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Beloit artist building local legacy

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Shelly Birkelo
March 16, 2013

— Beloit artist David Lundahl's work has been exhibited in 40 different states.

Now, finally, he's about to get some local recognition.

On Sunday, April 7, the self-taught sculptor and photographer will be one of three Rock County residents inducted into the United Arts Alliance's Hall of Fame at the Janesville Performing Arts Center, 408 S. Main St.

Lundahl, 63, was pleasantly surprised when he learned of the acknowledgement. Despite displaying his artwork nationwide, the artist sadly admits less than a half dozen of his pieces have been sold locally over the years.

"It's pragmatism," he said, trying to explain why to a puzzled guest at his New Light Studios showroom in Beloit. "It (my art) is not useful like an automobile."

Nomination letters repeatedly acknowledged Lundahl's raw inventive and creative artistic talent.

Matthew Fluharty, one of Lundahl's former students at Beloit College and now a teacher at Washington University in St. Louis, wrote Lundahl and his life are all about making art.

"He is a prolific producer of art," Fluharty said. "His residing in Beloit brings Rock County a sophisticated artistic presence and involvement in world-class art."

Lundahl, a former Beloit Fine Arts Incubator board member, taught sculpture at Beloit College for several years. He now creates self-portraits—photographs—that are created completely with natural light, theater makeup, scarves and sometimes large mirrors to direct sunlight onto his face in certain patterns.

His innovative use of light earned him the national DaVinci Prize, and his works have been included in competitive entry shows such as the World Trade Center twin towers before 9/11, John McEnroe's Manhattan gallery and the Wisconsin Triennial.

In addition, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art own examples of Lundahl's artwork in their permanent collections.

Lundahl has shown his work in competitive arts exhibits nationwide. Locally, he has been featured in the annual Beloit & Vicinity Exhibit at Beloit College and in the 2007 Taste of Culture that benefited the UW-Rock County Foundation.

Fluharty predicted interest in Lundahl's work would intensify after a Los Angeles filmmaker produced the documentary about Lundahl titled, "A Head of His Times. The film premiered at the Beloit International Film Festival where it won the Josh Burton Award.

PEN Center USA published an essay earlier this year on Lundahl's work in The Rattlin Wall literary magazine, and "Art of the Rural" is embarking on a long-term collaboration with Lundahl to share his work with a new generation of art audiences.

Greg Gerard of BIFF described Lundahl as art in motion in his nomination letter.

"He is in a constant state of creative process, and lives and breathes his art," Gerard said. "I know of no one in this area who lives the artist's life with the passion David does. His works make you see, feel, think, touch, taste and hear in ways you never have. He is an innovator of the highest order."

A chalkboard that notes ideas and signatures of studio guests hangs on the wall in Lundahl's showroom. It also reveals how important invention is to his creative process.

"I know others work with recycled materials, but I do something different with it,'' he said.

Lundahl creates welded, cast-iron, abstract art from salvaged pieces of piano foot pedals, wheels, decorative legs from stoves and old machinery parts he find at auctions and salvage yards.

He also created a process he calls acrilage.

"I took paint, poured it on glass, let it dry, cut it out and applied it to paper," he said showing off a framed piece.

Lundahl, who expresses both the pains and joys of being human through his art, takes pride in giving back to the community.

After First Congregational Church of Beloit was destroyed by fire in 1998, Lundahl salvaged some of the debris and used it to create a copper sculpture, "Phoenix" that he gave to the church to be hung in its reconstructed building.

"It is a powerful reminder of the church rising again from the adversity of its fire and hangs prominently in the church today," wrote the Rev. Nels Kendell Nordstrom of First Congregational in his nomination of Lundahl.

But nominator Michael Kay, Ph.D., of Beloit might have summed up Lundahl best.

"He contributes to Rock County through his art, volunteering, teaching and most of all through his strong sense of surviving in spite of obstacles and bringing beauty and innovation to the world."

UAA HONOREES

Here are details about the other United Arts Alliance Hall of Fame 2013 honorees drawn from material submitted by people who nominated them:

Barbara Mathews

Mathews, Janesville, has contributed to the community through her art, teaching, and profession as a beautician.

Mathews is self-taught painter and a member of the Wisconsin Watercolor Society, the Janesville Art League, Wisconsin Regional Art Association and the Wisconsin Regional Artist Alliance. She has received awards from these and other art assciations over the years. She volunteers for Artsfest, the Wisconsin Regional Art Program, Friends of Noah's Arftic Artfest, Tallman Festival and other art-related causes.

Mathews helped develop the Mercy Hospital program that gives free wigs to patients who have lost their hair from medical treatments. The salon she owned at the time was the source for ordering, cutting and styling of the wigs, a practice that continues to this day and helps patients throughout Rock County.

Mathews teaches a weekly art class in Janesville and offers art instruction each June on Washington Island in Door County.

Traveling is one of Mathew's passions, and she partnered with a local travel agency to create painting adventures to other countries.

Jeff Suarez

Suarez, Janesville, has impacted the musical arts in Rock County as an educator, director, performer, board member and coordinator of a variety of arts endeavors.

In 1998, he began teaching at Beloit College, where he taught music theory courses, private French horn lessons and music composition lessons and directed multiple ensembles, bands, and the Help Yourself youth choir. He continues to teach there today.

Suarez became an assistant professor of music in 2002 at UW-Rock County, where he formed an orchestra, restarted the big band and brought new life to the school's music program. He was promoted to associate professor in 2009, a position he still holds today.

Suarez took over direction of the Rock Prairie Concert Band and founded the Rock Prairie Chamber Orchestra, the Rock Prairie Big Band, the Rock Prairie Jazz Combo and a pep band and co-founding the Rock Prairie Youth Orchestra.

He has given free public performances of his own music compositions and others' music as well as public lectures on music topics. Suarez wrote the lyrics for and composed the music to the UW-Rock County school song, "Go, Rattlers, Go."

Suarez has served as Walk-In Messiah music director; local church choir director; Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra personnel/production manager and principal French horn player; Spotlight on Kids music director; and French horn player with Brassa Nova, the Janesville Choral Union and other groups throughout Rock County.

Suarez was a board member of Theatre Unlimited and directed a show for the organization in 2011. He served as the UW-Rock County representative to the United Arts Alliance for one year and was board vice president of the newly formed Turtle Creek Chamber Orchestra in 2012.



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