Artist, musican, and poet Daniel Kaniess passes

"He taught us that you could have an unlimited imagination. You could do whatever you wanted."

That's what poet and former Speedboat Gallery owner Paul Dickinson says of Daniel Kaniess, who passed away this week after a long battle with cancer. According to Dickinson Kaniess, a revered local painter, musician, and poet, was always pushing the boundaries of his art while remaining a genuinely kind and grounded person. Married to his wife Sharon since 1983 and father of two children, Kaniess had a wonderful sense of humor, was cutting edge, but at the same time balanced.   

Kaniess was the recipient of numerous awards for his painting, including two McKnight Fellowships, a Minnesota State Arts Board grant, and a Bush Fellowship. His work was shown at the MIA's Minnesota Artist Exhibition Program (MAEP) and the Walker Art Center. In one 1988 review, Star Tribune art critic Mary Abbe described his work as "oddly compelling." Of his 1997 McKnight show, she wrote: "Kaniess fixates on handiwork - drawing hundreds of childlike scrawls on scraps of notebook paper and pulp-magazine pages. Virtually papering the walls of one alcove, the drawings offer psychological background noise for his paintings of crude but engaging figures and droll phrases such as 'This Painting is Not Patient It is Angry.'" 
Dan and Sharon Kaniess at Shoebox Gallery
Dan and Sharon Kaniess at Shoebox Gallery
Photo by Rachel Thompson

He was also one of the two artists to be shown at the first opening of the Speedboat Gallery, the notorious underground art space that started in 1988, where Kaniess's band BLACKi's often played. 

Kaniess's other band 2i debuted it 1981 at a loft party and, according to a City Pages article from 2001, continued to "perplex audiences with their anything-goes attitude" for the next six years. The group headlined for a while on Friday and Saturday nights at the 7th St. Entry.

Kaniess continued performing until the fall of 2011, according to the Star Tribune obituary. 

"Dan was an incredibly open person," writes his friend, photographer Sean Smuda, in an email. Smuda met Kaniess and his wife Sharon with Smuda's friend Ward Harper over pizza in 1983, soon after the two had sent 2i a fan letter. Smuda says he was "impressed by the delicacy and pop jazz noise fervor" of the band's cassette Who Hears?

"Dan had the faith to break things down in all forms and show the duality of pain and transcendence, sincerity and doubt in whatever medium," he says. Smuda shared with Kaniess a belief in "a kind of synaesthetistic integrity to artmaking: from his graffiti paintings on recovered billboards, to figurative studies painted on canvas, to text/figure drawings scribed throughout entire books, to his poetry and music both written and improvised," he says. 

Kaniess once said "the directness of drawing couldn't lie," and he valued its simplicity as a form of mark making more honest than painting's ability to cover its tracks. "That was him: straightforward, but as convoluted as ears and eyes open to the sky," Smuda says. 
The Last BLACKi (March 6, 2012): Dan Kaniess, Sean Smuda, Sharon Kaniess, Dick Madden, Greg Schaeffer, Joe Klein
The Last BLACKi (March 6, 2012): Dan Kaniess, Sean Smuda, Sharon Kaniess, Dick Madden, Greg Schaeffer, Joe Klein
Photo by Sean Smuda

Responses to his passing have been numerous on his Facebook page as well.

"Somehow his artwork always had this honest energy and beautiful energy even when it was one of those crazy scribbled ones," writes Berlin based techno musician Chris Sattinger.

"He had one of the biggest hearts I've ever encountered and was truly a free spirit," writes WRONG musician and Sunship records founder John Vance. 

Paul Dickinson met Kaniess in 1986, and booked 2i for a few shows at VFW halls in the 1980s, and later presented his artwork at Speedboat.

Kaniess also embraced music and visual art together. "Like a lot of music of that era, there was not a definite line between the two genres -- that was what was so cool about it," Dickinson says. "He could also write. He was very abstract, but he could write the world's greatest pop song if he wanted to." Dickinson says that Kaniess's song "Smile Down" is one of the best songs he's ever heard in his life. 

According to the Star Tribune obituary, Kaniess's funeral will be held Thursday evening at Crown of Life Lutheran Church in West St. Paul, Minnesota.

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