One of Adu Gindy's muses is the highway system.

The painter watches the world through the car window, then goes to her studio to re-create the story of the things she has seen, and the green, blue and mustard-hued fields -- horizontal swatches of color that are the pauses between thoughts and the passing of time.

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Gindy's exhibition "Bits and Pieces: A Visual Journey" is in the John Steffl Gallery at the Duluth Art Institute, and it includes about 200 pieces she has painted in the past year -- many of those while on the road.

"If I were a writer, I'd be writing every day," she said. "But I'm a painter."

Gindy has had plenty to chronicle. Since her retirement from teaching art at the University of Minnesota Duluth in 2005, she has forged ahead with her painting, now in Minneapolis. More than a year ago, she married Minneapolis native Scott Bertas, who she met on the online dating site eHarmony. There has been lots of travel between their homes in Minneapolis and Hayward and trips back to Duluth.

The art institute is hosting a free reception for four exhibits, including Gindy's, from 5-7 p.m. today at the Depot, 506 W. Michigan St. Other exhibits include photographer Wing Young Huie's "Retrospective," "Seaworthy: A Celebration of the Tall Ships in the Twin Ports," and "Port-Traits: Duluth Superior Shows its Face," a Twin Ports public art project.

The acrylic paintings rich in primary colors are like illustrations and caricatures of whimsical figures: cats in various stages of leisure, a herd of cows giving a menacing glare, children in Halloween costumes that include ears and dark-framed glasses.

Gindy's work has been in the gallery since mid-August, and at some point she received a note from a young fledgling art critic who told her, "If this is art, I'm a master."

The message seemed to delight Gindy: "I like children's art," she said.

HOW SHE WORKS

During this phase in her career, Gindy works mostly in the 12-by-12-inch canvases that make up her exhibition. It's a format she used for a 2007 show at UMD's Tweed Museum of Art, "Fables and Pyramids," created in the grid style of Egyptian tomb paintings.

During an artist residency at Cranberry Island in Maine, Gindy used the small canvases because they are more portable. But as she has worked, she has found they are perfect for chronicling the days in a style that has drawn comparisons to journal entries and comic books.

"I kind of think of it as a piece a day," she said. "It's that idea. I'm not after perfection. I just want reality. The good, bad and ugly."

Gindy's husband, a retired businessman, teases her about how prolific she is as an artist and has mentioned the Business 101 notions of supply and demand.

"I told her: 'Your production department is way ahead of your marketing department,'" Bertas said and laughed. "For her, art is a necessity. That's how she stays grounded."

She works quickly, listening to classical Minnesota Public Radio. Gindy likes to keep the pieces simple. She takes a memory, boils it down to an image and commits it to canvas.

"It's never quite how you imagine it," said Gindy, who doesn't like to overwork a piece -- although she can point out instances in her exhibit where she pushed the brush too far. She prefers the spontaneity of a one-take. "For better or worse, I go with what I get."

Friend and fellow artist Eric Dubnicka, who is an exhibition designer at the Tweed, said he has seen changes in her work -- especially after the residency at Cranberry Island, where she was surrounded by ocean.

"She really focused on ... minimizing the landscape, and I think that's really come through, insofar as she's much more comfortable with blank space and letting certain imagery and marks stand on their own. ... That confidence, and a certain amount of spareness -- which helps the narrative -- has really come through in the past few years," Dubnicka said.

HER STUFF

Gindy claims to not have a very good memory. But everywhere you spin in the gallery is an image associated with something in her mind: the curiosities of small Midwestern towns like a bobber-shaped fish house, characters on public television, headline news. For Gindy, the walls must be like a photo album.

Dubnicka said her style is a match with her eclectic tastes, and friends, and interests.

"She works in a serial fashion. She'll hop from one idea to the next, creating these miniature narratives within this all-encompassing narrative -- which is basically a very curious tale woven by her imagination," Dubnicka said.

There is an aluminum boat crunched in a sort of gray Pac-Man shape, wrapped around a tree. It is a scene from Siren, Wis., where a tornado ripped through the town in 2001.

There is a picture featuring out-of-scale ants, and a yellow VW bug. That's from an ant infestation, which was comically solved by a company that makes house calls in a Volkswagen. There is a picture from a shooting at a gas station near her studio.

And there is a striped construction cone with feet, a reminder of a time she and Bertas saw a young prankster wearing the cone, feet peeking out from the bottom, moving down the street.

"I do get a kick out of my work," Gindy said. "I walk into the studio and smile."