Kingfield artist finds inspiration in alleys

Project is underway to paint 100 alleys in Minneapolis

Credit: #25 - 22nd & Lyndale Ave. S.

If you ask John Sauer, alleys are far more interesting than the streets in front of houses. The Kingfield artist is in the midst of sketching and painting 100 alleys in Minneapolis.

“The first thing everybody asked me is why are you doing alleys?” he said.

When Sauer moved here from Wisconsin 25 years ago, the alley was the first feature he fell in love with.

“Alleys are the meat of the neighborhood,” he said. “There is real character going on back in alleys that you don’t see in the front.”

Some alleys display a line of brand new garages, he said, while others provide a time capsule into the 1940s or ’50s.

“With all the changes in the Uptown area of Minneapolis in recent years, I like that the residential neighborhoods and alleys have stayed mostly the same over time,” he writes on his blog.

When Sauer walks down an alley, he looks for interesting features — some are “fantastically snaggletoothed,” he said.

When he encountered a car askew on the road, it became an oil painting. No. 36, “The Incident on 40th Street,” is based on the story of that car crash, in which a driver reportedly hit three cars on Nicollet and fled on foot, with people chasing him down the alley and holding him until police arrived.

Sauer started the project in 2010, squeezing it between commercial and illustration work. He said much of his commercial work is “cartoony” in nature, and the alley project gives him a chance to explore fine art, monotype prints, oil paints and different styles of ink and watercolor washes.

Sauer’s work is currently hanging at the SoMakers co-working space at 46th & Bryant, The Coffee Shop Northeast at 29th & Johnson, and The Gumball Collective at 158 13th Ave. NE.

#40 – Lake Street Between Aldrich and Bryant

#8 – 33rd & Emerson Ave. S., looking North

 #10 – 43rd St. & Aldrich Ave. S.

#48 – 35th & Lyndale S. looking North

For more info, visit Sauer’s blog at