Artists of the Year

Framed, penned, screened, danced, sung, shot, delivered: City Pages lauds the artistic creations of 1999

Though MacKenzie has been worthy of public adoration for something like half a century, this past year marked a landslide of recognition. He was the second recipient of the McKnight Distinguished Artist award, which honors lifetime achievement. And in 1999 he had work in a solo show at the MCAD Gallery, a two-person show at the Rochester Art Center, and a group show at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

And then there are the objects MacKenzie makes--pots, bowls, vases, plates--in simple, traditional forms. They can best be understood by recalling their folk origin. Each piece is as perfectly imperfect as a living being, with knicks and flaws accepted as part of their beauty. An undated "Vase" in the MCAD show, for instance, was a kind of stocky peasant--rough-edged, ruddy from the sun, round like a large turnip. MacKenzie is fond of awkward, clunky shapes, and of glazes that reflect the colors of real life--the brick red of earth, the violet-black of night, the gray-blue of clouds, the green-indigo of water--applied in gestural and expressionistic splashes.

What a refreshing change from the endless radiation sheen of the glow-boxes that rule our lives!

 

Michael Fallon is a St. Paul artist and bookmaker and a frequent contributor toCity Pages.

 

ERIC HEYWOOD

by Anders Smith-Lindall

The pedal-steel guitar is a daunting instrument to master. In addition to being notoriously difficult to tune, it requires tremendous dexterity to play: The guitarist must not only pick notes with one hand while fretting the neck with a slide, but also continuously operate foot pedals that control the tone and resonance of each note. The reward for this effort is the guitar's distinctive sound: Usually described by stock adjectives like weeping (that's meant to be positive) or whining (negative), it's a staple of country music.

St. Paul resident Eric Heywood is a virtuoso, capable of both excelling in that musical tradition and broadening the possibilities of the instrument. Heywood's name is known to few, even in the alt-country scene, where he makes his career, but listeners know his sound. Or, more accurately, his many sounds: the sticky-sweet sustain of his solos on Son Volt's "Left Aslide," the treble swells that roll over Freakwater's "When the Leaves Begin to Fall," the rusty fuzz-tones that drive Richard Buckner's otherwise elliptical rocker "Hand @ the Hem."

Heywood can play a bell-clear staccato solo that says "honky-tonk" as surely as sawdust on the floor, but he's also been Buckner's right-hand man as that songwriter has stridden boldly away from the more pedestrian West Texas sound of his (Heywood-less) 1995 debut. Heywood has played on Buckner's two subsequent releases, the artful avant-country albums Devotion+Doubt and Since, and has toured with Buckner for the last three years.

1999 was Heywood's first year in five not largely devoted to Son Volt, the band that first gave Heywood his break (until last year he was the alt-country quartet's guitar tech and steel guitarist, adding moments of indelible beauty to the band's first two albums). Yet Heywood only occasionally fell back on his former day job as a carpenter. He rode shotgun on Richard Buckner's relentless tour, traveled with Texas roots-rocker Alejandro Escovedo, and added steel guitar to Normal for Bridgwater, the album that has led the U.K. press to peg singer-songwriter Peter Bruntnell as a rising star. (Bridgwater is scheduled for stateside release in early 2000.)

Heywood's most significant work in the last 12 months has been with Freakwater. Catherine Irwin and Janet Bean, whose moody, ragged vision of Depression-era folk and country has earned them a loyal cult, hired Heywood to help broaden the sound of their new album, End Time. As with Son Volt and Buckner, Heywood's accompaniment--at once ambient and earthy--added depth to what was once a one-dimensional duo. Following End Time's release, Heywood toured with Freakwater, playing both pedal-steel and a significant amount of electric lead guitar. His roadhouse riffs were the equivalent of throwing grease onto a fire--it was the first time Freakwater really rocked.

In all, not a shabby year of work for a native son of Mount Vernon, Iowa, who's not even the most famous musician from his high school class--that's singer-songwriter Dan Bern, who will always remember Heywood with a wince thanks to a phys.-ed. incident involving a wayward badminton racquet. In fact, Heywood might not be the most famous musician in his family: His brother Phil is an award-winning fingerstyle guitarist.

 

Anders Smith-Lindall is a Chicago-based writer and a contributor toCity Pages.

 

DANNY BURACZESKI

by Caroline Palmer

Kismet is a lovely word. Derived from Turkish and Arabic roots, the term describes the awesome power of destiny and fate--while at the same time sounding melodic, pleasing to the ear. Kismet may also describe the artistic epiphany Danny Buraczeski experienced this year while creating "Ezekiel's Wheel," a career-defining dance work performed at O'Shaughnessy Auditorium that explored the promises of the future by laying waste the sins of the past. In a world still consumed by racism and ethnic hatred, the piece seemed to glance at this sad state of affairs and then turn away, marching toward a state of grace where pure spirituality overwhelms the barriers of dogmatic thought. Throughout, the work never stooped to didactic lectures on the ills of inequality. Instead the performers and audience were haunted by a more nebulous and insidious presence, one profoundly difficult to exorcise.

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