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The B. Amundson Story
B. Amundson specializes in large multimedia constructions and colored pencil drawings. His work reflects an interest in the mauve and grey areas between bad taste and the acceptable middle class aesthetic and explores differences between the two, particularly as reflected through such American staples as the subdivision, the chain restaurant, interstate travel, and the vacation experience with its ubiquitous industry of curio production.
Amundson was born in 1953 in Stoughton, Wisconsin, a small Scandinavian farming community in the southern portion of the beer and cheese state. At age 3, his parents gave him a slate, which launched his artistic career. "I drew cool guy stuff, like dinosaurs, massacres, fighter planes, and steam shovels," he says. Amundson made such an impression that kindergarten teachers kept his work, thinking it would be worth something one day.
He describes his puberty as traumatic and his adolescence as hellish. He felt that didn't fit in, and began using humor as a coping mechanism. As a joke, his high school classmates voted him prom king because he had never been on a date. "That is why the movie Carrie has a special place in my heart," he says. From that point on he realized he could be an artist because he had "truly suffered."
He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison and was awarded a BS in Art in 1975. Amundson then spent several years traveling, much of it hitchhiking. He began to realize that what he had been taught in art school "didn't seem to relate to anything that mattered." But the American landscape that he saw while traveling did influence his work. "I didn't have the standard, groovy, get on the back roads, and read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance experience. I had things revealed to me at Stuckey's... So naturally [my artwork] is kind of tacky and gaudy."
Amundson lived in Fort Collins, Colorado--a town so normal it induces dread but a wonderful place to raise a family--through most of the 1980s. He moved to Denver in the early 1990s and has lived there ever since. He has worked as a ski bum, theater manager, bookstore clerk, janitor, mail carrier, disc jockey, music reviewer, and art installer. He is unmarried and childless.
He enjoys making art and devotes long hours to it nearly every single day. In describing his work he says, "I'm a white, middle class, suburban kid with little cultural upbringing. Perhaps that explains it. Unfortunately, my parents wish I would do something like manage a Dunkin' Donuts, something with a health plan."
He calls himself a "suburban regionalist" and draws things like shopping malls, suburban homes, and fast food restaurants. "I reflect what I know--white suburban culture. I deal with what's around, like a sunset over a Perkins restaurant.... I'm fascinated by things like neon strips and middle-American landscapes. People forget that we were brought up watching The Flintstones. Like it or not, that's a valid cultural perspective, and I exploit the hell out of it."
"For me to go to Sante Fe and try to capture the essence of Native Indians in drawings would be hypocritical. You see pseudo-modernistic Indian-oriented paintings that go with couches, and it's just blatant commercialism. It has nothing to do with Native American values. That's why when I do Indians, I try to do them in a very superficial way, the way I think the middle class would view them. I try to be honest."
He sees the huge cement Dino at Bedrock City Amusement Park in Arizona as a humorous by important cultural artifact. "We know that archeologists [in the future] are going to marvel at Mt. Rushmore, but no one thinks about the fact that Dino is going to survive for a few centuries too. I like to keep an eye out for the less than obvious artifacts."
He refers to himself an art artists/humorist, and many of his drawings satirize the art world. He has done numerous pieces that mock the content and style of Andrew Wyeth, R.C. Gorman, and Georgia O'Keefe.
On the co-existence of humor and art in his work, he says, "I'm really working the balance. It's important that the two work together. Both are equally important."
He describes his artwork as "...a mixture of the absolutely ridiculous and something more serious... It's kind of funny in a nervous sort of way." He explains his style as "a cartoonist mentality transposed into art."
Since 1980 he has exhibited extensively throughout Colorado and the United States. His work is owned by a wide variety of individuals and institutions, including the Denver Museum of Art. He can't recall being awarded any grant money but is receptive to the idea nonetheless.
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