Bryan Award winning painter returns with more 'crazy stuff'
Written by DAVID DUPONT Festival Program Editor   
Thursday, 02 August 2012 11:50
Bryan award winner, Andy Van Schyndle, with his paintings at last year's Black Swamp Arts Festival. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
For painter artist Andy Van Schyndle coming to the Black Swamp Arts Festival in 2011 was a trip into the unknown.
The Wisconsin-based artist specializes in trips to the unknown. His canvasses are full of odd images of wacky circuses, vampire penguins and space aliens. “Midwest surrealism,” he calls his work.
Van Schyndle  never heard of the festival before, he saw it listed on the ZAPP, the site the festival uses to handle applications to the juried show, and given he had an open weekend in his schedule decided to take a chance.
“It was fantastic,” Van Schyndle said. “It was one of my best shows of the year.” His triumph was capped by winning the Dorothy Uber Bryan Painting Award.
So he’ll be back on the street when the art show occupies Main Street Bowling Green Sept. 8 and 9. Saturday art show hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
Van Schyndle does about 20 shows a year. “I tend to go back to a lot because I know what they’re like and I’ve got a good client base.” Still he tries out a few new shows a year. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.”
The Black Swamp Arts Festival was definitely a winner. “It was great, just perfect.”
He loved “the energy” of the event. In some shows “the crowds are lackadaisical ... people just mill around.”
In contrast, “you could just tell people were really excited to be there,” Van Schyndle said. “The crowd is what makes it a good or bad show.”
His girlfriend will come with him this year, so he’s looking forward to getting out and seeing more of the show.
Van Schyndle, 37, is in his ninth year on the art fair circuit. The journey started in elementary school in Green Bay, Wisc., when he and his friends would get together to draw cartoon and video game characters, Pac-Man, Frogger and Donkey Kong. “We always looked forward to a rain day at recess, so we’d just stay inside and draw cartoons.”
Now he has kids come up to his booth and show him their drawings. He looks at them and realizes “that’s exactly what I was doing at that age.”
In high school, his art took a realistic turn toward images of flora and fauna — deer, fish and landscapes — that were “ultra-realistic, almost photorealistic. “
Van Schyndle went on to study art at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay . There he discovered the surrealists, particularly Salvador Dali and Rene Magrittte.
What to do with the degree was as much as problem for him as other art graduates.
“I remember the day I graduated (in 1998) I got the paper and looked at the classifieds and didn’t see ‘artist’ listed,” Van Schyndle said. He wondered: “What do I do now?”
He continued working for his father’s plumbing business, where he’d worked since he was 10. He also did some traveling visiting national parks, living in his van.
Several years after graduating he realized he would be “stuck doing plumbing” if he did devote himself to art.
So he headed way north to Alaska. He lived there for a year, concentrating on his work. “There’s no better place to get away from it all than Alaska,” he said. “I was kind of like a hermit up there, doing a lot of painting.”
What came out on canvas were fantasy landscapes. “That’s just what was in my head.”
He was able to use the technique he’d developed depicting nature to create images informed by the pop culture and fantasy world from his earliest attempts at art. Connecting with that youthful energy is what so many artists try to do, Van Schyndle said.
He returned to Wisconsin, and in 2004 started “dabbling” in art fairs.
“At first I didn’t make any money at all. I lost a lot of money,” he said. “I don’t know why I even kept doing them. I guess it was just something to do, to have fun and show the artwork.”
He kept adding a few art fairs a year. Then in the fourth year, business took off. It was fortuitous he said, because at that point the economy declined, and with it the plumbing business. For the first time in 20 years he was unemployed.
Now he was making just enough to be a full-time artist.
Those years in plumbing, digging trenches and breaking concrete, though were valuable. They gave him the work ethic needed to spend long hours at the easel bringing to life the twisted and grotesque figures that danced around in his head.
It also helps dealing with the rigors of the art fair circuit.
“Doing art fairs is a lot of work,” he said. He must prepare for every show, travel and then set up his booth. “It’s as much work as I was doing when I was plumbing.”
His booth is elaborate, almost a secret chamber into which the viewer enters into Van Schyndle’s bizarre universe.
Dennis Wojtkiewicz, a Bowling Green State University faculty member who judged the festival last year, was impressed by Van Schyndle’s booth with its towering wooden superstructure. “You enter into this world. The booth supports the work and vice versa. .... The complete package is an important part of how you respond.”
Van Schyndle attributes the popularity of fantasy in pop culture with the success of his work on the art fair circuit. Younger artists like himself tend to be a minority on the circuit.
He tries to encourage young artists he meets at fairs to consider art fairs. “These art fairs are great for getting the art right out in the public’s face.”
While a gallery may attract 10,000 people in a year, the Black Swamp Arts Festival draws a total of 60,000, and other larger shows have crowds over 100,000. That’s in just a weekend.
“It’s almost a perfect venue for them,” Van Schyndle said of young artists. “They’re doing a lot of raw crazy stuff and that would be really fun to see at art festivals. The public would get to see a lot of cool stuff.”
Meanwhile he’s looking forward to returning to Black Swamp. He’ll have some new paintings but mostly it’ll be “the same crazy stuff.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 02 August 2012 11:54

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