Artists Leo Kim and Charlie Thysell’s works come to life on FM broadcasts after their deaths
These friends and the public can revisit the deceased artists in two new local exhibitions of their art.
North Dakota State University, where Kim studied, opens “A Photographic Journey: The Life and Work of Leo Kim” at the Memorial Union Gallery on September 21. Across the river, The Rourke Art Gallery + Museum, where Thysell had exhibited for decades, recently opened “Connecting the Dots: A Charlie Thysell Retrospective”.
“It’s a very good representation of his creative decades and represents his major interests as an artist,” says Jonathan Rutter, Managing Director and Curator of Rourke.
The exhibition features around 50 works, including the last piece painted by Thysell in March 2020, weeks before his death at age 70 after a long battle with cancer. The exhibition includes two pieces from the Rourke collection and the rest on loan from friends and collectors. The Rourke also has a mix of around 60 sketches and paintings by Thysell for sale.
Charles Thysell in his Minneapolis studio in 2017 looking at a collection of his works. Contribution / Mike Hazard.
“It’s really gratifying to be the place where all of this can happen,” says Rutter. “I am delighted to bring the works of our late friend to our museum community.”
Thysell got involved with the old Rourke At gallery as a teenager, running the bar at opening receptions and by the early 1980s exhibiting and working there. His last show with the organization was in 2012.
Throughout his career, his use of color and shapes, whether in still lifes or images of people, won him praise.
Charlie Thysell’s “Little Crop” is part of his retrospective at the Rourke Art Gallery + Museum. Contribution / Rourke Art Gallery + Museum
“In portraits, still lifes and landscapes, he finds a common heart,” Keri Pickett, a longtime friend, told the Forum after Thysell’s death. “I see this humor, this crook, this kid inside looking at the world.”
“He had a great talent for finding the essential nature and character of a subject,” says Rutter. “He was a painter. You would be hard pressed to find a painter in Fargo-Moorhead who doesn’t admire his approach.
Just as Thysell created on canvas and paper, Kim captured the world around him on film.
Born to Korean parents, he lived in Hong Kong, Macau and Austria before studying architecture at NDSU where he began taking photos for the school’s newspaper, The Spectrum. He would later photograph for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and The Standing Rock Star at Fort Yates on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation before moving to Minneapolis to work as a commercial photographer.
Despite, or perhaps because of his travels around the world, he was drawn to the openness of North Dakota’s landscape, which he meticulously photographed for his book “North Dakota Prairie Landscape”, published in 2003.
“Haybale: Stanley, ND, August 1999” is part of “A Photographic Journey: The Life and Work of Leo Kim”. Contribution / NDSU Archives
His photos of North Dakota form the bulk of the new exhibit at the NDSU Memorial Union Gallery. After her death in 2019 at age 73, after a period of deteriorating health, Kim’s photos, negatives and notes were donated to the NDSU archives.
“His images of North Dakota are simply breathtaking… He captured the beauty and unique characteristics of the state,” said Hallie Pritchett, Acting Dean of Libraries, who oversees the archives.
She points to a favorite image, “Rainstorm, Brampton, ND, September 2001,” part of a permanent display of Kim’s work in a stairwell at NDSU’s main library. “It’s very dramatic. People don’t often think of North Dakota like that.
Leo Kim’s photo, “Rainstorm, Brampton, ND, 2001”. Contribution / NDSU Archives
“The photos of Leo had a spiritual side and Leo had a spiritual side,” remembers photographer Dan Koeck after Kim’s death. “He once told me that nature was his religion and I saw it in his work. He felt really comfortable there. You could tell he felt really comfortable outside.
Pritchett says Kim’s books and posters will be available for purchase during the show. Scanned images can be ordered through the NDSU Archives.
While Kim had strong ties to North Dakota and Minnesota, her history is American, Pritchett says.
“He is the epitome of the American dream. Its story is an American story, ”she said. “He fell in love with the land and created a career here. He was able to share the beauty he found in North Dakota.