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Minnesota artist D.C. Ice: ‘It was scary to have shows canceling right and left’

“Scavenger Hunt”
D.C. Ice
“Scavenger Hunt”

In the fantastical world of D.C. Ice, a fox and a rabbit meet to spin a vinyl record. A deer’s antlers cradle a birds’ nest. A bear plays an accordion. A narwhale’s tail is tied with a ribbon. Flowers bloom everywhere, and vintage objects appear: manual typewriters, binoculars, cameras, rotary phones, an adding machine. It’s as if you’ve stepped into somebody’s dreams, except they’re drawn with knives.

Ice’s main medium is scratchboard, a white board with a black surface layer. She creates her highly detailed images by cutting into the black, like drawing in reverse, and adding paint. Most of her frames are flea-market finds. When she tires of scratchboard, she turns to other media: paper, found objects, bronze, leather, clay. She has illustrated more than a dozen children’s books. She always returns to scratchboard.

Almost all of Ice’s images are of animals. Some wear clothes or accessories. Ice doesn’t paint people (except in the occasional children’s book), but there’s something human about her animals, starting with the eyes. You wonder what they’re thinking. Before you know it, you’re making up a story.

Ice has her BFA in illustration from the College of Visual Arts in St. Paul and has been a full-time artist for eight years. She and her husband, Matthew Philippi, a stay-at-home dad, live in the Schmidt Artist Lofts in St. Paul with their 2-year-old son, Everett. She has a studio in the Northrup King Building she primarily uses as gallery space.

We first saw Ice’s work at Homewood Studios. Since then, we’ve checked out her booth at the Uptown Art Fair, which is usually mobbed, and a show at Gallery 360 in 2012. She returned to Gallery 360 in 2015 and again this year, just before the pandemic came to town.

We spoke by phone last week. This conversation has been edited and condensed. Note: Both the St. Paul Art Crawl (April 24-26) and Northeast Minneapolis’ Art-A-Whirl (May 15-17) canceled their physical events this year and went online because of COVID-19. Ice skipped the Art Crawl to prepare for Art-A-Whirl. When we spoke, the Uptown Art Fair (Aug. 7-9) was still on. It canceled on Saturday, May 30, and now plans three mini-events for later this summer, with details to come.

MinnPost: What did your 2020 look like before mid-March, when everything closed?

D.C. Ice
Photo by Sarah Dovolos
D.C. Ice
D.C. Ice: It looked like the St. Paul Art Crawl, Art-A-Whirl and the Uptown Art Fair. One hundred percent of our income comes from shows. For the Art Crawl, we open our space here [at the Schmidt Artist Lofts]. It’s a huge show for me.

Art-A-Whirl is second only to the Uptown Art Fair, the largest Minnesota get-together other than the State Fair. Uptown has not canceled yet. My feelings [about that] are 50/50. It is my favorite show of the year. It is also the livelihood of a few hundred artists. But safety first. I’m torn.

MP: What was your last show or event before things shut down?

DCI: Right beforehand, I had a solo show at Gallery 360. I feel super blessed that my opening was February 29. We feel really fortunate we snuck in that one big show, because I had been working on that body of work for a year. [The opening reception] was packed.

It was really scary to have shows canceling right and left.

MP: When that started happening, what did you do?

DCI: I pivoted hard. A massive pivot! I’ve never had an online shop before. My goal was to have one by Art-A-Whirl. I’m not very tech-savvy. It took me a long time to photograph all my work and learn how to set up my shop.

It was wild. There’s so much that goes into [an online shop] you don’t even think of. All these nitpicky things. I’ve never shipped my art from home. I had to figure out where to order boxes, and there’s all the bubble wrap and tape. We have a whole shipping station now in our apartment.

I went live on May 15. We had no idea what was going to happen. It was amazing how everyone rallied and bought art. The first weekend, I had 55 orders. After all the orders came in, I’m like, “I need a thank-you card for every single person who ordered something!” I didn’t have time for a printer to make cards for me, so I wrote them all by hand.

“Blue”
D.C. Ice
“Blue”
There are things you don’t know how they’ll work out until you jump in. We had an option for curbside pick-up. That has worked quite nicely. I go outside in a mask, and every single person who has come to pick up a painting has been masked.

I kind of can’t believe it’s working out. God is good. We feel very fortunate.

MP: What is a typical day for you now?

DCI: I wake up, have breakfast with my husband and my baby, and start painting. That part hasn’t changed. Except now I paint in our living room. That’s my new normal.

Schmidt has huge painting and pottery and dance studios. Typically, I work in the painting studio. You have a ton of space to work. But then, with all of this [COVID-19], those had to shut down. Everyone took their stuff and went up to their apartments and set up shop.

Now you can reserve the space – one painter, three hours a day – but I paint for eight to 10 hours a day, so I’m going to stick with what I’m doing. I like being up here with my guys anyway, so it’s been working out just fine. I really like working from home.

Art-A-Whirl weekend was kind of crazy, but now everything has kind of settled down. I’ve sold roughly one painting every day since then. It’s exciting to open my email in the morning, see if there’s an order, and quickly get it out in the mail.

MP: You’ve described your art as “a safe place to store honest feelings.” We’re all feeling a lot of dread, uncertainty and fear these days. Is your art changing?

DCI: I haven’t seen it change. But years from now I’ll look back and say, “Look at that huge change that happened!” Right now, when I’m in it, I can’t see the change.

MP: You often include old typewriters in your paintings. Can you talk about that?

DCI: Typewriters are my favorite thing to draw, other than animals. Animals are my world. But there’s something about typewriters. I used to collect them. I had five or six. When I look at a typewriter, I see a story already there. I think about the person who used it. I think about their story.

People are drawn to them. Maybe they can see the joy I’m getting from painting them.

MP: What are you most proud of?

DCI: I’m proudest of raising Everett in all of this. We still go outside and have as much fun as possible. It’s really sad that he doesn’t get to play with other little kids. We’re wondering about that. Is he going to be a shy boy if he doesn’t get to be social right now? We try to do as much as we can to keep things normal.

My husband used to go to ECFE with him – Early Child Family Education. Once a week, for two hours, Everett would play with all kinds of little kids while Matthew went to a parenting class. Now they do it online! Everett Zooms with his 2-year-old friends. It’s wild.

“Creative Brainstorm”
D.C. Ice
“Creative Brainstorm”
MP: Is there a silver lining for you in our current situation?

DCI: Having my work online. Before, sweet people would contact me on Instagram, saying, “I don’t live in Minnesota. How can I buy your artwork?” Now they can see it. I’ve shipped art to Massachusetts, New York, Austin, Washington, Colorado …. It feels really good to know that my artwork is being sprinkled around.

I love to think about where my artwork lives. I adore having original artwork in my home; I know how much I enjoy it every single day. It’s the coolest thing to think my artwork might be giving someone else joy a couple states away.

MP: What will you do first when you can do whatever you want?

DCI: The first thing I want to do is visit my parents more often. I grew up in Rochester and my parents still live there. My dad is in a wheelchair. He had a stroke in 2015. We stayed away from them until last week. We hadn’t seen them since March 2. Typically, I go down there once or twice a month. It’s so hard to stay away.

I want to go to George & the Dragon, my favorite restaurant, and have the Katherine salad. It’s my favorite restaurant. But we don’t really go to restaurants because we have a 2-year-old.

Another thing I’m really looking forward to is going back to church.

***

Find D.C. Ice’s new online shop at her website. At the moment, her upcoming art shows are the Uptown Art Fair in August, which is still (as of this writing) a going thing; the St. Paul Art Crawl in October, at the Schmidt Artist Lofts; and Art Attack at the Northrup King Building in November.

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