Aby Wolf, K'naan, and P.O.S. top Artists of the Year '09

Paying homage to those who speak the language of creativity

City Pages' Artists of the Year issue is our annual thank-you to the artists of the world, the imaginative souls who inspire us with their creativity and show us how to see life in a different way.

So why, you're wondering, is Brett Favre on the cover of this year's issue? Athletes aren't artists, you may say, so why are we giving so much space to some sports guy who already gets more than his share of publicity?

You may say that—or you could just lighten up.

Aby Wolf
Sharolyn B. Hagen
Aby Wolf
Tony Kushner
Joan Marcus
Tony Kushner

Artistry comes in many forms, and anyone who has seen Favre painting the field with his passes, dancing from the grasp of a blitzing linebacker, or singing out audibles at the line knows that a true master is at work. As a quarterback, Favre is a poet, renowned for his creativity, and by leading the Vikings to an 11-3 record so far this year he has helped Minnesota sports fans, at least, see life in a different way.

So we have given Favre pride of place in our 2009 Artists of the Year issue, but we also pay copious tribute to traditional artists—the poets, painters, dancers, writers, and musicians who have made our lives unimaginably richer, and have done so usually without the adoration of millions or, for that matter, a paycheck of millions.

Yeah, we hear you saying, but why couldn't you at least put a real artist on the cover?

Didn't you hear us? The Vikings are 11-3! —Matthew Smith

Aby Wolf

By TD Mischke

I'm a sucker for any young woman slinging a guitar over her shoulder and stepping out into the windy world looking to say something new, looking to stir something up, looking to place that haunting, smoky glow on the hard edges of things. With eyes as clear as her voice is strong, skin as smooth as the sweet delivery of those achingly soulful notes, she is a reminder of the loveliness still pulsating in the midst of a worn and ragged world.

Meet Minneapolis artist Aby Wolf. She sings and I slip effortlessly into an otherworld, a place so far removed from the angst of a fretful day that, for a moment, I wholly surrender to the honest purity in things.

She could pass as a twin sis to French actress Marion Cotillard, with those same dark, penetrating eyes that tell you what she's about to sing is simply true.

She hails from the rolling Mississippi bluff country of northwest Illinois and names it, not other songwriters, as her greatest influence. The serene simplicity she knew there is the quiet energy she channels into her most potent songs. She is a painter, and she writes like one. Her imagery appears as clear, broad brushstrokes of oil, until her guitar and those angelic harmonies meld and it's all sent tumbling into a watercolor sea of heart and soul.

Songs are mysterious, ephemeral things that ought not be written about in too much detail. Instead, go to Aby's MySpace page and take in the video of her singing "Keara" at the Cedar. The next day, round about the same time, that song will find its way back into your head, and you'll soon wish everyone you met spoke with the same clarity and depth you witnessed in those eyes.

TD Mischke is a City Pages columnist and webcaster who can be heardweekdays from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at www.citypages.com.

Tony Kushner

By Quinton Skinner

Perhaps it was mixed feelings about the size of the Guthrie Theater's influence over the local scene that spurred such a range of reactions to its Kushner Celebration. Indeed, on the opening night of The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures (a world premiere commissioned by the Guthrie), a whiff of schadenfreude was in the air after word came down that Tony Kushner was revising the thing deep into rehearsals.

There were those who wouldn't have minded seeing the Big Blue Battleship steer itself right into a reef of hubris and ambition. Luckily, though, a solid majority was more interested in seeing a good play or two, and the trilogy of works by Kushner was a revelation. It would be hard to imagine three works more different from one another, yet still beating with the same wounded heart and searching intellect.

Caroline, or Change arrived first, an operatic musical about a washerwoman in the 1960s Deep South. Gaudily virtuosic, it drew together metaphors of race, loss, and suffering. In the process, it established local actress Greta Oglesby as nothing less than a star, her Caroline riding currents of regret, frustration, and stoicism that made the big numbers feel as though the earth was falling from beneath our feet.

Up in the Dowling Studio, Tiny Kushner, a series of short plays, was delivered by an ace local cast that elevated what could have been disconnected oddities into a funny, brainy, satisfying night.

It was Intelligent Homosexual, though, that had the country buzzing. It was a big, sprawling work that, incongruently, deployed an unexpected naturalism in telling the story of a family wracked by aging, infidelity, lost ideals, and general hypercharged nuttiness. Kushner seemed to lack total faith in it at the time, rewriting amid bet-hedging that it would appear in New York in a different form.

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