By Amy Godard
Kurt Mottram has been a friend of mine for about a year. Kurt is a dedicated artist and intellectual who has managed to live on the fringe of society by selling his drawings or the occasional painting. He is a treasure hunter and collector who often sells what he finds. Kurt has an impressive knowledge of collectibles as well as world history. He often surprises me with minute details and dates from the past, as well as information about ancient cultures. It is as if his mind is a vault from the epic story of Man.
Kurt Mottram has a keen eye for detail. I noticed this when interviewing him in his trailer at the Wellsprings mobile village outside of Ashland Oregon. Everything in his trailer appeared well kept, with each thing in its proper place. I noticed on his small bookshelf, standing uncluttered and free of dust; the epic works of Tolkien as well as a few books about popular music Icons.
His mind for music is immense. Musicians have inspired over 100 drawings he calls his “Musician Series”. Greg Allman to Frank Zappa, they are all there; sometimes two or three times.
You may have seen Kurt’s work at Bloomsbury coffee shop or at Evo’s. He often appears with a smile and a glimmer in his eye, wearing hand painted clothing that reveals the inside life of this outsider artist. Kurt Mottram is the real deal. Someone who is an artist to the core. Someone who has not sacrificed their ideals for what mainstream culture says is “O.K.”. Someone who knows what they are worth despite what others say.
Kurt says his new body of work “pleases him” and he terms it “Organic Visual Poetry”. The “shattered glass/stained glass/ persian carpet effect” he gets with his epic paintings are result of many years of painting and experimentation.
Kurt’s next show opens at the MAda Shell Gallery on the plaza in Ashland Oregon on May 30th from 5 – 9pm. You may also join us First Friday from 5-9 as well.
Interview on 4-9-2010
Amy : Why did you start making art and what are your biggest inspirations?
Kurt: “It was always in me. My first memory is going back to the first grade I remember doing a simple line drawing of a mans head; with the jaw line, the eyebrow the hairline. My teacher asked me “Kurt did you do that?” and then told me what fine job I did. I imagine that I had done some drawings on the wall as a child with crayons at home before that. I was often jealous of musicians and thought that I may do a switch but it was there with the visual thing. I had it.
“As far as who inspires me ” I always like to say that Gaugin is my spiritual father although I look at all forms of human expression from the ancients to the moderns and it is all valid. You can always sift the wheat from the chaff and find something viable in human expression things that inspire you and that you can even incorporate with out being derivative. Like John Lennon said “we were the biggest pinch artists in the world” . But artists simply use pieces and shift them around, and rearrange things – if they are good. I like color I like movement. Color is emotion you know black and white appeals to the intellectual parts of the brain. And I like all the great colorists. Everybody from Indo-Americans to the Greeks to the Egyptians, to the sublime to the abstract, to the erratic all of it all of it. Especially the things that come out of the hands of children and the so-called less sophisticated. Their art isn’t unsophisticated at all to me. It is beautiful and hard to get to in that simple way that they do naturally.”
Amy: ” Yeah I see that with working with children a lot”
Kurt: ” They have no preconceived notion, it is all coming out natural with children, yeah”
Amy: ” Cool. Your art seems to make reference to popular music Icons as well as
the psychedelic experience of the 60’s and 70’s can you elaborate more on this?”
Kurt :” Yeah the year my sensibilities gelled and I came of age basically as a young man was was the year 1966 – which many consider to be the most fruitful , best year of the 60’s.. yeah I have used mushrooms and LSD back in the day and I will quote George Harrison “It was as if I had never seen or thought or smelled or touched before. It gave me a new appreciation, it reveals things as they really are not as they appear. I am not saying that psychedelic journeys are an end in itself or some kind of nirvana or paradise. It is a journey. I is a purifying cleansing experience. And It is not for everyone”
Amy: “Do you see painting as a reflection of that experience?”
Kurt: “I think about that and whether the shattered glass, stained glass, persian carpet effect that I have been getting lately is a result of that, and it might be, and it probably is. But not completely.”
Amy: ” Could it be on a basic level simply a reaction to the color .”
Kurt: “Sometimes I think that if Gaugain had used mushrooms he would have stretched out more and maybe distorted his skies and his trees even more than he did. But he was a man of his time and Absinth was his thing, and hasheesh and other things. They used to take laudanum like a soporific back then. Him and Vincent they all loved Absinthe back then. That was all the rage until the French government banned it in 1906 or whatever it was.”
Eric: ” You said that LSD makes you more aware of how things are rather than how they appear. It that what you intend to do with your painting?”
Kurt : ” It has always been hard for me to talk about my art. I am not this or that. I dont like labels. I am so much more than a label. Like Walt Whitman is, like we all are, we are all a mass of contradictions. But I want to do things with color that Gaugin, Van gogh, and Mondigliani and Matise didn’t. I want to create strange juxtapositions of shape and form that work. And the work I do now pleases me. I like it. I am satisfied but I dont want to analyze it because I dont think i can. I just dont have the objectivity. And the paintings get legs at a certain point and they create dialog with you and you change them at each session and you do things you wouldn’t expect to do and a painting will change. there is an organic process. ”
“When I look at my work now I see visual codes, like pyramids and little diamonds and halos and nimbuses here and there and that ties in with my mushroom and LSD experience. I think I am creating a mature visual language. I call it Organic Visual Poetry, if that is not too presumptuous. If you want to have a label, that is how I think of it. Visual codes organic visual codes. thats the language I am speaking in and I even I cant interpret it because i am creating it. And it does no good to speculate on what the codes mean because of the way I look at them the way I see them they could mean something different at any time. Or I could see it differently or I could see something I did not see before. This has happened to other people looking at my work and it is happening more with me now. I am now going deeper into my work, I think that comes with my age and my maturity and all the practice I have had before”
Eric: ” Your work is process oriented can you speak to that”
” I am not doing vignettes. Quick Slash and burn / fresh and simple vignettes . I have started to do these epics. That kind of worries me because it kind of sucks me in and I have always had this pension for detail and i have always consciously fought against that pension. To simplify to go toward the Mondigliani and Matise but is is a struggle that is why I say to do simplicity beautifully like children do is hard. It is harder than it looks. I get caught up possibly more than I should. But like Picasso said that ‘theoretically there is no such thing as a finished painting’ and I agree 100% with that because the dialog is always taking place. You simply decide at a point in your minds eye that is done sign it and move on.”
Amy: ” How many years have gone into some of these paintings?”
Kurt: ” I am working things up from the 90’s and I go back to things. Degas was like that. I go back to things because I see things differently after I haven’t looked at them in a long time. And I have no qualms about re-working something if I feel I can strengthen it. My friends have accused me of being a tinkerer and I cant deny it. But I have to be satisfied with it. It is not their call or my mothers call or my lovers it is my call”
Amy: ” Describe your most recent work. It sounds like you have been layering onto older stuff. But do you feel like the new stuff is different ? And if you do feel like it is how is it different?”
Kurt: ” My new painting is coming more quickly I make fewer mistakes I am quick to realize mistakes when i make them and I move right along and my work pleases me and that is all I can say about this artistic journey drawing and painting pictures. It is a dirty job but somebody has to do it. It is like being a cop you have to do this really important work but you never get any thanks for it nobody comes up and shakes your hand.. well thats not really true people come up to me and tell me nice things about my work. This is what gives me hope. This is what encourages me and reinforces my self-belief. You want something for your investment, even if it is a compliment.”
Drawing by Eric Navickas