Those who venture to the Fort Hays State University campus during Friday’s artwalk will have the opportunity to see something rare — an artist showing his works for the first time in not one but three simultaneous shows.
“This is almost unheard of to have one artist in three venues at the same time,” Hays artist Michael Jilg said.
Mike Hartung spent 42 years painting just because he loved to do it, living and working in a loft in downtown Lindsborg. As he finished one painting, he would stack the masonite slate with the others against the walls, Jilg said.
Jilg, a former FHSU art professor, set up Hartung’s show in Moss-Thorns Gallery of Art last week with Leland Powers, associate professor of art.
“Gas Stations, Laundromats, and the Spaces in Between” will be shown from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday in the gallery on the first floor of Rarick Hall. The works also can be seen during the gallery’s regular hours, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Along with the Hays show, Hartung’s work — 62 paintings in all — can be seen at Lindeborg’s Birger Sandzen Memorial Gallery and the Salina Art Center.
Jilg said he was likely one of a small group of people aware of Hartung’s work through the decades, through a mutual friend in Lindsborg.
Hartung, he said, was perfectly happy with his work not being seen. During the day, he worked at a Salina print shop, then would go home and paint at night.
“He just wasn’t concerned about notoriety or selling or anything. He painted just to be painting, for the love of it,” Jilg said.
But Hartung, 72, has had health problems the last few years, and friends Richard and Laura Klocke decided to have an intervention a few years ago. With a group of artist and gallery friends, including Jilg, they cleaned up and made repairs at his loft and photographed his work.
The group arranged for the shows and also to have Hartung’s work professionally photographed for a book. Copies will be available for purchase during the artwalk, with all the proceeds going to the FHSU art department.
Much of Hartung’s work — some of which cover two large panels — depict things he saw in everyday life, often at night or early morning as he drove to and from work in Salina.
“There’s that lonely walk home from the Quick Shop,” Jilg said, pointing out one of a woman carrying bags across a partially lit convenience store parking lot. “There’s so much emotion and atmosphere in there.”
Jilg said even though he has seen many of Hartung’s paintings before, getting them set up in the gallery under the lights has revealed more to the work.
“It’s all so gestural. All the energy comes from the expression in the paint brushes,” he said.
If his health permits, Hartung might be in attendance at the gallery during the artwalk, Jilg said. He was able to attend the openings at Lindsborg and Salina, and despite his hermit-like existence, entertained the crowds.
“He was like David Letterman in front of a group. He was personable and he was happy. He wasn’t giving a bunch of art babble. He was just being honest about his life. It was just fascinating,” Jilg said.
“Sort of the mystique of the whole show, why there’s so much interest in it, is this guy no one’s ever heard of has been right here amongst us. He’s happy, never had a desire to go anywhere else, but has come up with these amazingly insightful paintings,” Jilg said.