his wife, Naomi.
But “there’s still an emphasis on Michigan City locations such as dunes and lighthouses,” he said. “People like artwork that has local subject matter.”
Manager/designer Kristina Knowski said SFC “is very excited to have Neil” for First Friday.
As a custom framing shop that branched off of its parent company, Sharpeye Framing, she works closely with several artists in the community.
When the business opened in late 2016, “we had more space here to have a gallery and decided to expand into showing art work,” Knowski said. So from April through October, the shop features local artists during First Fridays.
SFC Gallery is located at 607 Franklin Street. The First Friday event is from 5 to 8 p.m.