LAWRENCE – Michael Krueger said most of the colored pencil drawings, watercolors and prints in his upcoming exhibition, “(Just Like) Starting Over” at Haw Contemporary in Kansas City, Missouri, were made during the past year of pandemic lockdown, and many of them reflect upon that.
One such drawing places the viewer inside a cave, with golden sunlight shining through the entrance. The University of Kansas professor of visual art said in a recent interview that it was one of the first artworks he made at the onset of the pandemic, so he declined to identify the light with COVID-19 vaccines. Perhaps it’s more of a generalized hope, he allowed.
Krueger’s March 12-April 21 show takes its title from that of former Beatle John Lennon’s 1980 hit song, “(Just Like) Starting Over.”
“The title of the exhibition relates to something we are all considering as we reemerge in a post-pandemic world. It is just like starting over, but it also isn’t quite starting over,” Krueger said. “There is something about the song itself that is very tragic. It’s a very upbeat song, based on an older style of rock ’n’ roll that he was so influenced by. But, of course, the tragic part is that John Lennon was killed shortly after that record came out. In my lifetime, that was the first experience I ever had with that kind of global grieving.
“I was just a young child, but everyone was grieving John Lennon. It was something that came to me later, as I thought about why I had chosen that title. But it relates, in a way, because the work is about starting over. It's about beginning again.”
Many of the works in the show share the dichotomous, dark/brightly colored nature of Krueger’s previous work. But among them will be some of the largest works he’s ever created. The show will fill three rooms and several thousand square feet of space.
“They are some of the biggest paintings I’ve ever made. One is 6 by 9 feet. I feel that I have been inching larger, and there's a kind of impact in them,” Krueger said. “There are also some very small, intimate pieces in the show, so I'm kind of demanding of both worlds — to see that impactful, large-scale piece and to go up close and experience something more intimately. Trying to create that kind of breadth, that possibility, for the audience is nice. It’s a pretty epic show for me, both in terms of the scale of the show and the scale of the works.”
As for the works themselves, Krueger said he wants each to stand on its own and as part of a whole. The show has a definite theme, he said.
“I'm trying to tell multiple truths at the same time — that you have a need for optimism when you start over,” Krueger said. “You also have a need for grieving your losses, which is oftentimes why you start over. The work is trying to contain these two ideas simultaneously. I'm also looking closely at things from the natural world that helped me to see ways to start over, in a sense.”
One of those things came to him on a 2019 trip with his family to the redwood forests of northern California, Krueger said.
“We went in the springtime,” Krueger said, “and I was so in awe of the little, tiny bits of life that were coming up everywhere — that bright, brilliant green color in contrast to the dark shadows of the redwoods. Just seeing those little beginnings of life — the new growth in the old forest — you feel the power of that, so there's something in the work that's trying to translate that.
“I had started this work before the pandemic, but now it seems even more important that we figure out how to start over, how to begin again, with everything that's happened. How do we learn to start over again in a new way? How do we deal with the loss that we've experienced and grieve that and still be optimistic about the path ahead? I'm trying to do that in the work.”
Top image: Detail from Michael Krueger’s “Fire (Say You're Gonna Leave Me),” colored pencil and acrylic on paper, 20 x 24 inches, 2021. Credit: Michael Krueger.
Right image: Michael Krueger, professor of visual art. Credit: Andy White, KU Marketing Communications.