All content © by Brandon Kralik, respective authors, publishers, artists and galleries 2013

I looked at him and at the dog.  The dog that had been barely standing before now was wagging its tail and it was happy.

After a long silence he said, “If it makes you feel better you can go pet it again.”

Everybody agreed that was a good idea and I did.   

There was a view of Ohio Creek valley from his studio which was downstairs in a two story house that he and his wife Ida lived in.  There was a record player and an easel.  There were always paintings.   There was Blues.  There was Jazz.  There was Soul.  I have said that he was a German Abstract Expressionist but I have stopped labeling Lud.  Big solid shapes and small bundles of color clustering together, playing off of each other. One corner sticking out, the other tucked under the leaves and behind the fender.  There were plants and birds and rocks and things, there was sand and hills and rain.  I noticed a fly…

He was slow and methodical in his rhythm of his painting,  yet spontaneous, direct and present.

Lud was never in a hurry and we would sit in his studio and talk for an hour or two.  Something pronounced about my conversations with Lud were the long comfortable spaces in between the words.  The looking.  Trying to recall now how it was is not easy for often times the events during the silences were tied to our conversations, and hard to explain.  Two cars passed directly and simultaneously in front of us once, going opposite directions on a cross street to illustrate a point in our conversation about how the patterns of fractal geometry manifest themselves in our immediate world. 

Lud listened.  The feeling that we were alive during the spaces in our conversation returns to me more than the conversations.  All we said was only to remind us to pay attention to the world, to silence us.  Words are only forms, as figures or shapes in painting are forms and through the language we come to understand non-form, of essence and there the conversation falls away and we are left with the sun on our faces. The dust in the air. 

Spending time with the man was to float between the epochs in a space where heroes triumphed and were then forgotten.  To be between the figures on the Parthenon’s pediments where talented people just out of histories reach chuckled and smiled to each other about the progress we were making, and our friendship drifted like a breeze across the surface of the water.  It was quiet yet the air was full of sound.

He never wore sunglasses, but rather took it for what it was, squinting under the visor on our way back into town to get a cup of coffee or the occasional beer. To go our separate ways.

He could point out the golden light there in the brush, the majesty of the Anthracite range far to the north or sometimes alert me to the precious little red there was in the high desert landscape. Lud was present.

He had a way of pulling into a parking lot and making a big steady arc around the outside edge, a perfect arched line laid by the golden ratio of the Cadillac, tightening as we came toward the building and then, keeping the same steady curve he would pull into the perfect parking place like a Giotto with a touch of Mandelbrot and Miro. 

“Here we are.”  I might say.

He gave a short chuckle and said, “Aren’t we always?” 

Or did he?

He didn’t say anything about all of those letters after his name nor even much about his glory days as a young basketball star back in Detroit.  This picture of him, in black and white was the picture I first saw of him, even before we met, and I thought there was a scar all the way down the cheek.  I never asked and he never said.  It seemed to me that it disappeared as I became aquainted with him.   I was having a conversation with his wife, Ida, once and this was some 10 years after  I had left school, and she mentions something about Lud’s handicap. 

“Handicapped?  Is he?” I was shocked.  I had never thought of it that way!  Never once had we given any attention to it as such.  Yeah, now that you mention it, he did have a certain way of walking, cool and slow with a backbeat, narrow and hard to master.

When my college experience crecendoed during finals week in the spring of ‘92. I went to his office with the intention of telling him I was leaving town, which I was. 

“Oh, Brandon!” He greeted me and bade me sit down.  He was genuinely glad to see me.

“I was just sending in grades for my oil painting class and it has come to my attention that you are not enrolled in it.  I can’t grade you.”

“It’s ok.” I said.  “I didn’t come here for a grade, I came for an education.  I got that.”

We smiled.

“I’ll see what I can do.  How is it going with your English essays?”

“Fine”, I lied.  They had been tucked in my literature book, which had been stolen from the library cubical while I stepped out for a moment. Somebody needing the book return money no doubt.  More than I needed a degree.  I ended up walking out of his office and saying nothing about my leaving town, which I did.

I would show up unexpectedly and unannounced in his class every few years.  One day I showed up minutes before he was to show a Salvador Dali film and he introduced me as an expert on Dali and I gave an impromptu lecture about the paranoia critical method.  That was great fun!  Once in a while a scrap of paper would float down from the shelf with his number on it.  Every time we connected was the right time and as soon as we began to talk it was as if no time had passed at all. 

When Lud passed on I was in Stockholm.  January 8, 2010.  It was the opening day of my first solo exhibition in that magnificent city.  My paintings were everywhere and there were people laughing and drinking wine! It was ALIVE!  The room was full of music and conversation about Art, about painting, about prices to be paid and at that same moment my friend Lud Stromayer  paid the ultimate price and stopped kicking.  Completely unaware I danced on, into the dawn.

There were many trips to Stockholm that winter.  The spring was busy with work and paintings.  I called Lud one summer afternoon just to tell him I’m alive but the number was disconnected.  I honestly didn’t think anything of it.  I could just see him smiling and giving his head a shake in my direction and he would laugh and say something like, “Thought you could catch me, didn’t you?” 

Sometimes he was clean shaven.  Sometimes he is not.  Another year passed on and thoughts of him came and went.  Upon returning to Colorado I thought of him again.  I postponed calling and after several attempts at arranging my schedule so that I might go to Gunnison I realized it would be impossible to meet him on that trip and I didn’t call at all.  Turns out he wouldn’t have been able to meet me either. More exhibitions came to pass here and over there I imagined Lud, in the coffee shop playing chess, whispering words of wisdom.   

The last time I physically saw Lud was in June, 2008. Nanne and I had been to the Grand Canyon and were driving up through southern Colorado.  We drove in from Blue Mesa in the early afternoon.  The sun was shining but the wind was whipping!  Big dust funnels would dissipate out over the water.  After 7 years of promising her that with Colorado came bright blue sunny skies nearly every day of the year, this particular June day brought heavy clouds, a cold wind and, ultimately, several inched of sleet the next day in Crested Butte.  We didn’t know about that yet though and I was optimistic that the weather would clear up.  We drove directly to the Steaming Bean where, without calling, without GPS, we found Lud exactly, to the chair, where I predicted he would be!  Suddenly there was no time.  No yesterdays, no tomorrows, just this moment.

He had traded in the Cadillac on a forest green Jag.   My girlfriend, all the way  from Sweden had the experience of riding with me up to the knob, slowly rolling over the ruts and potholes and up to a burned out fire and wire and a full view of Gunnison Colorado.  We talked and spoke of how the town had changed, and not changed.  Of how we had changed and not changed.  We spoke briefly of Eco Aqua Green, Europe, barouque painting, the passing of his wife and the challenges that life had handed his only son Joe.

We three went to dinner at his favorite restaurant where he was greeted by the owner who came out to seat us in “Lud’s” booth, which was suddenly available. From his position he was able to see one of his paintings which hung there and he was happy about that.  We ate and drank and were merry and we laughed and smiled in between the words.  That was the last time I saw Lud in person.  In front of the Trough at sundown.  

For nearly two years after his death I have continued to “hear” Lud offering words of observation, continued to feel the space between words, between forms.  When he appeared in my minds eye I was once more merry and imagined us laughing.  He has continued on in my mythology as if he always were, as he is.  As if the lesson of presence is perpetual.  As if one day I would show up, unannounced.

Yesterday I heard that he had died.  Two years ago. Things seemed as they had been prior, as if he were alive.  I thought about him. To me, Lud represents the professor that a student of life hopes to find at the university.  He represents the Artistic Spirit, the intellectual who can see beyond curriculum and grades and teach more valuable lessons that will reveal themselves at a later date, long after the teacher had passed.  He succeeded.  He is set in my mythology as the one who could teach of the space between words.  Things never said I heard first from him.

The only mention I could find on the internet was a short obituary that didn’t mention much of anything about him.  The obituary left out the part where he was alive and kicking.  No mention that he was a teacher or an artist, a husband or father.  Nothing of the hero that overcame obstacles and celebrated life’s rich pageant was anywhere to be found.  Nothing of the sun shining in on his face, or of his silent wisdom.  Just these two years in parenthesis and this dash in between them.  That dash stands for everything that Lud ever did, all of the spiritual victories and smiles, games of chess and the whole sum of events of his life. It encapsulates all things forgotten and washed away as well as the few things remembered.   

“This is all we’ve got.  Right now.” He might say still, whether he is alive and kicking or not.  As for me, I find it hard to tell the difference, for he seems as alive as ever, and I as empty as could be.

Ludwig J. Stromayer (1938 - 2010) B.A., M.A., Ed.D. Professor of Art, Western State College

Ludwig J. Stromayer 

- alive and kicking

Luds office was the first one, at the far end of the corridor.   Our meeting has been forgotten by both of us, but we remembered for a while the conversations that took place there.  He was a professor of Art, and rightfully so.  He had a way of talking about art as if it was the sum of everything else, which, of course, it is.  It is the expression of righteousness, the marks we leave to tell the world that we also once spoke of what it meant to be alive!  It was that way when Lud was alive and kicking, which was long past his death day.  At least for me.

He drove a big gold Cadillac and we would walk, slowly out the back door and get in it on sunny afternoons.  He used his car.  Campus sat on the outskirts of town to the East and we would drive around the college loop and the sharp 90°, past the Ox house and then north to Cranor Hill.  He lived right at the base of the ski lift. In the yard was a small grove of Aspens.  Deer would nap there on the winter afternoons.  There was a sculpture, something Tahitian, or African, something western, and there had been landscaping projects once.  He sat there and spoke of the garden as if it were a river, flowing through his life.  

He had his old car out back and there was an old dog chained there next to it, drifting by.  I would go out and pet that door mat of a dog and it felt as if I was the first one to pet it since Ford stopped making Galaxies.  Its fur was coarse and stuck out, abused bristles of hogs hair and to touch the animal was to raise dust into the rays of light  and to feel a fine layer of oil and earth coat the hand.  When I returned to the porch the sun was on our faces and I remember mentioning the dog’s sorrow.

“The dog isn’t sad, look at it.”  He looked out from underneath his cap at me. 

“This is it  This is all there is.  The dog is happy.  We’re happy.  At least I am.”  He said. 

Alive and Kicking, the Myth of Lud by

Brandon Kralik

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