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June 15, 2004

Division on Division

Calvin College art professor Kasarian Dane has a studio at 441 South Division in Grand Rapids. Most days he paints there in the morning before heading to Calvin to teach classes.

Often his route back to campus takes him south down Division all the way to 28th Street, where he heads east in search of a bite to eat before returning to Calvin.

Over the last couple of years (Dane began teaching at Calvin in the summer of 2002), as he has traveled the three miles or so between his studio and 28th Street, the Duluth, Minn., native has been struck by the art he sees on Division Avenue.

And now he has received a Calvin Research Fellowship to turn that art into art in a project he has dubbed "Division on Division."

Dane explains: "The project will consist of a group of 12 oil paintings based on the unique store signage on South Division between Wealthy and 28th Street - my route to Calvin. This stretch of Division contains, for me, a plethora of exciting visual stimuli. Through my paintings I hope to convey a sense of that movement and visual excitement that I experience on a daily basis."

Dane says the store signage which daily captures his artist's eye is not the carefully planned and mass produced sort of thing one might see on 28th Street with its assortment of car dealerships, fast food restaurants and more. Rather what he sees on South Division is a unique blend of signs that are mostly hand-painted.

"Their letters are not always perfect," Dane says. "The colors are funky; things might be a little crooked. Every sign is different."

Currently Dane is photographing signs on South Division. And soon he will go into his studio on South Division to begin creating his 12 oil paintings. His work, he hopes, will represent the work on South Division in a unique way. For what he has planned is a dozen paintings on sheets of aluminum - his preferred "canvas." And each painting will reduced to a pretty abstract rendering
of the signs along Division - essentially vertical bars of color, hand-painted many times.

"I use aluminum," says Dane, "because it's flat and industrial. But on that aluminum I want to create something that I hope is transformative: a painting that will call attention to the beauty, simplicity and uniqueness of the painted signs on Division."

As a student at the Art Institute of Chicago in the late 1990s, Dane did a similar project when he made on 10 pieces of on aluminum a series of paintings that translated into art his experiences with the Southport stop on the Ravenswood Brownline train that he rode on his daily commute on "the el." That project went on to be displayed at art galleries around the midwest to positive reviews.

Dane hopes his "Division on Division" effort will strike a similar chord for those who come to see it, particularly the store owners on South Division who inspired him without even knowing it.

"Their work," he says, "inspired this work. It would be great if someday down the road they're able to come to my studio to see what I'm doing with it."

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Contact Phil de Haan
616-526-6475 (v)
616-526-7069 (f)