Confronting a Don Kruse work for the first time may make you feel the need to dial up Mapquest, find the Rosetta Stone or search for a user’s manual. For without explanation of his context-driven art, you’ll need to rely on instinct and intuition to decipher meaning. Minus that, you’ll need to look within for a clue to his esoteric renderings. And that’s exactly what Kruse provokes, asks and wants. It’s not enough to exist, he challenges; being equates to exploration and discovery.
Contained in his exquisitely drafted pieces are views of Buddhist Temples, finely wrought Balinese masks, embedded Eastern religious icons, sections of Tibetan mandalas, a portrait of a little-known, but favorite artist George Inness, a stand of blooming flowers and a rendition of the child-like cartoon character “Little Nemo” created by Windsor McCay. Each element is meticulously colored in tones matching those you might find in the newspaper comic section, and sometimes with gold leaf.
The source of these images? Kruse tells it best as he did in this excerpt from an article he wrote recently for Quest Magazine, a publication of the Theosophical Society.
“Margaret Mead once asked a young child how she made a picture. The child replied, ‘I get a think. I draw a line around my think and then color it in.’
“I try to do approximately the same thing — simply, clearly and honestly. The real distinctions lie in my images or ‘thinks.’ How and where did I get them? Are they from nature or my imagination, maybe even from the world of art itself? What do they signify?
“I try to communicate to viewers a complex iconography, an esoteric world of Theosophy, Tibetan Buddhism and Jungian psychology. Does a child care if another person sees the line she has around her think and colored in? My images come from my wandering through museums and galleries, sitting in lectures and seminars, reading books, looking at comic strips and movies ... and meditating — just being a silent witness. Perhaps both the child and I get our visions from the same place, a most marvelous and wonderful gallery called by the Tibetans, the Great Matrix of the Mystery.”
Now retired after a 36-year career as an art instructor at the Fort Wayne Art Institute and later IPFW, Kruse continues to work, study, lecture and in general create in his studio/home in the city’s South side which he shares with his wife and fellow retired art teacher Sue, who formerly worked in the FW Community School system.
Kruse’s vita is strangely brief but loaded with experience. After graduating from South Side he earned scholarships to both the Art Institute and Mexico City College and later for graduate studies at both Ball State and Indiana Universities. In between he spent a hitch at the U.S. Army ‘language school where he studied Russian and served in Air Force Intelligence.
Kruse has amassed a history that includes more than 55 one-man shows. His works are held in several private as well as university and museum collections including the Library of Congress. He is represented in the Indiana State Museum and was designated a “State Treasure” by act of the governor.
Besides or in spite of all these accolades the artist remains accessible and humble, a trait traced to a personal journey of self-discovery that began with the recognition of a plane of existence beyond that where most of us dwell.
Throughout his journey he has turned to the writings of major influences like Joseph Campbell for myths and symbols, Carl Jung for dreams and the collective unconscious, the Theosophists for unlocking the keys to esoterica and mysticism, Margaret Mead for her studies of primitive culture, Tibetan Buddhism and Vedanta yoga for meditation and of late the work of Ken Wilburn and his trans-personal psychology. (Wilburn may the only person who has read more than Kruse.)
As a teacher Kruse has cultivated his own theories of how art is taught — and even if art can be taught — and is not shy about lecturing against the shift which began in the 1970s away from traditional teaching methods.
“Originally teaching art was based on ideas passed along in the manner of the medieval guilds to the apprenticeship system of the Renaissance and later to the 19th-century beaux-arts academies of Europe,” explained Kruse. “Then along came the Industrial Revolution which totally changed not only art teaching but the definition of art itself.
“Today we’re mostly left to confront the ‘intellectualization’ of art instruction which is why we get things like performance art, installation art and concepts like, ‘Art is anything you can get away with.’”
Dale Enochs, a former student of Kruse, is a nationally collected sculptor with several public installations to his credit along with many privately collected works. Enochs, who lives and works in Bloomington, recently recalled asking his former mentor for copies of handouts which he was hoping to use in classes he was teaching at DePauw University.
“I was making copies to distribute to my students and asked a colleague to review one in particular which dealt with the sorry state of contemporary art. His response was, ‘Enochs, if you pass this out, you realize you’ll piss-off everyone in the department.’”
At about the same time college and university art curriculum began its descent, Kruse and fellow Art Institute instructors Russell Oettel and the late Noel Dusenchon were busy engendering their own brand of pedagogy.
As Oettel related, “It was an ideal matchup of personality and professionalism. We were all artists first, teachers second. Noel brought the flavor of the abstract expressionists like deKooning, Albers and Rothko. I brought Weber, Groz and Beckman to the table, and Don had this more or less Zen philosophy coupled with really unsurpassed craftsmanship. He was the key to developing our printmaking, photography and printing departments.
“Often we would talk until the wee hours discussing, arguing, testing our ideas. The diversity of our approaches created a kind of caldron which not only attracted good students but forced them to teach themselves. Still today the biggest compliments we get are from students who returned and thanked us for being self-taught.”
Kruse remains one of the most respected artists in the area. Betty Fishman, the executive director of Artlink and a modest collector of his works, rates Kruse as “the absolute best draftsman around. His imagery can be most unusual and introspective, and he’s an incredible teacher, unselfish and reliable.”
Dean Franz, the long-time Jungian guru, is also a big fan. “He speaks from his own core of being and gives meaning to life’s essence. His work relates to the deeper part of our existence and to appreciate it the view needs to ascend a step or two or three to reach it. He’s the archetypical artist, allowing us insight into ourselves and the world. I’m a big fan, and I agree with his politics too.”
Finally, there is one problem: Kruse’s outlook on contemporary art from which he has distanced himself also includes articles like this where focus is targeted on the artist’s personality, quirks and idiosyncracies. He feels such work only helps perpetuate the artificial nature of art. So where does that leave a poor soul like me? A purveyor of rubbish knocking on heaven’s door? A reactionary bourgeois wordsmith covering for the exploits of capitalist enterprise?
While you ponder that, you can see some of Kruse’s work at Artlink in the current self-portrait show. He’ll have something in the print show, most likely, and then in July he’ll be included in the members’ show.
by David Tanner
Friday, April 28
Click on the headings below for full calendars
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Concordia Comedy Festival — Concordia Lutheran High School presents a showing of comedy films from middle and high school students, 7 p.m. Friday, April 28, Room 101, Neff Hall, IPFW, Fort Wayne, free, 483-1102
Tapestry: A Day for You — Day of inspiration, renewal and education for women in all stages of life with keynote speaker Ann Curry, 7:30 a.m. Friday, April 28, Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Fort Wayne, $75, 483-1111
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Blooze Faktor — Blues at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., cover, 483-1311
Chris Worth & Company — Variety at Arena Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 557-1563
Classic Voice — Variety at The Venice Restaurant, Fort Wayne, 7-10 p.m., no cover, (260) 482-1618
Cougar Hunter — 80s glam rock at The Venue, Angola, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $5, 665-3922
Expanding Man — Variety at Club Soda, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 426-3442
G-Money Band — Blues at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 8:30 p.m., no cover, 482-6425
Hubie Ashcraft & Travis Gow — Country at Billy's Downtown Zulu, Monroeville, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 623-3583
The Illegals — Rock at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., no cover, 483-5526
IPFW Bands & Choirs w/Fort Wayne Children's Choir — Classical at Auer Performance Hall, Rhinehart Music Center, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 7:30 p.m., $4-$7, 481-6555
Joe Stabelli — Jazz at Don Hall's Gas House, Fort Wayne, 5:45-9 p.m., no cover, 426-3411
John Curran & Renegade — Country at American Legion Post 241, Waynedale, 8:30-11:30 p.m., no cover, 747-7851
Kat Bowser — Variety at Don Hall's Guesthouse, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 489-2524
Rebecca Rego — Americana/country at Two-EE's Winery, Huntington, 7:30-9:30 p.m., no cover, 672-2000
Secret Mezzanine — Variety at Deer Park Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 432-8966
String Theory — Acoustic variety at Friendly Fox, Fort Wayne, 6:30-8:30 p.m., no cover, 260-745-3369
Todd Harrold & Nick Bobay Duo — R&B/blues/variety at O'Sullivan's Italian Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 422-5896
Trichotomous Hippopotamus w/Trackless, John Fishell — Rock at Brass Rail, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., cover, 267-5303
The Why Store — Rock at Mitchell's Sports Bar & Neighborhood Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $5, (260) 387-5063
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Big Dawg Karaoke w/Brian — Variety at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Bucca Karaoke w/Ashley — Variety at Tower Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-6310
Classic City Karaoke w/Bryan Lee — Karaoke at Pine Valley Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m., no cover, 490-9464
Dance Party w/DJ Rich — Variety at Columbia Street West, Fort Wayne, 10:30 p.m., cover, 422-5055
DJ dance party — at Rum Runners, Fort Wayne, 8:30 p.m., ,
DJ Shawn — Karaoke/variety at Club Paradise, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 833-7082
Fort Wayne Karaoke — Variety at Tap Haus, New Haven, 9 p.m., no cover, 493-6622
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Jay — Variety at Coconutz @ Crazy Pinz, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 490-2695
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Scott — Variety at JR's Pub, Leo, 9 p.m., no cover, 627-2500
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — at Chevvy's, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., ,
House DJ — Variety at Early Bird's Ultra Lounge, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 483-1979
House DJ — Variety at Flashback on the Landing, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 422-5292
Karaoke w/DJ Chuck — Variety at DW Bar & Grill, Churubusco, 10 p.m., no cover, 693-8172
Karaoke with Rooster — Variety at Portside Pizza, Columbia City, 9 p.m., no cover, 691-3333
Karaoke — Variety at Coconutz @ Crazy Pinz, Fort Wayne, 9-11 p.m., no cover, 490-2695
Karaoke — Variety at Hamilton House, Hamilton, 9 p.m., no cover, 488-3344
Karaoke — Variety at Beamer's Sports Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 625-1002
Karaoke — Karaoke at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Karaoke — Variety at Crooner's Karaoke Bar, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-3 a.m., no cover, 486-1979
Rockstar Karaoke & DJ w/Scotty — Karaoke at Backway Lounge, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 665-5081
Shooting Star Prod. w/Barbie — Variety at Uncle Lou's Steel Mill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-5787
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ — Karaoke at 4 Crowns, Auburn, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., no cover, 925-9805
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ w/Kevin — Variety at Danny's Italian Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 484-4444
SureShot Karaoke w/David — Variety at The Green Frog Inn, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m., no cover, 426-1088
Three Rivers Karaoke — at Bottle and Bottega, Fort Wayne, 8:30-10:30 p.m., no cover, 494-1020
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Funny Little Thing Called Love — Romantic comedy by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Home and Jamie Wooten, 7 p.m. dinner, 8 p.m. curtain, Friday-Saturday, April 28-29 and May 5-6 and May 12-13, Arena Dinner Theatre, Fort Wayne, $40 (includes dinner & show), 424-5622
The Little Mermaid — Fort Wayne Civic Theatre musical based on the Disney movie, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 30; 8 p.m. Friday, May 5; 2 p.m. & 8 p.m. Saturday, May 6; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 7, Arts United Center, Fort Wayne, $17-$29, 424-5220
Little Shop of Horrors — IPFW Department of Theatre performance of Alan Menken-Howard Ashman musical comedy, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29, Williams Theatre, IPFW, Fort Wayne, $5-$18, 481-6555
Next to Normal — Tony Award- and Pulitzer-winning musical about coping with mental illness, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 30; 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, May 4-6; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 7, Three Rivers Music Theatre, Fort Wayne, $10-$20, 498-2270
The Taming of the Shrew — William Shakespeare’s now somewhat controversial comedy about the battle between the sexes, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29 and Friday-Saturday, May 5-6; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 7; 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, May 12-13, First Presbyterian Theater, Fort Wayne, $12-$20, 426-7421 ext. 121
A Wrinkle in Time — all for One productions’ adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s young adult science fiction novel, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 30; 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, May 5-6; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, May 7, PPG ArtsLab, Auer Center for Arts & Culture, Fort Wayne, $11-20, 422-4226
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Click header for complete Art calendar
37th National Print Exhibition — Juried exhibition featuring contemporary printmakers from around the nation, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 5, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
41st SOCA Student Exhibition — Works from students currently enrolled at USF’s School of Creative Arts, daily thru April 30, Weatherhead Gallery, USF Rolland Art Center, University of Saint Francis, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Diane Allen Groenert — Exhibition of local artist’s Downtown Series and new works, Monday-Saturday thru June 24, West Central Microcreamery & Cafe, Fort Wayne, 415-9293
Echolilia — Works from Timothy Archibald and his autistic son, Eli, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Expressions of Existence — An exhibition of works by artists through history, including Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Francisco Goya and others whose works have been influenced by disabilities, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Fort Wayne Artist Guild Exhibitions — Works by Alice Siefert at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Jennifer Caudel at Allen County Retinal Surgeons, Anita Trick, Citizens Square (2nd and 3rd floors), Darlene Selzer Miller at The Einhaus Group for Women’s Health, Patricia Weiss at Heritage of Fort Wayne, Emily Jane Butler at Ophthalmology Consultants (Southwest), Linda Binek at Ophthalmology Consultants (North), Carolyn Stachera at Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne, John Kelty at ResCare Inc. Adult Day Service, Wiletta Blevins at Town House Retirement, Karen Bixler at Visiting Nurse Hospice and Barb Yoder and Karen Harvey at Will Jewelers, thru April 30, fortwayneartistguild.org.
Fort Wayne Photographers Club — Exhibition featuring local photographers, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 30, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Glass: A Medium in Art and Automobiles — Dale Chihuly blown glass and fiberglass auto, daily thru Sept. 8, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Auburn, $7.50-$12.50, 925-1444
Jan Krist-Finkbeiner — Exhibition of ceramic reliefs, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 5, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
Juxtapoz Magazine: 25 Years Under the Influence — A chronicle of the iconic magazine’s evolution into one of the most influential magazines of art of the counterculture, Tuesday-Sunday thru July 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Kathy Funderburg & Diane Schafer-King — Acrylic paintings (Funderburg) and works in marbled paper and fabric (Schaefer-King), Monday-Saturday thru April 29, Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 436-0927
Norman Bradley and Friends — Exhibition of works by friends and colleagues of the late Fort Wayne artist, Tuesday-Saturday thru May 20 , Crestwoods Frame Shop & Gallery, Roanoke, 672-2080
Outdoor Sculpture Invitational — Fifteen outdoor sculptures from regional artists, daily thru April 30, School of Creative Arts campus, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Perspectives Live Butterfly Display — Up close and personal perspectives of the Conservatory’s newest collection of live butterflies, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 25, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Rhoda Gerig: The Hope of Eagles — Photographic images of eagles, daily thru June 4, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102
Robert Williams: SLANG Aesthetics! — An exhibition of new work by the artist considered the godfather of the lowbrow, pop surrealist and colloquial realism art movements, Tuesday-Sunday thru July 23, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Sharon — An exhibition of Leon Borensztein photographs chronicling the struggles he faced raising his severely disabled daughter, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
SOCA Graduate Program: Student Highlights — Juried exhibition of works by students enrolled in USF’s School of Creative Arts graduate program, Monday-Friday thru April 30, Lupke Gallery, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Exhibition of works by IPFW graduation seniors, daily thru May 3, Jeffrey R. Krull Gallery, Main Library, Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Senior thesis projects from Bachelor of Fine Arts candidates Brenda Drayer (sculpture), Derek Hibbs (printmaking), Ellen Mensch (painting), Nathaniel Morris (sculpture) and Kyle Snodgrass (sculpture), daily thru May 7, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Spring Palette — New original works by more than 50 nationally recognized artists, Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment thru May 20 (Cinco de Mayo Fiesta featuring mariachi music by Mark Meussling 6-10 p.m. Friday, May 5), Castle Gallery Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 426-6568