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John Lamb, Published April 24 2012

Twingley 'Time': MSUM alum returns for new show at Rourke

MOORHEAD – Eighteen years ago this June, Jonathan Twingley made a big entrance into the local art world, one that would pave the way to a national stage.

Then just 19, Twingley was awarded second place at the Rourke Art Gallery’s Midwest Art Exhibition by nationally recognized photographer and judge Marie Cosindas.

Twingley, Minnesota State University Moorhead alum, is returning to the Rourke this spring to judge this year’s Midwestern and to unveil his latest exhibit, “In Real Time.” The show opens this weekend, but a reception will be held May 6 after Twingley arrives from New York.

“The opportunity to exhibit at the Rourke again is a wonderful thing,” the artist says from his New York studio.

It’s his first show in the gallery since 2004’s “The Wild Bunch.” Like that ode to director Sam Pekinpah’s bloody Western masterpiece, “In Real Time” may raise some eyebrows for the artist’s work.

The new collection of pen and ink, hatch-line shading and painting was inspired by a look through Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches, particularly one called “Five Grotesque Heads.” Twingley learned da Vinci liked going to the village square to sketch the deformed and odd.

“And I thought, what is the village square today if not the Internet?” Twingley says.

“In Real Time” is a range of imagery mostly found or inspired by Twingley’s online viewing sessions that range from screen grabs from a YouTube clip of a drunken Russian riding a bike to a Tumblr shot of a reader at a nude beach, to scenes from the movie “Deliverance” to a Victoria’s Secret model.

“The new work in this exhibit carries his signature style and multi-layered meanings, but also is reflective of the myriad influences in his life, ranging from rodeo scenes to a portrait of Bob Dylan,” says Tania Blanich, executive director of the Rourke.

Twingley says the show will be accompanied by a note he wrote called “Roll over Gutenberg,” a nod to the father of movable type, the printing press and, some say, the modern age.

“The Internet has laid everything in the palms of our collective hands,” Twingley’s piece begins, acknowledging “everything” is too much to sort through. He ends the piece suggesting the Web will usher in, “Our Dark Age.”

Images and text go hand-in-hand for Twingley, whose mother has been a Bismarck State College librarian for 37 years while his father is a retired art teacher.

“The two exercises, drawing or painting and writing, they are incredibly similar as far as fleshing something out, but at the same time they kind of massage different parts of the brain,” Twingley says.

He exercised that full massage when a literary agent asked if Twingley had ever considered doing a graphic novel.

“That’s all I ever wanted to do, write and illustrate my own book,” he says.

He showed the agent a series of paintings and verbally sketched out the story of “The Badlands Saloon.” The illustrated novel, about a young New York artist who discovers western North Dakota, was released in 2009.

He’s working on an un-illustrated novel, “The Ballad of Leonard Mendez: Parts 1 & 2,” but would also like to write and illustrate a children’s book.

“I’ve got a drawer full of children’s books,” he says, naming titles like “Double Brother Buddy Bike” and “If My Friend were a Diamond.”

“I love kids’ books,” Twingley explains. “In a lot of ways they are like folk songs, simple in form but they can be quite sophisticated. Maurice Sendak’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are,’ we forget that there are nine sentences in that entire book and its one of the most iconic children’s books of all time.”

Whether it’s children’s books or novels or blog posts or sketches, Twingley stays busy seven days a week and keeps the wheels turning for the unexpected job illustrating opinion pieces and editorials for newspapers like the New York or Los Angeles Times.

On those jobs he gets a call at 1 or 2 p.m. with a synopsis and needs to send in finished art by 6.

“It’s very often stressful, but I tend to thrive on that. I’m one of those guys who prefer juggling five balls to two. I do better work under those circumstances,” he explains. “Deadlines can be handy. They can be frustrating and make you nervous but in the end they often get the best work out of you.”

His next big deadline will be judging works for the Midwestern, which employs the theme “American songbook” this year.

As the judge, Twingley didn’t enter a piece, though he points out his own show includes two images of Duke Ellington that could fit into the Midwestern.

While he’s happy to return to the Rourke for another show, Twingley says it will be bittersweet without the late founder James O’ Rourke, the man who invited Twingley to participate in the Midwestern 18 years ago. The two became friends and O’Rourke constantly championed Twingley as one of the area’s top emerging talents.

“It’s always a bit sad to step into that building without Jim there … . It’s a little like going into somebody’s house when they’re not home,” Twingley says. “I miss the guy terribly. He probably meant as much to me as an artist as anyone has in my life. He was a dear soul.”

If you go

What: Reception for Jonathan Twingley’s new show, “Real Time.”

When: 1:30 – 3:30p.m., May 6

Where: Rourke Art Museum, 521 Main Ave., Fargo

Info: Free. (218) 236-8861

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533