MIXING IT UP WITH CLEVELAND ARTISTS
Scott Kraynak has finally wrangled to fruition his coffee table book, an all-in appreciation of art in the region. The HeArt of Cleveland debuts July 20 at E11even2 gallery.
The work of Cleveland artists, writers, sculptors, photographers, culinary geniuses, installation specialists and fiber creatives will come into view July 20 when Scott Kraynak debuts The Heart of Cleveland, his long-gestating mongrel of a book. Deep into the making as of early April, the book also will be the basis of an exhibition at E11even2, an artist-owned gallery of flexible hours at 78th Street Studios. The show will run for at least a month.
The idea for Heart popped into the very active “kraynium” about four years ago when Kraynak, a park ranger by trade, was working at the Grand Canyon—a touchstone place for him ever since his parents took him and his brother, Jeff, there when they were kids growing up in Mayfield Heights.
Kraynak now works at Deer Creek Lake, south of Columbus. He moved back to Ohio last summer because he couldn’t shake the state out of his heart—particularly Cleveland. He hopes to move closer to home, but rangers rarely get to pick their spots.
“I’m always going on about Cleveland,” Kraynak said in a recent interview at a coffee shop a brief walk from his parents’ house. “I don’t know how many people I’ve annoyed by talking about how great Cleveland is. Whenever I would come back from Cleveland, I would bring back with me a bunch of food from Cleveland, like frozen pizza from Giuseppe’s, meats from the West Side Market. I guess I just was thinking of all the different aspects of Cleveland that I love, and I thought how cool it would be to have a book showcasing all these different aspects.”
Among the contributors and contributions to Heart are Cleveland artists, sculptors and mixed-media magicians like Douglas Max Utter, Brinsley Tyrrell and Corrie Slawson; an essay on the Cleveland School by former Kokoon Arts Gallery owner William Scheele; a painting by John Morton of the legendary destructo-punk band the electric eels; and an essay by Mike Hudson, the Pagans icon who died last fall. Utter will contribute an essay on Cleveland’s current artistic scene. Close to 100 artists should make it into the book, which Kraynak plans to sell for about $30 in soft cover, $50 in hard. Local publisher Red Giant Books will distribute it.
The book aims to spotlight art “created by people from Cleveland or who have spent the majority of their lives here,” Kraynak said. He knew a lot of artists to ask, then asked them “if they knew anyone who would be a good fit,” he said. “I reached out to a lot of people myself. It’s tough to do from all the way across the country; it would have been impossible without the internet.” Kraynak said he wishes he had gotten to Julian Stanczak, a noted abstract painter, in time to ask him to contribute. Stanczak died in March, 2017.
Given its multiple sources, one should expect quite a stylistic mash-up from this book, designed by Brandon Weil, an “amazing graphic designer” and friend of Kraynak’s from Kent State University. Kraynak graduated from Kent in 1999 with a bachelor of science degree in parks and recreation.
Which brings up his third love, the environment. “One of my biggest passions is doing interpretive programs, trying to inspire all people, but mostly children, to care about nature and to teach them about all the wonders found in the environment,” Kraynak said. “Besides Cleveland and art, nature and the environment is my passion in life.” In summers during his college years, he worked ranger internships at US Army Corps of Engineers lakes. After college, he became a seasonal ranger, moving around every six months. It’s a competitive profession but it keeps him moving and curious.
He started his ranger career at Blue Ridge Parkway, which goes from Tennessee to Virginia; he was in North Carolina. He also worked as a ranger at the Grand Canyon for eight years, and in the winter, “I would move to California. I lived in Japan for four months—for a girl. It didn’t work out but it was a great experience.”
At the same time, Kraynak kept up with his own art—mostly colored pencil, his primary medium. “I do photography,” he added. “I do creepy paintings on vintage photographs.”
The brothers Kraynak have published other books, including Animal Crackers, a well-received mix of words and images “that shows wildlife doing the same horrible acts to people as we do to them, like wolves in helicopters shooting people on the ground. Another example is manatees riding on jet skis running over swimming humans,” Kraynak said. “The roles are reversed and my brother wrote it in the style of Dr. Seuss. It rhymes like a Dr. Seuss book but it’s much more vulgar and funny.” Don’t count on The Heart of Cleveland being all hugs and kisses.
One of Kraynak’s coups is a contribution from an iconic comic artist. “Maybe one of the coolest things about this whole process is becoming pen pals with R. Crumb,” he said. “There’s a long quote of his that I’m putting in the foreword about Crumb’s time in Cleveland, and his memories are not good. But the book isn’t meant to be all rainbows and teddy bears.”
It’s very likely to be playful, however, suggested Kraynak, who at the time of the interview was wearing a Ghoulardi T-shirt. He is certainly a man of imagination—and a man willing to put his money where his mouth is: Heart is self-financed and has been complicated to assemble, he said of his project—a veritable study in email communications. He has probably met no more than half of its contributors. “Do these people think I’m a figment of their imagination?” he wondered.
Cleveland, meanwhile, is wonderfully real and inspiring to him. Maybe even portable.
“I have a dream to have a Cleveland-themed bar in Iceland,” said Kraynak, who’s been there twice. “You could fly in food from Cleveland. You’d probably go bankrupt. It’s a quirky idea but Iceland is a quirky country. It could be a big hit.”