Amdur enters Art Crawl with paintings that vibrate to creative energy of jazz.

Venture into Studio No. 250 in the Northern Warehouse at 308 Prince St. this weekend, and you will find yourself in the company of musicians who have played at the Black Dog and Khyber Pass cafes. The performers will not be there in person; they will be in paintings. Macalester-Groveland artist David Amdur will be showing works inspired by jazz musicians as part of the Saint Paul Art Collective’s Art Crawl in Lowertown on October 1-3.

Amdur has been drawn lately to painting musicians who epitomize creative strength. “I particularly like musicians outside of the mainstream,” he said, “mostly jazz musicians. I feel they extend the creative vocabulary of our community.”

David Amdur
Painter David Amdur glances up from his palette while working on one of his jazz compositions in the studio of his Macal­ester-Groveland home. Photo by Brad Stauffer

Amdur will also be exhibiting some of his earlier works—of places he has traveled, neighborhood gardens he appreciates and the May Day Parade held annually in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood of Minneapolis.

“I feel a good painting is a lot like a musical composition,” Amdur said. “It builds dramatic force with contrasts and harmonies. But instead of tones and rhythms, the elements are colors, shapes and space. I often think of a piece of music as leading me on a journey, and paintings do that, too. A painting can be configured so that when you’re looking at a particular part, another part in your peripheral vision struggles for attention. This creates energy in the experience of looking.”

Rather than a single weekend event, the Saint Paul Art Crawl is being held this fall over several weekends in various locales across the city (see accompanying On the Town feature).

In his musician paintings, the energy flows from the performers. “They’re at the center,” he said. “On a purely formal or visual level, there are a lot of interesting shapes when you have people with musical instruments. They’re reaching out. And the music itself is so creative. You never hear the same thing twice.”

For this year’s Art Crawl, Amdur had hoped to show his paintings at the Black Dog. When he learned the cafe was not offering exhibit space this year, his friend Mark Anderson lent him his studio. “It’s in the same building as the Black Dog, one floor up,” he said.

Moving from the abstract to painting from life

Early in his career, Amdur was quite active in the Saint Paul Art Collective. That was in the early 1980s, following his studies at the University of Minnesota where, “under the influence of my teachers, I did abstract paintings for about a year,” he said. “Then, as I recognized in the world around me how rich the visual relationships can be, I began to paint from life.

“For nine years, I lived in a fairly ramshackle and very cheap apartment in one of the less prosperous neighborhoods of Minneapolis, painting and working occasionally as a handyman to get by,” Amdur said. “During the winters of ’83 and ’84, I traveled to Mexico to paint landscapes. While there, I regularly tuned in to Armed Forces Radio for news and heard reports of atrocities in Central America. I decided to paint pictures that told the story of that conflict and other social and political concerns.”

A student and also a teacher of art

Seeking additional training, Amdur enrolled in graduate school at Queens College of the City University of New York. There, he found a remarkable faculty of painters who focused on the human figure and story­telling. They were part of a large subculture that “had the courage to row against the tide of abstraction at mid-century to create truly original work founded in tradition,” he said.

With an MFA in hand, Amdur secured an Andy Warhol scholarship for an additional year of study at the New York Academy of Art. After teaching art in a parochial high school in Brooklyn for three years, he and his wife, artist Lynn Wadsworth, moved back to the Twin Cites. Both had grown up in the cities and, with a young daughter at home, they wanted to be closer to grandparents.

Amdur taught art in public schools and graphic design and art history at Brown College. He published a textbook on typography in 2006. Meanwhile, his painting was put on hold until his retirement in 2017 when he picked up the medium with a new fervor.

A new fervor for painting

Among Amdur’s first paintings in retirement were those of the May Day Parade, which has been organized for close to half a century by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre. Last year, he painted a memorial to George Floyd depicting his brother Terrance Floyd’s visit to the site of his murder in South Minneapolis. Though the subject of the painting is anguish, Amdur believes hope can be detected in the people depicted demanding justice.

“David’s technique has always been terrific,” said fellow Macalester-Groveland artist Lou Ferreri, who has known Amdur since early in their careers. “His sense of composition is perfect. And he can work in any medium.”

Rather than a single weekend event, the Art Crawl is being held over several weekends this fall in various locales across the capital city. On October 1-3, it will run from 5-10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday at the Northern Warehouse, the Northwestern Building, the Lowertown Lofts and Artist Cooperative, Tilsner Artists and 262 Studios & Master Framers, all in Lower­town.

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