As I See It

“As I See It”, my solo exhibition is now open! Please peruse the work on this page or if you happen to be passing through Decatur Illinois, stop by the Millikin University campus and go see the show in person at the Perkinson Gallery in the Kirkland Fine Arts Center. Check the open hours and see the work up close and personal… Covid rules apply.

August 31–October 29, 2020
Perkinson Gallery, Kirkland Fine Arts Center 
Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois

Please direct purchase inquiries to Lyle Salmi, or phone 217-424-6227

First House, 2017

House paint and acrylics on paper

It was never made clear to me actually what happened that day. But sometime in the spring of 1894, after a winter of men working in the north woods, spring had come. The logs and timbers cut all winter were piled high on the river banks ready for the spring thaw. Great chains and cables held the towering masses of logs in check. But today, something went wrong. A chain broke and the logs were released, tumbling down the banks to the river below….

There was a knock on the door and my grandmother found out that her life had changed that day. There had been an accident. She was now a widow with four young children, the youngest a few months old. How she managed no one really knows, but she did. She could sew and she could bake and she had a cow. She also had what the Finns call “Sisu.” Some call it determination, some call it grit, but there is really no definition for that sheer force of will that guided this woman in raising her family. At this point this is all I know. There were probably many dark days but there are no sad stories. There were stories about barrels of crackers, building an ice boat, milking the cow, coming home from school and having fresh bread and butter and a glass of buttermilk. 
No sad tales.

Grandma was the matriarch guiding her children into adulthood. She raised them through difficult times, a world war, a pandemic, and financial collapse. Needless to say, they worshiped her and she wanted for nothing, except to become an American citizen, which she did at age 92 surrounded by a proud and loving family.

Vic Johnson’s House, the Family Room, 2017

House paint, acrylics, and pastels on paper; tissue paper

There was no radio or phonograph in the house, but there was a piano. The carpenter bought the piano and saw to it that his children had music lessons. They played music and sang. It was family. It was their entertainment. But someone was special, that would be Arthur, the second youngest. He had talent, they could tell, and it was supported by the family. He went on to study music and became a concert pianist. Uncle Art never played in Carnegie Hall, but he did play in some major cities in the Midwest and taught music in a private school. 

And now comes the story. Uncle Art came to stay with us in Detroit one summer because he had fallen ill. During the summer we all went back up north to the family homestead in East Tawas. It was there one evening that he sat down at the piano and started to play. People stayed in the room for a while but then filtered out to the porch and yard to listen through the open window. He played and played on through the evening into the night. He played all the music that he could remember, and then he stopped. He stopped and never played again. Uncle Art died that Fall. Years after that when music played on the radio or TV, someone would say, “Art used to play that.” And they would pause for a moment and smile.

Family Dog, 2018

House paint, acrylics, pastels, and graphite on paper

He dug with purpose because after all he was a practical dog. His was more a cave than hole, over two feet down with a sod roof. It was hot that summer and he needed cool shade. He dug with purpose not pleasure. His day job (as he saw it) was taking care of his family, especially his girls. He watched them at play and always had a role in their theatrical productions. His work as elephant and clown was outstanding and carrying messages was not out of the question, although he was banned from Halloween because he ate the candy. 

Which brings up a sore point. He had a weight problem. No matter what we fed him or didn’t feed him he was still overweight. As a last resort we substituted green beans for a majority of his regular food. Nothing helped. It was only after he died that we found out his secret.

Every morning the first person up let him out. And away he went. He was always back to see the girls off to school. The true story came out after he died when a neighbor down the road told me how they missed him and his morning visits. They always saved a piece of French toast for him. And so it went, he had his morning rounds. Each neighbor had a story to tell and the goody they saved for him. French toast here, a bran muffin there, bacon, bagel (plain was OK, but lox and cream cheese was better). Our dog was a neighborhood dog and a mooch. But that did not distract him from his day job, his girls. He put them on the bus in the morning and was there to meet them when they got home ready to be part of whatever they had in mind…even green beans.

painting, Robert Sedestrom

As I See It, 2019

House paint, acrylics, and pastels on paper

People see things differently. It depends on the point of view and where you stand. I’m not poking the political bear here, I’m talking about vision. Color vision. What you actually see, colors. Color is important. Supposedly only twenty-five percent have “perfect” color vision and those are mostly women. So it was no great surprise that my color vision was suspect. That happened when I had cataract surgery. No big deal, the surgery, you are awake, given drugs and you are aware but you don’t care. It was afterwards when it all happened. My “new” eye was Ektachome! Ektachrome is the color film that favors the cool spectrum while my “old” left eye continued to see Kodacolor which leans to the warm side, browns, red, purple and such.

By squinting I could change my vision from warm to cool and back again. And I could refine my eye color palette by varying my eye openings. What a gift! But wait, which is accurate, what do other people see? I really wondered about that, but not for long. I figured no matter what color I use people will see the color they see, not necessarily the one I put down, but then, everything is relative. So, one eye sees blue the other sees yellow, so be it. It’s special. Just think of those poor folks that can’t see the color I put down. They might like it better if they could see that color rendition. There’s a plus, then again, some might see it and dismiss it out of hand and that’s OK too. I can only see what I see from my point of view from where I stand, bi-colored and focused.

In this self-portrait I show you my vision. The right eye is blue and the left eye is yellow and all the variations in between. That’s the way I see things from my point of view.

As a little test you might squint one eye a bit to see what you can see. It’s a different point of view. You might be surprised.

Burning Earth, Melting Greenland, and the Fibonacci Spiral, 2019

House paint, acrylics, pastels, and graphite on paper

Sometimes things lurk there in the back of your mind. They are there but you don’t pay much attention to them, but then you have an “ah-ha” moment. The newscasts and daily papers peppering the brain have had their way. Fractions of things seen come together and you have a moment of clarity. You have put two and two together. Me watching the news and seeing that South America, China, and India are burning and at the same time there are pictures of Greenland melting. Films of water pouring out of glacial fissures. That’s alarming in so many ways. 

I needed a way to put it all in perspective. And so, to my global rendition I added a Fibonacci spiral, which also is the golden mean. For me it’s like diagraming a sentence to bring some semblance of order or reason to the news. It doesn’t seem to add up. To make some sense out of something I can’t control and somehow fix it. That’s troublesome. Something’s really amiss here and there is an increasing effort to deny the obvious, something very powerful. Something that is destroying our planet at an ever-increasing pace. We have a problem and denial is just basically foolhardy. 

Why is this all happening? The farmers want more land and burn trees to get it. OK. We also understand that some manufacturers would like it easier (less expensive) to make their products. But we also understand the bigger problem, greenhouse gasses. All these things put together and we might not have a place to live. 

It seems so futile sometimes. We conserve water, recycle trash, are more fuel efficient, and there doesn’t seem to be much else to do. At some point things must change. They have to. But for now at least I can document my thoughts. Put them down on paper and make it graphic and easier for me to grasp the big picture. It works for now, at least for me.

Cup, 2018

House paint, acrylics, and pastels on paper

It’s Labor Day and here I am in the studio. That’s not unusual, I’m usually here five days sometimes six days a week, rarely on Sunday, but sometimes. It’s something that I have to do. My sister-in-law asked me why I continue to go to the studio, I was retired and didn’t have to do that anymore. I told her it was that I just could not not do it. Making art is what I do. The thought of not doing it never entered my mind. So it’s fitting that I am here on Labor Day, working. I am very fortunate to have found something that I love to do (as if I had a choice). 

A friend once said that he was cursed with the ability to draw. I feel somewhat the same way, singled out early as special. I have often wondered what would have happened if I had channeled all that time and energy in another direction, only wondered, really never serious. I am truly blessed and grateful, doing what I love and wishing only that others could find the same joy and satisfaction. Happy Labor Day.

Flashback, 2019

House paint, acrylics, pastels, and charcoal on paper

We had been driving for a long time. It was late, maybe in the middle of the night, maybe, I don’t know. I was a kid in the backseat of the car. I was drowsy as we pulled in and finally stopped. The headlights flashed on a white fence, behind it was a yard and beyond that trees and a dark house. We had arrived. I didn’t know where we were but it was dark. 

Someone carried me into the house now lit with Kerosene lamps. I smelled it. There was bustling about and the hushed chatter of greetings and directions given. Someone, I think my dad, carried me to a room up some stairs and put me in a bed. It was cool in that room and almost damp, but not really damp. I would have thought musty but I didn’t know that word yet. Snug under a quilt, I went to sleep hearing muffled voices and a bit of laughter. I only sensed the light from downstairs but there was the unmistaken smell of coffee. With that I fell asleep.

When I opened my eyes again it was morning. It was light and I heard the same voices. People were up and moving around downstairs and I smelled coffee again. The sun was shining and that’s all I remember, but it was a good remember.

Vic Johnson’s house, the porch, 2017

House paint, acrylics, pastels, and blackboard paint on paper

Vic Johnson’s house was ample yet cozy. There were six rooms on the first floor, three bedrooms on one side mirrored by a parlor, dining room and kitchen on the other. The back bedroom had been converted into a bathroom when indoor plumbing was installed. Grandpa preferred the outhouse in the backyard, I think the simplicity appealed to him. He was a quiet man, never revealing his life’s travels. He had lost his wife and raised his family through a pandemic and two world wars. A son was killed in France in the first war. Grandpa was now an observer and watched his family grow. He had a square jaw and ice blue eyes that suggested a temper long since mellowed. He was stoic and rarely spoke, but his eyes would twinkle and you could tell while though an observer he was always a participant. Almost regal now as I remember the man that was at the beginning for me.

He was sitting at his kitchen table having his morning coffee. I watched him as he put in the cream and then poured it into the saucer and with a lump of sugar between his teeth, sip the coffee. If there was a korppu (Finnish biscotti) that would be included. After coffee, he would putter around a bit and then make his way out to the side porch into the morning sun. He would sit on the glider and watch the street. It was more of a road than a street, no houses to speak of and hardly any traffic. Neighbors would already have come and gone, but every once in a while a car would drive by, slow down and toot, to the man on the porch. He would nod.

Daydreaming can be active or passive. His were both, a nod to a neighbor was active. But he would return to his midrange stare. He had lived his life and was now reviewing more than planning. But plans there were, his family had arrived. They came with children of all ages, armed with their own plans, running around, making their activity very audible. Audible enough to keep him out on the porch a little longer some days. All days were to be cherished, some more than others, by the man who sat on the porch. 

painting of abstract giraffe by R Sedestrom

My Giraffe, 2019

House paint, acrylics, and pastels on paper

It was late morning or afternoon I really don’t remember, but the light was low, the sun filtering through the trees. We were driving through the woods going somewhere. That’s when I saw it. It was just a glimpse, a flash, but I knew right away. I told my mom and dad. I saw a giraffe. 

They said no, you didn’t see a giraffe. There are no giraffes in these woods. This is Michigan and giraffes don’t live here. But I saw one, I know I did, as sure as I could be. I knew what I saw. I had seen pictures in books and at the zoo and of course in the National Geographic! So I knew a giraffe when I saw one. But there was no way of convincing anyone. They just didn’t believe me. 

I listened to the news on the radio that night but there was nothing about a giraffe. And I waited for the weekly paper. But there was no circus, whoever lost that giraffe really hadn’t realized it yet, but they would, sooner or later, and then it would come out that there was a giraffe loose in the Huron National Forest. I would be vindicated. 

Of course time went by and still no news about any lost giraffe. 

Nothing. Time passed, years, and more years and I realized that the only vindication possible was modern technology. Not radar or plane spotters, but something new. Cutting-edge. Now with satellites streaming overhead my time would come. They would spot something in the woods near East Tawas, Michigan. They would zero in with their laser technology and find large animal bones, a giraffe. My giraffe, long gone, with me as the only witness of its existence. It will be on TV. The internet will buzz. I will be vindicated. Believed at last. The only problem is that there is no one to point to and say, See! I was right. I really did see a giraffe. But that’s OK, because I know what I saw and now after reading this you know, too. And now we wait, but until then, here’s to truth and believing what you see. But most of all here’s to all the giraffes in the woods…wherever they are.

Cool Dip, 2020

House paint, acrylics, and graphite on paper 

Like lemmings to the sea, boys need water. We had driven to Grandpa’s house in northern Michigan and it was time to go swimming. I was ready. Cooped up in a car for four hours, I was on it. I saw the water and took a shortcut through a vacant lot. Big mistake. I jumped over a pile of barn wood and suddenly stopped, impaled on a nail in my foot. 

People were worried about my foot. Me, I wanted to go swimming. No swimming for me, not going to happen, you’re going to the doctor. The doctor’s big concern was “lockjaw” or tetanus as we know it. But, this was the 1940s and there was no shot, no preventative or cure. There was a horse serum but it was as yet unproven and not to be given to children, and that would be me. All I wanted to do was go swimming. That was now completely out of the question.

My lot was cast and for the next week or so I was given a regimen of soaking in Epsom salts (in very hot water) and alternating with having a piece of salt pork stuck on my foot between soaks. The salt pork was tolerable, the soaking was not. This went on forever, at least to me, but there was one bright side (other than surviving). I was appointed Garden Monitor and was issued a single shot .22 rifle! My job was to sit on the porch and watch for rabbits or other varmints, all the while soaking in hot Epsom salts. It was a good trade. Heal me and protect the veggies. Obviously, I healed with no ill effects and I must report that no animal was ever harmed in the process and I also learned a lot.

First of all, I learned that “look before you leap” is both a saying and practical advice. I also learned patience, although that slips every now and then. In retrospect I learned the value of life and those that surround you. I didn’t realize until many years later what dire straits I was in and this might have been different story if it were not for a loving and caring family.

Road Closed, 2020

House paint, acrylics, pastels, and blackboard paint on paper 

Often when a road is closed there is another route, options will appear if you are open to them. An alternative. There could be a different way to go. And so it was, this image started out very differently. It was a landscape, at least in my mind, but for some reason I put on a couple brush loads of blackboard paint. I had to. Those slashed strokes became a road and then when I put in the barrier the image resolved itself. I was surprised but open to the new definition. A closed road rather than a destination. That worked for me. There are places that you’d like to go that are unavailable, forbidden, or just don’t exist. No pathway. 

In thinking about where we are right now, what a mess, so much is happening on so many levels. Everything is mushed together. Crises on top of lingering inequities. Any options to solutions are blurred and so numerous it’s maddening. Things are so layered that you can’t comprehend them all at once. They overlap intertwine and shift. Like a transient Gordian knot giving a hint of the complexity of the problem, then vanishing without a solution or direction. Certainly not a committee assignment and there’s no Alexander the Great this time and no Winston Churchill either. 

But then I was really talking about this drawing and then it occurred to me…a place to go but no way to get there. That’s it in a nutshell.

Blackboard with Pointer, 2020

House paint, acrylics, pastels, blackboard paint, and graphite on paper 

The definition of a civilization according to the Oxford dictionary is the “stage of human social development and organization which is considered most advanced,” and the process for doing so is “to bring out of a savage, uneducated, or rude state; make civil.” And so, I was sent to school. 

I really could not understand why I was there. I had crayons and blocks and paper and paint at home. I had time to do what I wanted to do without interruption. Here, in this new place, I had to share everything with others. These were people who didn’t know very much about coloring and absolutely nothing about building with blocks! The picture books in the corner were very nice but I had seen most of them. And not only that, I had actually seen a real cow, and a real chicken, and a real pig. Nothing new here. 

I did discover something new though. The cloakroom. That’s where people were sent if they didn’t follow directions. I admit that I spent some time in the cloakroom. The process of becoming civilized is not easy. I came to this place almost complete. I could dress myself, tie my shoes, comb my hair, and I was “housebroken.” I knew my ABC’s and my numbers and most of all, I knew right from wrong, but there seemed to be a need for more. I found out that there’s always a need for more. No matter what you know or what you think you know, there is always more. Things got interesting, the more you know, the more you know you don’t know. This could be fun. This business of becoming civilized is not so bad (except for the cloakroom). I’ll stick with this for a while and see what happens. 

B30, 2018

House paint, acrylics, pastels, blackboard paint, and graphite on paper

B30, the storage locker, the home to our stash of undefined needs was cleaned out last week. Oh, there was anticipation along with dread. What was so important to keep for so long and not valuable enough to take when we moved? There was conjecture for sure, but no concrete remembrance. The flood of memories was murky. We made a solemn vow, only the most precious and dear would be brought back to Chicago. Easy peasy? Kind of, but not really.

Opening that green door revealed the truth. Indecision had lingered, it was all still there. Nothing had moved, nothing changed. Box after box of papers and photographs not to mention the books. And there was the “art” — flat art, boxed art, and some really old clay sculpture that I did in The Netherlands. All had to be dealt with. The cold reality of space available meets fond memories.

There was ample time to sift through papers up to a point. There were finds of course. We each found letters that made us pause. I discovered two letters to my mom from her brother written and mailed from France in 1918, just weeks before he was killed in action. The American Legion Post bears his name. That kind of stuff brings you up short. A jolt of reality as you sift through things that you think are important. It’s not the things themselves, but what they represent, at least to you. Others will see your leavings as just that, leavings. There will be no history of attachment or sentimental thought drift to catch that moment. 

But we did our job! Valuable papers were preserved as were photos and selected art both flat and not. All were packed and brought back to Chicago where everything is under one roof for the first time in many years.

The trip and its purpose is complete. The foggy memories are clear and the cobwebs of indecision have been wiped away. Now free of the nagging guilt of B30 a thousand miles away, we can get on with what we do, can do, want to do, and will do.

Brown Shoes, 2018

House paint, acrylics, pastels, blackboard paint, and chalk on paper

A Pedoscope was used to measure shoe fit when I was a boy. It was a fluoroscope X-ray machine that you stuck your feet into while your mom and the salesman would peek through a porthole in the top to see your feet. Wiggle your toes. They checked the fit of the shoes forgoing the old “thumb on the toe” measurement that was traditional. My mom always double-checked with her thumb, always. This practice went on for years. The machine and the thumb check. Then all of a sudden the machine was gone, never to be seen again. It turns out that X-rays aren’t good for you, especially kids. The Pedoscope was banned in 1953 by the USDA. The last one was sighted in Boston in the 1970’s.

Anyway, I got shoes, always brown. They became my good shoes for wearing on Sunday or for going to Gramma’s house. The old new shoes were for school and later play, but always brown. I never knew why. Still don’t. But I do know that the shoes always fit with room to grow. The thumb test was sure and accurate. Mom’s know. They always do.

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