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Artist connects to community

BETH RICKERS/DAILY GLOBE Kristoffer Holmgren stands by one of his paintings currently on display in the Fine Arts Building at Minnesota West.

WORTHINGTON -- Kristoffer Holmgren's recent foray to Worthington was the second time he'd visited the southwest Minnesota community. The first was just a few months prior.

"My dad grew up in Worthington, graduated from Worthington High School in 1960," he explained. "This summer he brought it up: 'Do you want to go back to Worthington and see where I grew up?'"

So Holmgren and his father, Elliot Anderson, made a pilgrimage to Worthington to check out some spots of significance to the family. Holmgren's grandparents were Lorville and Margaret Terry Anderson.

"My dad is an architect, and the first house he ever designed is in Worthington, on Ninth Avenue, near the downtown somewhere," Holmgren detailed.

While the first visit was nostalgic, the second was for professional purposes. Holmgren's artwork is on display through Nov. 16 at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, Worthington campus. The show came about through Holmgren's other connection to Worthington -- he went to college and graduate school with Worthington native Holly DeGrote, who is currently the interim art instructor at Minnesota West.

"We both went to St. Cloud State for undergrad, and coincidentally we ended up in the same graduate school (Illinois State University)," remarked DeGrote.

"There are also similarities in our work, and we've had an open dialogue about it," added Holmgren. "So it's not just an academic relationship. Plus we both decided to move back to Minnesota."

A native of Hudson, Wis., just outside the Twin Cities, Holmgren studied in Maine and Illinois before returning to Minnesota and settling in Faribault. He currently teaches art at Normandale Community College and Augsburg College in the Twin Cities.

The paintings currently lining the halls of the Fine Arts Building at Minnesota West are all done in gouache, an opaque watercolor. Holmgren has been experimenting with the medium for about six years.

"It was used by designers and illustrators in the '40s and '50s," Holmgren noted. "I'm interested in how it has a really flat matte surface. ... My work plays with the ideas of spatial references and the ambiguity of space, but I also give reference to specific locations. Therefore the space becomes a place."

Gouache also provides Holmgren with a unique color range with a retro feel.

"I like the ambiguity of the color palette," he noted. "It sort of references the '70s, but it's a little more fresh yet unpredictable. Part of it is the graphic sensibility, the hard edges of the shapes, which is different than watercolor."

Like watercolor, gouache can be finicky, getting muddy if it's rehydrated.

"For that reason, I need to think out my compositions, I methodically plan," Holmgren explained.

The exhibit is titled "Interchange."

"It's not like a highway reference," Holmgren said about the title. "It's more when something shifts from one viewpoint to another viewpoint or from one time period to another time period."

Trees are recurring images in many of the exhibit's paintings, their silhouettes casting shadows back to Holmgren's childhood.

"Hudson is in the St. Croix River Valley, and that had a strong influence on my growing up," he explained. "It's a repeatable element, and the idea of the forest is open-ended, but at the same time referencing a comfortable place for me. The trees dovetail with the angular shapes that represent architecture."

The architectural elements, of course, relate to his father's profession, which is where Holmgren's interest in art has its roots.

"I didn't take it seriously until college," he said about his artwork. "I grew up spending time in my dad's architecture office, but for the most part I didn't take it seriously until college, and then I realized that I'd always been thinking in those terms. I wanted to be a philosopher or something."

Now Holmgren philosophizes through images, instead of words.

Kristoffer Holmgren's "Interchange" exhibit will hang at Minnesota West through Nov. 16. An artist's reception will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 12 in the Fine Arts Building.

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Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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