Sunday, July 7, 2013

Curtis Bartone - Interview

Photo Red Davis
I hope you are having a great summer so far. Its time to talk to a friend of mine from Savannah, GA- Curtis Bartone. We met about 7 years ago when I stationed down there with my husband. We were both working on intricate animal etchings, so of course we hit it off from day one. I admire Curtis a lot, and wish I could be as fruitful in the studio as he is (and have access to great etching and litho facilities).

I wanted to interview him after the Abecedaria portfolio that we were in together, and ask some questions that I didn't know the answers to. Here is what he had to share:

Curtis, can you tell us a little bit about how you got started in printmaking and why you chose printmaking?

My MFA is actually in Painting. I took lithography in undergraduate school--but that didn't get me "hooked" on printmaking (even though I learned A LOT from my Tamarind-trained teacher, James Weigle). Lithography at that time was just an inferior way to make a drawing. Then, in graduate school, at Northwestern University, I discovered the sexy medium of intaglio. After graduating and losing my access to a printshop, I started printing at the Evanston Art Center with Audrey Niffenegger (better known these days as a bestselling author). Her quirky group of "outsider" printmakers formed my art kin. None of us considered ourselves  "printmakers" because we all worked in other media and none of us were too keen on editioning our work. For me, printmaking was another way to make images--an extension of drawing.

I've been printing off and on for 25 years. Printmaking started as a "side" fascination and has now evolved into most of my artistic output. The last solo show I had was my first all-print exhibition. The next one probably will be comprised entirely of prints as well. I now "think" in terms of etching and lithography--those distinct qualities stain every concept, every idea that enters my brain.

Three pieces that Curtis printed for the portfolio
Gabon Viper/Gas Explosion, aluminum plate, 3 color lithograph, embossing
Hornet/Housing, aluminum plate, 3 color lithograph, embossing
Iktomi/Incinerator, aluminum plate lithography, chine colle, embossing

What are your inspirations (people, things, places...)?

Since my overall way of working is to compress anything that interests me into the illusion of a single moment, it's hard to pinpoint where my inspiration comes from or where it may come from in the future. Artmaking for me is about paying attention and being open to everything around me. While I'm always looking at other artwork, illustrations and photographs (both hard copy and digital), I find more and more that  I am inspired by non-visual, non-art sources--ideas that I come across in literature, science, travel writing, even cookbooks. I am inspired by my surroundings: industry, manicured lawns, golf courses, gardens, the  displays and dioramas found in Natural History Museums. Lately, I have been drawn to images from the news of explosions, pollution, waste, and destruction. They seem to exemplify, in an accidentally beautiful way, the hopeless times we live in.

Stylistically, my work owes a great debt to the past: artists of the Renaissance, especially Albrecht Durer; Chicago painter Ivan Albright with his overly-active surfaces; Mexican artist Remedios Varo, who creates finely-crafted, ethereal worlds; and early 18th- and 19th-century renderings of flora and fauna, especially the work of John James Audubon and Thomas Bewick. The Netherlandish still life and hunt scene painters--Frans Snyders, Rachel Ruysch, and Willem Kalf--have probably had, and continue to have, the strongest influence on my work. I have always been drawn to the technical/formal aspects and seductive beauty of these paintings.  But more than that, I find many societal parallels between the 21st-century United States and 17th-century Holland--both societies being comprised of numerous wealthy consumers able to import food, objects, flora and fauna from all over the world.

Iktomi/Incinerator, aluminum plate lithography, chine colle, embossing (not seen in picture)
What is your favorite medium?

My favorite medium changes frequently to fit the way I am thinking at the time. Recently, this works the other way as well. I am attracted to some visceral quality inherent in a particular medium and that drives my ideas. That being said--as the years pile up, I find that etching feels like home. I always come back to it. Like visiting home after being away for a long time, etching makes me feel a mix of familiarity and unsettledness. When I return, etching is the same, but I have changed. However, I am being lured away more and more by the magical properties of lithography--especially traditional stone lithography. What could be better than drawing and scratching on a very old rock?

Your comments on the prints that were in the Abecedaria portfolio?

The work in the alphabet portfolio was exceptional. The prints were humbling, to say the least. What an exciting portfolio to be a part of! I made it a goal to use litho techniques and color palettes that I almost never use and, like any uncomfortable undertaking, I made mistakes and fought most of the way. In fact, I spent more time and swore more making these tiny prints than I did making huge etchings a couple months back. Oddly, the pieces I end up liking the most are the ones that I struggled (sometimes even hated) to make. Maybe I feel like the prints and I went through something together.

Any bits of wisdom that you have learned over the years?

--Make the work you want to make and then worry about the "career" stuff. There are better ways to get rich. There is a word for someone who goes into artmaking as a way to get rich, and that work is "moron." Piles of money will make you happier if it comes on your own terms, without compromise.

--Have career goals, but don't take them too seriously. This is a sure recipe for depression. We all  spend more time in our studios than we do schmoozing or accepting awards. Fame and fortune are fleeting, nebulous and ultimately disappointing, but our studio/laboratory experience can be as fulfilling as we let it be. It's the wisest cliché of them all: live in the moment!

--Don't censor your work until you put it down on paper. Some ideas sound stupid or overdone, but become original or ironic when realized visually and vice versa--a brilliant idea may become dull and boring when put to paper.

--Learn everything. If you get a chance to learn anything, take it--even if it doesn't fit your "style."

--Never lower your prices to fit a certain demographic. People who bought your work in the past don't like to think that someone else is getting the same work for cheap.

--If you have to make a complicated contract with the gallery who handles your work, get another gallery.

--Never pay to show your work. Think very hard about entry fees and high commissions. How badly do you need that line on your resume? Never seem desperate--even if you are.

--Don't donate your work to museums for free. It ruins it for everyone. Again: how badly do you need that line on your resume?

--Use even the smallest group show or trade portfolio as motivation to make new work.

Well, that's surely something to think about. Thanks Curtis! I only posted pictures of the pieces that were included in the portfolio in this post. If you want to see more, you can find more information and images on Curtis' website of course. 

Thanks for reading, and thank you Curtis for sharing. In the next post, I'll share what all has been going in at my studio in the last months.