5Q :: Brenda Paro pours herself into Washington show

You know you're talking to a starving artist when they mention that they're still rocking cassette tapes. Duluth-based mixed-media visionary Brenda Paro is that artist.

Brenda Paro
Before graduating from the College of St. Scholastica in 2009 with a major in English and a minor in photography, mixed-media artist Brenda Paro spent some time in Omaha during a historic time for music there. Submitted photo

You know you're talking to a starving artist when they mention that they're still rocking cassette tapes. Duluth-based mixed-media visionary Brenda Paro is that artist.

The southern (Minnesota) belle and 2009 St. Scholastica grad spent much of the past year in a "clunky Oldsmobile" traversing our nation's highways and byways on a mission to make sense of her life. For companionship, she had a kitten and, yes, that dead media format.

While she was busy "finding herself," Paro amassed an assortment of abandoned poems and photographic orphans.

Recently she decided to put together these stray artistic endeavors in the form of "Subtle Cargoes," which will be on display at Washington Gallery until Sunday, July 25.

To learn more about the exhibit, we asked a few questions of the artist:


Budgeteer: How did you approach this new show, and what makes it unique in terms of your work?

Paro: When I started to work on these pieces, I made the conscious decision to shut out as many outside influences as I could, and make these solely about my own headspace.

I felt like their power was mainly in their personal nature, and to dilute that by trying to over-explain it, or by trying to make them more appealing to strangers, would ruin the point.

So, I forced myself to work around the doubts. Every time I started worrying that nobody would get why the poem about pot roast went with the photo of the old garage, I'd get up and walk away from the table.

If I caught myself feeling silly for printing on salvaged plywood instead of archival rag with 4-inch white mats, I'd go saw boards for awhile and come back later when I had more mojo.

And I think it worked. I can trace such a complete storyline in these pieces.

Each one is a recreation of something so heavily tied into my memories it's almost tangible.

Ironically, too, I think the personal nature of the works actually makes it easier for people to relate to them.


For example, there's a photo in the exhibit of a cathedral, tinted a heavy grayish-green color.

I have my own reasons for creating it that have to do with a smoggy, filthy day, when I was lost for four hours before finding this cathedral on a dead-end road. But at the opening of the show, a woman came up to me and told me she loved the print because it reminded her of being a child and walking to church on rainy Sunday mornings, when the air looked green.

The personal really is the most universal -- the world in a grain of sand, etc. I loved seeing how that worked here.

"Subtle Cargoes" is the product of a year (more or less) spent on the road, correct? Did you set out to document your travels in an artistic manner, or is this show a way of looking back and piecing together what you went through ... some sort of cerebral scrapbook, if you will?

I didn't plan any final outcome for my notes, or my photos, or anything I created while I was traveling. But I rarely do.

There are two main reasons I write and take photos, and one of them is expression/ creation, but the other is honestly about making sense where there is none, putting a handle on the chaos.

During this trip my notes and photos and journals were a shot in the dark; I didn't know if I was capturing anything, or what it might mean if I was, but I knew I had to try. It was like drawing the road map as I went, and trusting that it would eventually lead somewhere.

Why did you spend so much of the year on the road? Was it a just-graduated road trip, or did you have to attend to personal matters?


This is a complicated question, and there isn't really one answer. Honestly, I took this trip because I wasn't sure what else to do. In fact, I didn't even really plan for it to be the trip that it turned out to be.

I was having a rough time -- some things in my life that I had thought would always be the same had abruptly changed, all at once, and I wasn't sure what to do with myself.

Leaving didn't seem like the answer, but neither did anything else, and I guess there's always an appeal to the unknown when the "known" is unacceptable.

I wish I could say the trip was planned, or was a celebration of some sort, but it was more about staying ahead of the storm.

I just went, and let it develop as it did. Sometimes you just keep moving in order to be moving.

I don't mean to make it sound like a bad thing, though: If you can get something out of that kind of rootlessness, then you're better off than you were when you left. You come back a different person in some way. That's something.

Seeing as how you graduated from college just last year, you must have lived in Omaha during Saddle Creek's headline-grabbing prime. Do you have any fun stories to share?

I can't believe you asked this question. Points for not only knowing about Saddle Creek, but nailing the timeframe, too.


OK, here's the short answer: Yes, I have stories, but ... they're probably not fit for print. Suffice to say it was a really fun time to be alive, 20-something and in Nebraska -- you never thought you'd hear those words strung together, right?

It was kind of like when you're a little kid, and you live in a neighborhood where there are lots of kids your age, and everyone knows everyone, and no matter where you go you can find someone who wants to hang out and, once you hang out with someone, that person is your friend, no questions asked. It was pretty much exactly like that, in fact, except with Old Style.

What's next for you? Will you stay with us in Duluth for awhile?

Once again I'm going to give you a vague answer [because] I'm honestly not sure. Originally I planned on getting my MFA in creative writing right after graduation, but that obviously didn't happen.

I did send out applications, and was accepted to a few different programs across the country, but strangely I didn't feel ready to leave again just yet. I deferred my acceptances for a year. My hope has been that by then I'll know what to do next.

Of course, back in January, a year sounded like plenty of time to decide, but it's already mid-July and I still have no idea.

Maybe I'll wake up and find the answer written on the wall some morning soon.

Brenda Paro's "Subtle Cargoes," photo collages paired with poetry, will be on display 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through July 25 at Washington Gallery, 315 N. Lake Ave. See .

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