Meg: I read your statement “With commissions for even larger and more complex images a shift has occurred to emphasize the art and not its ephemeral nature.” Can you explain your views on this shift?
Kurt: I am actually spearheading this transformation. My vision for the art form was to take it from its roots as a form of busking, (working for tips), into a performance art, and then into a profession. Advertising and publicity infused it with the necessary financial means for it to become a profession. The requirements of that industry eventually led to images that could withstand foot traffic and weather. It was also necessary to produce images on a variety of surfaces.
After 30 years of promoting pavement art, I have also come to the conclusion that some images must be permanent for it to transition into the fine arts. This is my ultimate goal, and the creation of permanent works is a requirement for success in this genre. This does not mean that the impermanent nature of the art will be lost, only that the illusions have a life of their own as interactive installations, which is valid without impermanence as a justification.
Meg: Are there a couple of images you have created that have particular meaning or significance for you that you could share and describe?
Kurt: My first favorite image was the “Dies Irae.” This summed up what I was trying to achieve and launched the new art form. I have always been struck by the contrasting world views, (weltanschaungen), of historical cultures and contemporary cultures. In Italy this contrast existed in the extreme when one walked out of a historical church onto a busy street. I wanted to capture this contrast in a single image.
The title “Dies Irae” refers to a twelfth century poem of the same name. It begins, “day of wrath, day of fire”, and describes the end of the world when the dead arise from the earth to be judged. The text is sung as part of the requiem mass. I had worked out the anamorphic geometry with a number of other pieces, specifically a set of battles between angels and devils. Some of these took me six weeks due to rain. I selected the Dies Irae in order to create one work that would sum up the different experiments.
I later did a trilogy of modern “Hells.” These were titled “Gluttony,” “Office Stress,” and “The Ghetto.” All of these images juxtaposed the contemporary world with the values of classical drawing.
This series began as a commission, which went bad when the photographer refused to shoot the compositions from the right point. I really liked the concept and felt it was worthwhile to re-elaborate the works and put them into environments that had a lot of meaning for me personally. I lived in Mantua at the time and was preparing myself to leave for Umbria. The reason for leaving Mantua after 18 years was the horrible way it was being developed in the periphery. These pieces summed up the evils of modern society that had a particular impact on Northern Italian society at the time. All three of the pieces were shot in Mantua.
The “Gluttony” image was created at Palazzo Te in Mantua. The palace contains a famous fresco cycle called the “Room of the Giants,” depicting the classical story of the battle between the gods and the titans. In the background I show a new shopping center in Mantua actually called “The Giant.” The figures of course are gigantic due to over-consumption.
“The Ghetto” was created at a burnt-out plant nursery that once contained enough plants for hundreds of gardens, and was possibly reduced by arson.
They also are composed with geometric and compositional ideas that are entirely autograph. Many people, including some artists that have taken up 3D street painting, state that my images use 17th century anamorphic geometry. They do not. Although it is possible to utilize the older geometry, and some artists do, the spectator’s viewpoint must be moved back from the work. My works reverse the distortion of a fisheye lens, and are therefore hyperbolic in nature. This does not belong to the 17th century.
Kurt: We never had a strong desire to leave Italy; the decision was made for two reasons. Firstly, we came to understand that our son, Anders, needed to have his middle and high-school education in the English language because it is now a global standard. The options were not great where we were living. We could also see that the European economy was beginning to break apart and realized that we had a relatively small window of time where we could sell our house and leave.
We had friends in Friday Harbor who recommended the island, and when we visited it we were impressed with the lifestyle which was very much like the U.S. we grew up in until we left 25 years ago — no chain stores, (not even McDonalds or Starbucks) and no stoplights. It has been a good place to transition. We also love the eagles, deer and other wildlife. If we ever leave, it will be to get a little more light, which is in short supply for half the year.
Meg: You received a Kennedy Center Medallion in recognition of your outstanding contribution to arts education. What inspires you to teach and what are its benefits to you?
Kurt: In my twenties I taught groups from grade school through high school as well as groups of professional artists at Disney, Warner Brothers, and even the Smithsonian Institution. I really love to teach and always have. In the last years I have collected and integrated important information and formed a unique conceptual approach to figurative art that is not available in books. It is almost painful for me not to disseminate these ideas. For this reason teaching has a different meaning for me now. My goal is no longer to facilitate the apprehension of existing knowledge, however esoteric, but the possibility of disseminating entirely new concepts about the nature of creativity and design.
I have only scratched the surface of this part of my career. My ultimate goal is to redefine figurative art in a truly fundamental way. I want to go beyond the “fight” between contemporary art and tattered academic traditions and re-propose figurative art as fine art. In order to do this I have studied the origins and nature of geometry and perception. I want my discoveries to be useful to other artists.