There are 79 original pieces and 43 photographs by 32 artists and 170 students on display at the Milwaukee Bucks’ grandiose new arena, the Fiserv Forum.
Despite such volume, Derek Carlson’s contributions stand out. The New Richmond artist and teacher of the craft — who recently started his 22nd year of art instruction in the Osceola school district — has two paintings at the venue that caught the eye of OnMilwaukee’s Matt Mueller.
The culture editor for the online publication listed Carlson’s work — titled “Big Dog” and “Sam I Am” — as among the 20 pieces visitors should seek out.
“As one who grew up during the Big Dog/Sam Cassell-era Bucks — and as one who grew up grabbing the sports section to look at the standings and box scores — these two works are a nostalgic delight,” Mueller wrote. “But even outside of the blast from the past, the combination of the detailed, textured paintings and the flat newspaper backgrounds make for an almost 3-D pop, the stats coming to life right on the page.”
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Carlson got the idea for using newspaper as a background from helping a former student with a painting project. The approach also combined two of his top passions: art and sports memorabilia.
“I have been taking old newspapers and Sporting News articles and pages and using these for the backgrounds of my paintings,” Carlson said. “In many cases these articles are 40 to 50 years old — oftentimes picturing and mentioning the player who I am painting — and it’s a great way of repurposing and displaying these vintage articles.”
Carlson earned a studio art degree from St. Olaf (Minn.) College. He spent a year teaching English in China and earned a master’s degree in art education. Carlson uses charcoal, watercolors and oils in creating his paintings.
“I enjoy finding odd and different surfaces to paint on,” he said, “and if it is something I can repurpose, like an old saw, barn board or an old baseball bat, it gives the piece that much more of a unique quality.”
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Carlson grew up in Eleva, graduating from Eleva-Strum High School in 1990. He was a multisport athlete for the Cardinals, scoring a combined 17 points his senior year at the WIAA state basketball tournament. The team finished second in Class C.
Carlson’s father was a longtime economic development specialist in Eau Claire, and Derek gave back to the city in 2014 by donating a painting of Hank Aaron as an 18-year-old Eau Claire Bears player at Carson Park.
Carlson’s interest in art began nearly as early as his passion for sports.
“I have enjoyed creating art for as long as I can remember,” he said. “Whenever I was bored, I would draw. I love to create and I love to solve problems.
“The most rewarding part about my art is sharing it with others and experiencing their gratitude and reaction.”
And Carlson is not the only artist representing western Wisconsin at the Fiserv Forum.
“Brick by Brick” by Greg Gossel, who was born and raised in Baldwin and earned a degree in graphic design from UW-Eau Claire, also made Mueller’s must-see list.
Based in Minneapolis, Gossel has exhibited across the U.S. and abroad. His commercial clients have included Levi’s, Burton Snowboards and Interscope Records.
Carlson and his work will be on display at the Art in the Kinni on Saturday in River Falls. He also had some sage words of advice for those seeking success in his challenging field.
“I would say create what you love and never become complacent,” he said. “Keep pushing yourself to come up with new ideas.”
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