Monday, July 16, 2012

Painter Richard Kattman talks about art, obsessions and why a splash of surf on the rocks drives him to distraction

I know most of this blog is given over to other writers, but I really have an intense curiosity about every other kind of creativity. I wonder how the process in different media is different, what goes on in process, and how I might possibly learn from it myself, or at the very least, deepen my understanding of someone else's art. I've had filmmakers here, and a clothing designer, and now, my first painter! 

I first came upon Richard Kattman's paintings while browsing through my FB feed. I had an immediate visceral reaction to the painting above, the blue one called West of the Ocean. I couldn't stop staring. My heart was pounding. I had a physical yearning for the painting. It wasn't just that I wanted the painting. I needed it. So I went to his page and began to look at his other paintings, and for many of them, I had the same strong reaction. This yearning! So I wrote to Richard and asked if I could interview him for my blog, and we started to have a conversation and realized we had similar life experiences--could that be why his paintings move me so? 
I'm thrilled he said yes to coming on here. His paintings are now at the Attleboro Arts Museum and he's also a prominent landscape architect. And, of course, he's becoming more and more known as a painter. Thanks so much, Richard, for agreeing to this pesty interview.

When I work, I’m not thinking about the reader or the media attention it might get (or not get). I’m just writing for myself because I feel that if I reach those deep dark places of emotion for me-it will also reach someone else. Do you do that as you paint, or are you aware of your audience?

Early on in my life as a painter, I decided to paint abstract paintings as a way of searching for something unknown, something on a higher level of thought or experience, outside the normal realm of experience, outside the sphere of my education and upbringing, beyond my capacities, to explore the realm of understanding, simply to go beyond anything familiar, yet stay in touch with myself, and reach out for what I knew not. 

Painting became a way of expressing my love of nature, my happiness, love of beauty, my angst, my history, my wins and losses, and battles with demons. Painting allowed me to make a mark on the world, to claim the thumbprint of my existence. 

All of this was done in a sort of rage in the studio, with no one to see the results. I had total confidence in my abilities and knew it was just a matter of time to master the craft. Harry Callahan, the photographer, told me that King Harvest would come! So I looked at thousands and thousands of images of artworks by Durer and DaVinci and Titian and Picasso and Matisse and Monet and Giacometti and of course Richter, the latest rage in the art world. I taught myself to draw from the figure and the landscape. I read many of the classics, especially Tolstoy. Then armed with cultural overload, I painted, and painted, and painted.

How do you go about doing a painting? Does it surprise you or are you in control?

Inspiration comes from many sources. With some artworks I start out painting with a vague idea of color combinations, say violet and gold or blue and peach, and make marks with umber black to add movement or structure. With other paintings, the curve and color of a breast is all that is required to set up resonance. A rose in the garden or the splash of surf on the rocks drives me to distraction. 

So some works are planned, but most are not. The painting often takes shape as I work. Some works go up rapidly. I often feel like the White Rabbit, with little enough time to paint…so make the most of it and get things done quickly. Yet I step back and reflect, then attack the canvas again. The best works are often completed in a matter of days, others weeks or months. It is done when it is done.

In the beginning of a canvas I have little control and paint desperately, but a certain calm takes over and an image gradually emerges, both flawed and incomplete. Studying he canvas determines possible modifications but with each change the entire canvas changes, minor or major. Sometimes the entire work gets washed out and another work emerges from the struggle. Surprises and errors, an out of control feeling adds chaos to undermine order. Like life. Finally when adjustments will lessen or ruin the story, the painting is complete, and another idea surfaces.

What make you want to paint?

The urge to paint and draw is built in to my nature and there is no denying it. Forces in my arm dictate action, as does my wired brain. Any stimulus is means for creation. Artworks by artists that I have pondered get recycled and reappear in new contexts divorced from the original models set in the context of my way. Choice is not an option. I am driven to create constantly, reacting to personal circumstances, forging new inroads, experiencing the tragedy of a ruined landscape, or seeing the beauty of a pattern in the snow. 

Can you talk about each (Landscape and Abstract Paintings)? 

Abstract painting is my passion, though I live for plein air painting. Abstraction, using big brushes and a huge canvas allows me to travel uninhibited through space, time, and memory, to paint. Movement, energy, and force are primary considerations. Spatter, drips, thrust, marks from figure drawing, hand prints as proof of existence, memories, hopes, flowers, stars, the ocean currents, fields of color, frame edges, and all aspects of life come in to play. Abstraction demands a higher ideal and the risks are large as the soul is spilled out for all to see.

Landscape painting requires seeing, concentration, translation, drawing skills, color selections, and expression. Taking the time to actually see and paint a magic pond or local field or a lovely red house in Winter is an endeavor in itself, usually richly rewarding. With difficulties it can make an artist cry! Placing a pink sliver here or a slice of pale blue there on the canvas is most satisfying. The place is not forgotten and may bring great pleasure and joy. 

Can you tell me what goes on in the planning of a painting for you?

The kernel of an idea formulates in my mind usually demanding immediate attention. Sketching out the idea or beginning straight away as Monet would, I put charcoal to canvas to lay out the design. Correcting the positions is key as is selecting and placing the colors. I change the colors or add a line. I meditate, then repeat the first verse add infinitum until finis.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

• Collecting old fashioned roses and minding the garden to stay in touch with the Earth
• Keeping track of family to keep us together
• Reading fine literature for the love of it
• Looking at fine art books also for the love of it
• Buying fine paints to use the best available materials
• Planting trees to save the planet
• Fine art painting to raise awareness of the environment
• Attempting to fuse figure and abstraction for the hell of it
• Keeping old and making new friends to feel alive
• Searching for beauty for no reason
• Enjoying life so no regrets

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?

RK: I do not know!?

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