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Interview with Rick Buttari

 Rick Buttari, Water Ice Factory, 10 X 14 inches, Oil on Linen

Rick Buttari, Water Ice Factory, 10 X 14 inches, Oil on Linen

Rick Buttari will be showing new paintings for the month of September and F.A.N. Gallery.

We got the chance to ask him a few questions about his work.

 Rick Buttari, Beach Scene With Orange And Yellow, 6 X 20, Oil on Linen

Rick Buttari, Beach Scene With Orange And Yellow, 6 X 20, Oil on Linen

KM: What is your first creative memory?
RB:  I remember seeing photos of celebrities in magazines and wondering if I could draw them, or more specifically, what about that flat image on the page translated to a three-dimensional living thing when you transferred it to a sheet of paper.  I remember taking tracing paper and tracing the outline of a picture from McCall’s magazine, something my mother subscribed to.  It looked crude and mechanical but something made me want to try it again and figure out what kind of marks on the paper would make it seem like that person.  Then I started to draw pictures from my own Sport magazine, baseball and football players.  Somewhere on a sheet of paper inside a scrapbook I have a drawing of Sandy Koufax, probably the first freehand drawing I made.  I guess I was about 10 or 11.
 Rick Buttari, Gawkers, 10 1/2 X 10 inches, Graphite on Paper

Rick Buttari, Gawkers, 10 1/2 X 10 inches, Graphite on Paper

KM: How do you choose your subject matter?
RB: I don’t know if I choose subject matter as much as choose a sense of situation that feels right.  I’ve noticed, and been told, that a lot of my work has kind of an objective distance from the subject, like I’m sitting far away and observing, not part of the scene.


 Rick Buttari, Shirt Corner, 13 X 20 inches, Oil on Canvas

Rick Buttari, Shirt Corner, 13 X 20 inches, Oil on Canvas

KM: Your paintings are so realistic and detailed. How do you know when a painting is done?
RB: I was going to say that I listen for the singing of angels to let me know, but that hasn’t worked lately. I work at home upstairs in a very small studio.  When the painting’s in progress I bring it downstairs to the living room and lean it against the television cabinet and look at it from further away than I can get in my studio.  When I can look at it and take in the whole image in one gulp without my eye wandering restlessly, I assume it’s done.  


 Rick Buttari, Lighthouse, 13 X 20 inches, Oil on Linen

Rick Buttari, Lighthouse, 13 X 20 inches, Oil on Linen

KM: What inspires your work?
RB:  You know, you spend a lot of time looking and thinking.  You look at, say, the light that’s hitting the side of a building and you ask yourself if there’s something there for me, something I can make of it that might be a little different than what somebody else would make of it.  Or something that seems so important at the time that you can’t NOT paint it.That’s the whole ballgame isn’t it, trying to figure out what it is that you’re trying to figure out.

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A Few Questions with Kathleen Weber

Kathleen Weber, "Tavern In Olneyville," 24 X 30 inches, oil on canvas

Kathleen Weber, “Tavern In Olneyville,” 24 X 30 inches, oil on canvas

Kathleen Weber will be showing new landscape and genre paintings at FAN Gallery in June. Her paintings depict everyday life in saturated color.
What is your first creative memory?
 My first creative memory is having a fist full of crayons, drawing a sailboat on some scrap paper my mother had. She ooh’d and ahh’d- big mistake! And I ended up becoming an artist instead of a doctor.
Kathleen Weber "Coco Pazzo," 20 x 20 inches, oil on canvas

Kathleen Weber “Coco Pazzo,” 20 x 20 inches, oil on canvas

How has your painting practice or style grown or changed in the last year or two?
In the last couple of years I’ve been doing a lot more portraits. After reading about Anders Zorn and his limited palette- black, white, yellow ochre, and cad red light- I spent a lot of time using just those colors to see what I could make them do. You can get an incredible range of skin and hair color, and I’ve ended up teaching portrait classes where the first class is spent just doing a color chart so that everyone can see the range it is possible to achieve with such a limited palette. I’ve added other colors now when I do portraits- I love burnt sienna and I really missed blue! But that basic palette remains.
Kathleen Weber, "Windows," 18 x18 inches, oil on canvas

Kathleen Weber, “Windows,” 18 x18 inches, oil on canvas

What is the most challenging part of painting figures?
Some years ago I was in a gallery where I had some work and a woman told me that she never bought paintings with people in them. When I mentioned this to a friend who has bought a lot of my work, he said, “what, she wouldn’t want the Mona Lisa, or Nighthawks?” 

I actually think that the most challenging part of painting figures is creating the atmosphere around them. Of course you want to be able to draw them well, but with enough practice that’s achievable. They can teach that in art school. What they can’t teach is, what’s inside you that’s different from the next painter? What do you paint when you stop imitating painters you admire? That’s something you can only figure out by spending a lot of time in front of your easel. I’m still working on that.

Do you have a creative habit? How do you shape your art making practice to nurture your work?

Now that the good weather is here again, I hope to get outside and paint landscapes for a change, because although I do a lot of work from photos, I actually prefer working from life. I try to get some of the energy of plein air in my studio work.

Kathleen Weber, "Yellow House," 20 X 24 inches, oil on canvas

Kathleen Weber, “Yellow House,” 20 X 24 inches, oil on canvas

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Interview with Serge Zhukov

Serge Zhukov, "Drawing Lesson 3.," 36 X 24 inches, Oil On Canvas

Serge Zhukov, “Drawing Lesson 3.,” 36 X 24 inches, Oil On Canvas

F.A.N. Gallery will show the work of Serge Zhokov this month. Serge is a wonderful painter and a master at creating mood through is landscapes and figures.

Victoria Donohoe of The Inquirer said, “his figure drawings give us an easy sense of his subjects’ reality, but it’s the delicate mix of senses and substance that imbues the oils with an air of uncontrived refinement, while their milky hues set the spirit that appeals to the sophisticated eye.”

Serge Zhukov Harmony in Red 12 X 24 oil on canvas

Serge Zhukov, “Harmony In Red,” 12 X 24 inches, Oil On Canvas

I was able to ask Serge a few questions about his influences and how he works.

Who are your influences? Favorite artists or books or music.

My influences, naturally, are constantly changing throughout my life. At one point in time, I skipped through pages in Art History books, which were devoted to Giotto and De Chirico. Now they are my favorite artists. I am certainly influenced by Piero della Francesca, Giorgione. I can examine works like “Legend of the True Cross” or “Pastoral Concert” for hours. I like Balthus, mostly his late works. In literature, it’s Stanislaw Lem, Hesse, Sasha Sokolov, Osip Mandelstam.

Serge Zhukov Still Life with Glass Pitcher 12 X 24 oil on canvas

Serge Zhukov “Still Life With Glass Pitcher,” 12 X 24 inches, Oil On Canvas

How much planning and preparation go into your paintings, do you do a lot of drawing first and then move onto the painting?

It’s difficult to say. If, I have a clear idea about my next project, then painting goes smoothly. However, I have to envision the entire image in my mind first, prior to drawing. I do a lot of drawings. Often my vision is altered when I actually start painting. It happened with “Drawing Lesson 1” where my original idea changed after creating several drawings.

Serge Zhukov,, sketch of

Serge Zhukov, sketch of “Drawing lesson” 11×14 ink on paper.

What is your first creative memory?

I mixed toothpaste with watercolor paints and colored a window glass. I was 5 years old.

Serge Zhukov, "Evening Shadow," 48 X 36 inches, Oil On Canvas

Serge Zhukov, “Evening Shadow,” 48 X 36 inches, Oil On Canvas

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Interview with David Bottini

David Bottini, May Meadow Breeze, 30 x 40 inches, acrylic on canvas

David Bottini, May Meadow Breeze, 30 x 40 inches, acrylic on canvas

David Bottini will be showing his large landscape paintings at the gallery for the month of March. I feel like David’s paintings are a preview of spring and summer as we fill the gallery with his light infused landscapes.

KM: What is your first creative memory?

DB: It is toddler pre-memory, but my parents describe a naptime where I apparently woke-up and stood in my crib tearing off a wall collage that my mother had made – they discovered my “revision” when they checked-in on my nap … maybe I was exerting an emerging aesthetic?

I also remember loving crayons and paper – I am the youngest child, so I recall having crayons and piles of tractor-feed computer paper (my father was a computer programmer in the sixties) that I remember loving to fill with doodles and images. I spent considerable time with my grandfather (he lived with us) – so I always enjoyed the wanders into the woods and time spent in the garden with him … perhaps the seeds of my love of nature were established in those early years.

David Bottini, Summer Leaves, 24 x 12 inches, acrylic on canvas

David Bottini, Summer Leaves, 24 x 12 inches, acrylic on canvas

KM:How long have you been painting?

DB: I had my first formal classes at 10 … worked at my art throughout high school. Really focused and engaged in the process during college and graduate school. So … 40 plus years of working to make paintings … perhaps the past 20 where I sense I am becoming a painter.

KM:Why do you paint?

DB: The reason has changed over the past 30 plus years. I originally painted because it allowed me to engage a fascination with paint, design, and color. As the years passed, and my technical prowess became more intuitive, I have come to see painting as the primary way I can share an articulate experience of the peace and contemplative solace that I find within nature.  Painting is now (excuse my cliché) a lifestyle … I  cannot imagine not working in the studio, and viewing my life experience through a painter’s eye. I sense that my reasons for painting will continue to evolve as I mature physically and creatively.

KM: Do you already have an image in your mind prior to painting or does it develop as you get started?

DB: Not a specific image so much as a sense of light, and the “feel” of a place. As I work from sketches and many photos for reference, I build a painting that conveys the experience I recall from that place.

x David Bottini, March Snow, 40 x 40 inches, acrylic on canvas

David Bottini, March Snow, 40 x 40 inches, acrylic on canvas

KM: Can you tell me a little about your studio practice?

DB: I work in a traditional process that begins in direct experience. I take walks or go out for hikes 3 to 5 times each week. There are always places that attract me – I am drawn to a sense of both enclosure/embrace and some path that is implied or physical that leads outside of the area of embrace.
I generally take many (typically 45- 70 images) from any given location as reference. I will usually return for some very loose sketches.
In the studio, I generally begin with loose paint sketches on paper and then, if the subject/place engages my design interest I will move to a canvas study. I often work a 5 x 7 up to 11 x 14 inch range as my first iteration. If my interest is piqued, I return to a larger (and always revised) larger scale iteration. It is not unusual for my work building a larger canvas to involve weeks of engagement as I build 30 to 40 layers of glazes.

I see a similarity between developing a friendship and building a painting, if the subject is nourishing and continues to engage my art and design interest, I will pursue and maintain a dialogue with the subject. There are places that feel almost archetypal and have had me returning to the visual theme for years of paintings.

David Bottini, Sparkling Summer Morning,  24 x 36 inches, acrylic on canvas

David Bottini, Sparkling Summer Morning, 24 x 36 inches, acrylic on canvas

KM: What artists do you admire?

DB: I have a wide range of artists who inspire and instruct my work in the studio. I love Andrew Wyeth’s rich low-key palette and evocative handling of a familiar Pennsylvania landscape. I continue to be moved by Mark Rothko’s luminous color and still compositional space. I am awed by the luxury and vibrant energy of Maxfield Parrish’s compositional clarity and saturated palette. Corot pulls me into his deep environmental space and carries my eye through his composition with rhythmic brushstrokes and his use of a dark and subdued palette. The American Luminists and 20th Century graphic design represent bodies of work that offer me endless hours of visual study and inspiration. There are many others – including work done over the years by my students, who often make marks that are fresh, raw, and without analytical baggage.

David Bottini, Autumn Arrives 20 x 16 inches, acrylic on canvas

David Bottini, Autumn Arrives 20 x 16 inches, acrylic on canvas

KM: What do you do fun or to recharge yourself?

DB: I enjoy taking long walks and hikes into the woods whenever possible. I also enjoy any reason to take a train trip as well as reading food columns to find a bartender using small batch liquors and creative cocktail recipes. Eating small plates at wonderful bars is one of my favorite luxuries.

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Al Gury on Collecting

Al Gury, Blue Moon, 8 x 10 inches, oil on panel

Al Gury, Blue Moon, 8 x 10 inches, oil on panel

Al Gury is showing landscape and still life paintings at F.A.N. in the month of February.  I interviewed Al last winter and we talked about nurturing the artist.  I recently got a chance to interview Al again. We talked about artists collecting works and objects.
Al’s studio and home is filled with wonderful pieces of pottery, prints, printings and sculpture he has collected over the years. Some of the objects turn up in his still life paintings and I was curious to know how the printings and paintings inform his works.
I wanted to ask you about your own collection of art and objects. Why do you collect?
As to collecting, I always have since childhood. Objects, like icons, have meaning to me. Like icons, they are windows to imagination and creativity.

When did you start collecting? What is the piece that started your collection?

There is no one object that started me on collecting, but there are some that stand out. On my birthday in 1980, I also happened to be moving. I was grabbing packing boxes out of a dumpster in center city to help with the move. In the dirt in the bottom of the dumpster I saw some shapes that didn’t seem right for the situation. So…, I climbed in. What I pulled out of the filth were two very beautiful decorated boxes. It turned out they were sewing boxes from the 1830’s, made in China*. They were also filled with the delicate ivory tools for embroidery. An amazing find that I cherish to this day. And a beautiful birthday gift.
Al Gury, Snow Fields, 20 X 24 inches, oil on panel

Al Gury, Snow Fields, 20 X 24 inches, oil on panel

What attracts you to a piece of art or an object?

Generally, the first thing I notice in an object, even in flea markets, will be the shape of the object. I have a strong feeling for shapes, whether it’s old hand made tools or pottery. When I’m looking for particular objects to add to one of my collections, I will often scan a shop or a market for particular shapes to identify the object of the search.  When I draw my sketchbooks or journals, I start with shapes.
Al Gury, White Peonies, 14 X 11 inches, oil on panel

Al Gury, White Peonies, 14 X 11 inches, oil on panel

How does your collection influence your art making?

I have surrounded myself with objects and collections that have meaning for me: icons, pottery, paintings, prints, sculpture… These create an environment that helps me keep alive the  feelings, beliefs, hopes and traditions I love, and nourish the aesthetics I wish to bring to my painting.  
*link to sewing boxes similar to Al’s collection

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Interview with Kate Kern Mundie

Kate Kern Mundie, City Hall in Fog, 14 x 12 inches, oil on panel

Kate Kern Mundie, City Hall in Fog, 14 x 12 inches, oil on panel

Kate Kern Mundie is exhibiting 30 paintings at F.A.N. Gallery for the month of December. Her work in this exhibition is a mixture of landscape, still life, and interiors.

Q: How would you describe your work?  What inspires you to put brush to surface?

A: I paint because I like to lose myself in the experience of painting. There is a rhythm to painting: you examine the subject – landscape, still life, what have you; you mix the colors and brush them onto the surface;  you step back and look again; you ask yourself if this is an honest interpretation; and repeat over and over.

Kate Kern Mundie, Smiling Barn, 12 x 12 inches, oil on panel

Kate Kern Mundie, Smiling Barn, 12 x 12 inches, oil on panel

Q: What is your first creative memory?

A: When I was four years old, my mother sent me to art classes at the St. Louis Art Museum. I have no memory of the classes except looking at a Picasso painting. I cannot remember what I thought of it at the time, but the painting became seared into my brain. We moved from St. Louis to Boston, so I had not seen that painting for years. I came across the painting in a book many years later when I was in college and was very excited to see it again.

Image via St. Louis Art Museum: Pablo Picasso, Pitcher and Fruit Bowl, 51 1/4 x 76 3/4 inches, oil on canvas, 1931
Image via St. Louis Art Museum: Pablo Picasso, Pitcher and Fruit Bowl, 51 1/4 x 76 3/4 inches, oil on

Q: What was it about that painting that appealed to you? Do you think it has an influence on your work today?

A: I would do “exquisite corpse” drawing with my dad and the line work in the painting looked like the drawings we did. I also really love the leaf shapes. I don’t know if it has any influence today but I wonder if I had not seen the painting and had such a connection to it would I have ended up a painter?

Q: Do you have a creative habit? How do you shape your art making practice to nurture your work?

A: I am trying to make a creative habit. As I get busier with kids, family, and work building in time to make artwork is a challenge. My husband is also an artist so I cannot be selfish and sneak away to the studio all the time. I end up working in bursts; I will paint for a few days and then nothing for a week or more. However, I am trying to be more mindful about scheduling dedicated art-making time.

Kate Kern Mundie, Hats, 20 x 40 inches, oil on panel

Kate Kern Mundie, Hats, 20 x 40 inches, oil on panel

Q: What do you read, listen to, or look at to recharge you or fuel your work and find inspiration?

A: I read a great deal. I usually have two or three books going at the same time – a mixture of fiction and non-fiction. The best books I have read in 2012 are The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp and Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson.

While I paint, I like to listen to music – such as Charles Mingus and Joe Strummer, or I listen to the news and interview programs on NPR. 

Al Gury taught me the importance of keeping a journal. Journaling helps you learn to write better. Writing about your own work can make narrative themes stand out and can help you to better understand and develop your work. It’s also great when you are applying for a grant and can take great chunks out of your journal and clean up into an application essay.

I look at a lot of art. I really like the work of many of my contemporaries like Alex Kanevsky, Tim McFarlane, Jon Redmond, Stanley Bielen, Katy Schneider, Peri Schwartz, and Jenny Saville.  I look to the Ashcan School painters like George Bellows, Edward Hopper, and John Sloan for inspiration.

Kate Kern Mundie, Delaware Canal, 24 x 16 inches, oil on panel

Kate Kern Mundie, Delaware Canal, 24 x 16 inches, oil on panel

Q: What do you do for fun when you are not in the studio?

A: I spend time with my family, taking my kids on bike rides. I do yoga to unwind, and have begun to teach it as well. I like to watch movies.  When it comes to movies, my tastes are all over the place. I like movies by directors like Hitchcock, Frank Capra, John Woo, Yimou Zhang, Quentin Tarantino, and Guy Ritchie.

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Interview with Tezh Modarressi

Tezh Modarressi, "We Harrdly Go Outside," 6 X 6 inches, oil and encaustic on wood

Tezh Modarressi, “We Hardly Go Outside,” 6 X 6 inches, oil and encaustic on wood

Tezh Modarressi’s latest exhibition at F.A.N. Gallery, “Now You See It. . . “ (as in  . . . and now you don’t) represents two years of work, painting in oil and encaustic on wood. Buildings, vehicles and nature are shown as they are on the brink of disappearing. Tezh finds these images eerily sad, but also compelling. The rough wood combined with the wax medium, is meant to reinforce the sense of time’s passage.

What is your first creative memory?
The first creative memory I have is sitting in Quaker meeting, next to a family friend (an artist) who was drawing. When she noticed me watching she passed me the sketch so that I could copy it. As I started copying it the time flew by. I remember thinking, “This is great! When I get home I’m gonna need some more paper.”
Tezh Modarressi, "Get Out Of The Cold," 9 X 9 inches, oil and encaustic on wood

Tezh Modarressi, “Get Out Of The Cold,” 9 X 9 inches, oil and encaustic on wood

Do you have a creative habit? How do you shape your art making practice to nurture your work?
My only habit is that I need to be in my studio early in the morning. I put on music and have a cup of coffee. By mid afternoon I start overworking and over thinking my work. That’s when I should leave the studio, not even go back to do small touch ups.
You have fun and interesting titles to your work. How do you come up with your titles?
I think I make up little scenarios about the places I’m painting. Sometimes the titles are little inside jokes I’ve made with myself about what I picture is going on. While I’m working on a painting I write notes on the margins that I go back to when I title them. Other paintings I just instantly know what I’m going to call them when I start to draw the first draft.
Tezh Modarressi, a Baltimore native, graduated from the Rhode lsland School of Design in 1988.  She currently lives in Philadelphia.  Her work centers around  abandoned cars, houses, barns and outside scenes.  Modarressi works in encaustic medium.  She feels the layering and building up of wax on a wood surface in the encaustic process works well with these subjects. Tezh works in both oil on paper and encaustic mediums depending on how she’d like to show off the subject.
Tezh Modarressi, "Save Me," 7 X 7 inches, oil and encaustic on wood

Tezh Modarressi, “Save Me,” 7 X 7 inches, oil and encaustic on wood

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Interview with Jesse J. Gardner

Jesse J. Gardner, Rural Urban, 12 X 18 inches, oil on panel

Well-known portraitist Jesse J. Gardner will present his most recent series of landscape paintings, On the Streets of Philadelphia, at FAN Gallery this October. This series explores several neighborhoods familiar to the artist; Kensington, Frankford, Northern Liberties and Manayunk. Sculptor and critic Leslie Kaufman has written of the artist’s work; “Gardner’s Philadelphia is not on any visitor’s map…he searches city neighborhoods and industrial locations to illuminate lost places whose histories were long abandoned and forgotten. As an urbanist dedicated to environmental issues, Gardner wields his paintbrush as a spotlight – to reveal both what we have lost, and to suggest what may still be reclaimed.

Jesse J. Gardner grew up on farms in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom and Canada’s Cape Breton Island. Before he began focusing on art, he was a volunteer firefighter at the Pine Plains Hose Company #1 in New York and worked as a long distance trucker and construction worker.

Jesse J. Gardner, “Trees at Huntingdon Street II”, oil on panel

What is your first creative memory?

I was always drawing, and recall that the subjects that interested me as a young child were similar to my subject matter today: houses in the landscape. The first serious drawing was done around age 11, when I looked down the hill at the rooftops of my neighbor’s barn and outbuildings and produced a pencil drawing on a cheap tablet. My parents decided at this point that I was serious about being an artist, and gave me extra time off on our busy farm to draw and paint. I had an interest in preserving historic architecture as a teenager, and when we lived in Nova Scotia in the 1970’s, began making detailed pencil studies of Canadian National Railway stations that were being demolished.

How do you think about your body of work, the portraits and the landscapes? Does one inform the other or are they separate in your mind?

I see the subject matter as emanating from the same conscious desire to dig below the surface and reveal the inner light. It is part of the same narrative; restoring a measure of dignity to the invisible and overlooked. I have integrated the two occasionally. Look for these two separate themes to come together in my work in the near future. It is a natural evolution for the work.

You can find out more about  Jesse’s portrait work and involvement with firefighters here.

How did you get involved doing the portrait work?

It grew out of an interest in the invisible service class–workers who keep the world moving but are taken for granted–rarely acknowledged or recognized for their efforts. My parents were very involved with the Labor Movement when I was growing up, so it felt right to be documenting in paint these hard working, ordinary people. I know that my concept of the heroic firefighter was shaped very early on, growing up as I did with farmers and mechanics as role models.

Jesse J. Gardner, "Rapid Eletcric Company,"oil on panel

Jesse J. Gardner, “Rapid Electric Company,”oil on panel

How do you choose your landscape subject matter?
I paint obscure places for the most part, far removed from the tourist itinerary and the “center” of things. When I paint familiar landmarks, like the Ben Franklin Bridge, I look for vantage points that most would dismiss as  non-picturesque, even ugly. In the series River Town, I ended up painting the bridge from underneath, with a focus on the floating March ice and abandoned piers. The bridge was the focus, but treated as a secondary element. It makes one rethink the familiar and question assumptions.

Jesse J. Gardner, "Poplar West," oil on panel

Jesse J. Gardner, “Poplar West,” oil on panel

Who are your influences art or otherwise?
I owe a great debt to my parents, who are writers and farmers and who shaped my approach to my work by emphasizing the importance of craft and honest labor and self-reliance. They exposed me and my siblings to a wide range of art and culture, which was unusual on a working Vermont farm. They taught us to do everything to the best of our ability. Most importantly, they nurtured an appreciation for lost and endangered places–we restored farm equipment, homes and barns, and cleared abandoned fields for grazing land.

My artistic influences are wide ranging. I love the expert drawing and chiaroscuro of Rembrandt and Velásquez, Whistler’s portraits and nocturnes. I appreciate Egon Scheile, Toulouse-Lautrec and Degas for their draftsmanship.  I am profoundly moved by Käthe Kollwitz’s etchings The Weaver’s Cycle.

There are Russian realist painters from the pre-Stalinist era who have had a profound effect on me. I feel a kinship with Grant Wood, George Bellows, Rockwell Kent, and Edward Hopper. There is a contemporary painter named William Wray who I really admire. Brad Holland’s poster illustrations for the Public Theater provoke a visceral reaction in the viewer; he is a brilliant artist and this is a body of work that every artist who is interested in portraiture should study.

I have discovered Chinese modernists recently.  Qi Zhilong’s series Chinese Girls has inspired me to consider a new series of large portraits. There is so much that I want to explore as an artist, and so little time.

Jesse J. Gardner, "My Little Town," oil on panel

Jesse J. Gardner, “My Little Town,” oil on panel

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A few Words with Robert Heilman

Robert Heilman, 10th Street Bridge, 6 x 9 inches, oil on board

I recently spoke to September’s artist, Robert Heilman. Robert describes his intimate paintings as “genre paintings of little towns and landscape.” He says, “The nocturnes the night landscapes have tonality. I try to keep the color close and set off little notes of emotion. I want to make the paintings accessible. They are a quick response and I hope to provoke a response in someone. Art is a shared experience otherwise it is just the artists navel gazing and what’s the point in that. I paint so people will respond to it.”

Robert Heilman, Mission House, 9 x 9 inches, oil on board

I asked Robert about his career as a painter. He said that he has been painting for 40 or 45 years. When he was in school, he painted the figure but after graduating, he wanted to paint what was around him. He began painting landscapes and small town scenes. What he calls “the real things all around me.” He looks at his paintings as “a failure in a way. Every time you paint you are trying to get it right and maybe you will get it in the next one.”


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Interview with Neil Berger

Neil Berger, "Grain Silo Red Hook," 30 x 42 inches

Neil Berger, “Grain Silo Red Hook,” 30 x 42 inches

During July 2012, F.A.N. will show the work of Neil Berger. Neil’s work includes landscapes, monoprints, and portraits. His paintings capture the familiarity of life without being too specific. Neil edits out the extraneous information giving the viewer the essence of the landscape, urbanscape, or portrait.

Neil’s paintings are thickly built up in juicy layers of paint in vibrant color.  Conversely, his approach to monoprint is more of a subtractive method: thick ink is evenly layered on a plexiglas plate and then areas of ink are removed to allow the color of the paper color to come through after printing.

Neil Berger, "Oil Lube 39th," 21 x 25 inches

Neil Berger, “Oil Lube 39th,” 21 x 25 inches

Do you work through the same subject in a painting and then revisit it through the monoprint medium?

Yes! Many of my monoprints are reworkings of things I’ve painted. It’s funny – if I paint something twice or made two monoprints of the same subject in a short interval I’m sure I’d lose a little ‘juice’, but in switching mediums, the fact that I’ve done it before gives me more energy.

In your statement you talk about becoming a studio painter and working from memory instead of working en plein air. Do you do any preparatory drawings or work directly in paint?

I used to do tiny little preparatory sketches, with more verbal notes than drawing, but now I just look and then paint. Even with the tiny sketches I was doing too much blind copying and not enough inner inhabiting of the subject. I used to think complex things like tree branches were too hard to just make up, and maybe they are, but I hate copying them into my paintings.

Neil Berger, "Chinatown," 24 x 30 inches

Neil Berger, “Chinatown,” 24 x 30 inches

What do you read, listen to, or look at to recharge you or fuel your work and find inspiration?

Music is a big inspiration. Bach is a big hero. I want to do paintings like Bach, like the Brandenburg concertos, or sonatas for Cello and Harpsichord. I look at painting books a lot. In the past year I’ve especially enjoyed Canaletto, late DeKooning, Bellows’ cityscapes and Hudson-scapes, and Diebenkorn, especially the Berkeley series.

I’m not a voracious reader but I like what I like. I just read The Sun Also Rises for the hundredth time. I also have a taste for the right ‘spiritual’ journey book, like the Castaneda books or The Alchemist or The Pilgrimage by Coelho.

Neil Berger, "Lower Man Ship Wake," 36 x 44 inches

Neil Berger, “Lower Man Ship Wake,” 36 x 44 inches

There are small groupings of people or sometimes a lone figure in some of your urbanscapes. How do you use figures in your composition to further the narrative of the painting?

As you can see, I tend to put non-whites, usually women and children in the paintings. Throughout the years I’ve often depicted “the other.” I was putting a lot of figures in my paintings when I lived in Sunset Park, because I loved the people there. I think Mexicans are beautiful, somehow.

Now I’m in a more cosmic period. I often don’t even want the anchor of the earth, much less a figure. I paint to the 2001: A Space Odyssey soundtrack to get me in a “beyond the infinite” kind of mood. But when I do use figures, I would not say it is to advance a narrative. I have nothing to say!  Only to show. But they are there for different reasons: because they are beautiful; maybe to push back against a crushing environment; maybe to show the light – bright noontime gleaming on their hair or Golden Hour rays catching their clothes.

Neil Berger, "Smith St. Folks, " 30 x 36 inches

Neil Berger, “Smith St. Folks, ” 30 x 36 inches

Do you think of your paintings as having a narrative?

Nah. But I’m open to one existing in the mind of the viewer. I just don’t think in those terms, except maybe crude verbal formulations like “bit of life against desert bleakness,”  “dark noontime painting,” or “Venus, Moon and Jupiter lined up.”

What do you do for fun when you are not in the studio?

I guess I wasn’t honest about how central books are to me. I spend a lot of time looking at books, all kinds: ancient cultures, biology, paleontology, archaeology, architecture, war, biography, books that react against accepted, respected news media, spiritual books, etc.

I like to play basketball, though my attendance is down lately. I like to take walks in nature. I like to travel. Lately I’ve been taking smaller trips with my girlfriend to the Catskills, the Smoky Mountains, Cape May, New Jersey, Illinois.

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