Artist Profile: Kurt Seaberg uses lithography to protect our wild places

Kurt Seaberg at Highpoint Center For Printmaking // Photo by Madalyn Rowell

Like the tranquil lakes and forest scenes depicted in his lithographs, Kurt Seaberg is as soft-spoken and reflective as they come. He considers each of his words carefully, speaking in the measured, quiet manner of someone who’s spent much of his time among nature. Since he was young, he says he’s leaned on artistic creation to communicate.

“It’s kind of a way of expressing myself, because I was always kind of a shy kid and had difficulty putting things into words. So it felt more natural to me to draw pictures.”

Working out of the Highpoint Center for Printmaking, Kurt largely practices an old method of printmaking called lithography, which was invented in 1796 by German author and actor Alois Senefelder as a cheap means of publishing theatrical works. Using Bavarian limestone, which is the standard of traditional lithography, Kurt draws onto the stone using grease crayons, then adds a layer of oil-based ink. Keeping the stone wet with water, the image is pressed onto paper; negative spaces appear where the water keeps the ink from adhering to the paper, while the grease crayons attract the ink, and hence, a mirror image appears on-paper. Kurt says he was first drawn to the practice when he was taking art classes at the University of Minnesota.

“I like the fact that you can make multiple images,” he says. “It’s a process where you might start out with an initial idea, but with printmaking you can continue to make changes to the key image, and so it kind of evolves.”

After he creates as many prints as he wishes using the principal image, the stone is ground down, effectively erasing the image. For prints using multiple colors, like the tri-colored work on this cover, each added shade requires its own limestone plate, allowing for layered variations on the same original drawing. 

“With lithography, you can get some really nice, subtle tones,” he says. “What it creates are these really fine dots, if you look at it with a magnifying glass. I just like the qualities you can get, because I like to draw scenes from nature. You get the really atmospheric qualities.”

Growing up outside of Chicago, Kurt stood witness as his beloved forests and countryside transformed into lifeless developments. Seeing the impact that urban sprawl has had on our wild spaces pushed him into environmental activism—not by choice necessarily, but by an innate sense of obligation to uphold the sanctity of nature.

“I think that’s the origin of my political leaning,” he says of his upbringing. “I’m just very disturbed by what is happening to the earth, and I’ve always had a sense of beauty, too. Part of my role as an artist is just to remind people just how beautiful the world is. This is something that’s worth protecting, it’s sacred. Restoring that sense of the sacred is important to me.”

When it comes to seeking inspiration for his work, Kurt says all he has to do is step outside of his home, situated along a calm, green stretch of West River Road in Minneapolis. “Just here in Minneapolis, I don’t feel like I really have to go anywhere,” he says. “We’ve got a lot of wild places right here in the city. I feel really blessed that we live in this place where we’ve got this wilderness corridor going right through the Cities, and I don’t think enough people really appreciate it.”

Though he’s created some works that are overtly political—including a piece called “Migrant Workers” depicting migrant farmhands from Mexico working in a field, with migratory monarch butterflies flying overhead—he argues that, in today’s political climate, a simple landscape can be seen as controversial. 

“I think that everything is political now,” he says. “I work with indigenous people, and to them, just surviving is a political stance. We live in a society that’s trying to kill [them], so survival becomes a political statement, a form of resistance.”

Unlike other landscape artists who draw on specific locations in their work, Kurt largely works from memory, visualizing places from both reality and his dreams to come up with an image. His use of lithography provides soft textures that capture the mystery and moodiness of nature, imparting more of a general sense of place than a specific recognition. “I’m more interested in developing a feeling,” he says, “capturing what the spirit of a place is.”

It’s his form of active resistance, raising awareness that there are still wild places all around us that are worth protecting—all we have to do is look.

Medium: Lithography
Currently resides: Minneapolis

The Growler Magazine’s Issue 68 cover art // Art by Kurt Seaberg