Michael Krueger teaches art at Kansas University, has exhibited and lectured internationally and had work featured in art publications in major U.S. cities.
But no one’s ever written about his bizarre, palm-sized (and some pinkie-sized) cutout “drawings of little note” — no one’s ever really seen them.
The drawings found a public parking space in the Lawrence Arts Center’s new Antecedent Gallery, where they’re on display through Aug. 2. Krueger’s “Canned Heat” is the second exhibit for the small second-floor gallery, dedicated to displaying the type of art one wouldn’t see in a typical gallery — including stuff some might argue isn’t art at all.
Krueger’s drawings aren’t part of his teaching curriculum. They’re not like the larger-scale prints and drawings he exhibits in galleries. And they’re not included on his website with his other work.
He just loves making them.
The drawings are mostly circa-1970s vehicles crafted in watercolor, gouache and colored pencil.
In one, titled “Froggie Truckin’,” tiny cutout apples, diamonds and smiley faces adorn a Volkswagen Beetle. At the wheel, there’s a red-haired woman and a banana-person. On top, there’s a frog and a potted plant. And is that a blue heron in the backseat?
Another drawing, “Shaggy Drag,” depicts a Volkswagen pickup truck driven by a wooly sheep dog sidled up to a chic pink poodle. The dog couple are hauling a bunch of equally shaggy-haired people in the back of their truck.
“Naptime Dandy” has a pair of bare legs sticking out of a green Jeep overflowing with marijuana.
“In some ways they’re just kind of fun and goofy and whimsical,” Krueger says of his drawings. But there’s “kind of a heavier tone below the surface in terms of thinking about that time period in our history, and how it all sort of imploded and how the utopian dream crashed.”
What he’s saying is, the hippie culture wasn’t all flowers and smiley faces.
As a child, Krueger remembers the energy, excitement and optimism surrounding his own parents’ activism. But he also recalls the sting when Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern was crushed by incumbent Richard Nixon in 1972, and disappointment as his own father slipped too deeply into alcohol and drugs of the time.
Krueger’s “Canned Heat” drawings sprouted out of animations he did for “Drop City,” a 2012 documentary film about the community known as the first hippie commune.
He made hundreds of small drawings for the film, cut them out and animated them. He drew more cars for fun on the side, and let his inspiration take him where it would.
While he’s not driven by compulsion like some of the untrained outsider artists he cites as influences presumably were, Krueger says he just keeps “merrily, happily” making the little car drawings and whatever spinoffs he feels like.
“It’s becoming pretty interesting to see where these things go,” he says.