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Artist Interview :: Curtis Green

Curtis Green Painting

On September 8, 2019, in the early afternoon, I headed over to the Rolling Hills United Methodist Church for their Second Sundays at Two concert series, eager to hear award-winning pianist Robert Thies perform a solo concert. Little did I know, I was in for a visual treat afterward.

While socializing after the riveting performance, my friend-in-music, Jim Eninger spotted me in the crowd and waved me over to introduce me to the church’s artist-in-residence, Curtis Green. (For my readers who may not know, Jim Eninger is the creator of “The Clickable Chamber Music Newsletter for Southern California”. It’s a treasure trove of upcoming classical music concerts and beautiful venues across SoCal. To subscribe, visit this link.)

Curtis’ and Jim’s families are longtime members of the Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, which is how they met. When Jim learned that Curtis was a fine artist, the idea of including a fine art display at the Second Sundays at Two concert series occurred to him. Jim asked Curtis if he would like to exhibit and also curate shows with other artists. (Being an art and piano teacher, I love this idea of combining great art and music.)

Coordinating shows with other artists and the church’s concern for liability and issues about selling artwork at the church led to the tabling of that program. Instead, the church graciously granted Curtis an open invitation to exhibit his work at their Second Sundays at Two concert series, at his convenience. I just happened to be lucky enough to catch his exhibit on September 8.

It was a pleasure making the artist’s and his lovely wife Roz’s acquaintance. One of his remarkable oil paintings was displayed on an easel in the chapel foyer. I was so impressed with his palette and technique I had to engage him in conversation. I found him quite knowledgeable and was pleased he knew of my favorite gallery, Arcadia Contemporary and the great artists represented.

We spoke of possibly hosting a demo + workshop at my studio. However, I felt it prudent to first interview him on the school’s blog so my students and readers could become acquainted with his work and viewpoints. He graciously accepted my invitation. It is my pleasure to introduce you to artist Curtis Green.

Q1. What is your style of painting referred to? For our art students, would you please describe what this style means or represents?

A1.
I’m married to a librarian (ha) so, I feel like I’ve learned more about what it means when people ask about style and category. Categorizing art is a whole field unto itself and art historians and curators do that very well. I appreciate their work in looking at art that way.

When I was in art school at Otis College of Art & Design, we were often reminded that artists generally just make their work without thinking about what style it is going to be in. Artists make art, other people put it in a specific category.

Having said that it might be better for me to answer what type of work I feel I am mostly influenced. I would probably float it between early to mid-twentieth century American Modern Impressionism, perhaps. I love the Boston School and tonalists like Whistler and Paul Maitland.

I draw heavy influence from the Barbizon School, all the way to the American Edward Hopper. Heck, I love Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell! Current artists from Dennis Perrin to Dennis Sheehan and there are a whole host of painters I just met last year in Northern California that is just ripping it up right now! I mean, their energy is infectious. I notice my tendency to gravitate to that kind of work when I paint or when I look at shows that are around or online. I love practically everything if it is absent from trying to be too precious!

 
 

Q2. I’m with you on that. Your recent work features landscapes, still life and figurative images. What is the story or inspiration behind your choice of the subject matter?

A2.
My art education during the late 1980s was based on a highly conceptual and theoretical program. The art market was “sizzling” with what I figured was confusion about what art is or would be going forward. Everything hinged on the “new next”. The idea of post-modernity was being interpreted and re-interpreted, creating in my opinion, an “anything goes” type of atmosphere. It’s happening still and probably always will now.

However, I caution myself about being too dismissive of popular contemporary work because I like a lot of it. Again, as a student, we were encouraged to look within and learn more about what or where our true expression is or is derived from. So, as I found that there were and are so many choices and forms of expression and points of view to create and make work out of, for some reason it all came back to the basic principles of simple easel paintings, primarily landscape.

Remember, we were conceptually and theoretically trained. That often meant making work that is sometimes only presented as an idea or is ephemeral, or work that is made as a strong statement wrapped in a stunt or prank. So much is made about the communal experience now, for example. I did a lot of that in school. After a long period of filtering out things, I discovered that my true self lies within quiet and direct observation. I liked interpreting or communicating ideas within the thoughtful subtlety of a painting and being in touch with the joy and honesty in my work. While in school, that meant I had to be a “closet landscape painter”. Then I thought, hold on a minute, what could be more “out of the box” than painting an honest to goodness landscape? No irony, no prank, no twist, just an honest to goodness landscape. Nearly every theoretical principle lies within the fundamentals of painting and drawing. Be true, be confident, paint well, speak well, engage well. That engagement is what I hope becomes evident in my paintings. Hopefully, my paintings can express in the visual language, certain aspects of thought and feeling where words become less effective. And isn’t that close to the early modernists’ aspirational quest for form?

 

Curtis Green's Plein Air Easel

 

Q3. Indeed! On the topic of honest to goodness painting, my students are interested in the latest tools of the trade. May I please inquire about your preferred brands of oils?

A3.
Aw man! (ha,ha). I’m a guitar player. Sometimes I pick up my acoustic and play something pretty. Other times I’ll pick up a “Strat” and play some bending Blues. Other times I want to throw some power chords out of a Les Paul! So, I have always used Winsor & Newton or Utrecht as my go-to paints, always available and reliable colors. I’d call them my “acoustic guitar”.

 

Curtis Green's Studio Setup

 

I also have a set of Rublev Natural Pigments that are high quality, professional-grade tubes that I use for portrait or still life. They have a very high quality that handles effortlessly in my opinion and the pigments are mined from sources around the world. Their pigments are like no other. They would be my “bluesy Stratocaster”.

 

Curtis Green's Sennelier Paints

 

Another set I have is Sennelier. Those things are my “Les Paul” power chord paints. They have high tinctorial strength, the chroma is intense and they are “fast”. When I’m outdoors with them, I often think to put on my seatbelt. I love working with them.

What grounds do you prefer?
As far as grounds, I like stretching my own canvases. I like good ol’ cotton duck with a little tooth in the waft and weave. I need a little “grip” in the contact with the canvas.

 

Curtis Green's Canvas Cutting

 

Otherwise, I like using panels. I’ll make my own or just go down and buy some cheapies for sketching and working quickly. However, it is good to keep in mind how horrible it is to start out thinking you’re just going to do a “quickie” and then it turns out to be pretty good, only to realize it’s on a cheapy board! So, one should always use their best whenever possible. I just try not to be a snob about it. Much, probably to a conservator’s horror, some of Constable’s sketches were done on cardboard!

What brands and types of brushes or palette knives work best for you?
I pretty much do all my work with flat or round bristle brushes. I rarely use filberts or soft-haired brushes, but I will when needed. I have a good set of Rosemary Brushes Ivory series of course. Like my guitar analogy though, I have a few “beaters” that are sometimes just the right ticket. I like to see what I can get out of my older or “lesser” brushes. I really care about them, like, I really do. I love holding all my brushes and I like taking care of them.

 
 

Do you ever make your own paint or have custom pigments made to order for any of your projects?
I’ve never made my own paints but have been interested in trying that for many years. I was looking at mullers and shopping for dry pigments. Finally, I just thought that the makers I use are doing a pretty good job. Maybe I’ll just paint.

Do you finish with a varnish or leave as is?
I do like to finish with a conservator’s varnish. It is often recommended to wait at least three to six months before applying a varnish. I used to go for a high gloss, almost shellac type of finish, but now I’m more interested in the security and protection of the paint film. I don’t varnish for “effect”, just enough to “bring it out”.

Q4. Thank you for the detailed intel. I hope my readers and students take note and will want to discuss with me in class. Speaking of students, at what age did you realize you were an art spirit?

A4.
It sounds cheesy, but I honestly have a definite, unembellished memory of doing a drawing in kindergarten that our teacher made a point to hang out on the wall in the hallway. For some reason, on a large sheet of paper, I made an elaborate drawing of the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. I think Watergate was going on, so I must have seen it on T.V. The teacher hung it on the wall and called my parents to come in so she could show it to them. I remember she said something to them about encouraging me. My mother did. She put everything she could in front of me, markers, crayons, colored paper, but she always allowed me to make my choices of how and when. It was never forced.

I only bring that up because of how important I believe it is to encourage anyone who has a proclivity in creative thinking or making. Even if that person turns out to be a math wizard, that person will probably be a better wiz because of their sense of creative freedom.

Otherwise, I have a normal story of just being “that kid” that was always truly interested during “art time” in grade school, being active and maybe a little “better than most” in high school, seeking out books on how to draw, making cartoons, and then finally making it a choice of study for college. I was going to be an illustration major and make commercial art my career. I fantasized about working at a drafting table, walking around a big city with my big black portfolio, going to meetings and having my work in print ads. Our foundation year introduced me to the rich world of the fine arts, like the master paintings and fine sculptural treasures. It was for me a deeper connection to, whatever that is that motivates artists, and introduced me to the idea that art is more than just being good at rendering things. That year, I changed my major to Fine Arts.

Q5. That’s good to hear. Did anyone try to talk you out of fulfilling your dream as an artist? If so, how did you handle it?

A5.
Are you kidding? Of course, that would be me! (haha). Isn’t self-doubt a natural hazard while being an artist? Seriously, self-doubt generates from a lot of influences. There could be parental discouragement, jibes from friends or more than likely – bullies. Sometimes just my own self-deprecation borne from conflicting emotions about what is primarily important can cause distraction or doubt. That was primarily true as a young adult as I started dating and having girlfriends. I noticed that my creativity made me interesting and attractive at first but as time went on, I would often be “conditionally required” to give up my “hobby” and start getting a “real job”.

It’s hard because we all want to love and be loved, so sometimes one wonders what to do. Although compromise is a big part of a healthy relationship, it is possible that conforming, and thus performing, to someone else’s idea of how you should live your life is a road to ruin. However, one learns that openness is always good. If I misinterpret my own statements by being closed-minded and arrogantly adamant about my own direction, then I would leave no room for any input, thereby missing truly supportive criticism, or suggestions that may be hard to hear but are loving and encouraging.
Thankfully, my wife who is talented in photography is very encouraging. I often think about getting into a type of regular business because I don’t want to fail her or us. Then she’ll say, “Oh, no you don’t!”
So now, if I don’t get to the studio or make a daily effort towards maintaining my artistic pursuits, well, let’s just say I have that happy responsibility now. Being an artist is hard. If you do team up with someone, then being within a supportive yet equitable relationship is very important, it can be very purposeful which is always encouraging in and of itself.

Q6. Agreed! I’m in a similar relationship and keeping each other on top of our creative goals is one of the reasons we have been married for over 25 years. Speaking of relationships, are you represented by any galleries? If so, how did you connect?

A6.
Ha Ha Ha, No! I have a private joke that goes like this; I’m a traditional landscape painter. I live in Los Angeles. The two don’t mix!

I am often included in several shows at galleries and museums, but I am not currently represented in the usual sense. I’ll have to usually look out of state or in adjacent cities for my kind of work to be represented. No high profile or hip “downtown gallery” that I know of will touch this stuff. The gallery system is changing, and I give credit to anyone running a gallery right now. The art world seems to insist still that a “legit” artist has gallery representation, but the paradigm is morphing into pay-to-play through memberships in associations or self-representation through online platforms. Galleries that do show landscape or still life painters often require memberships to certain clubs or associations as a requirement to be chosen into shows, and that’s a venue but not actually “representation”. Therefore, I am a proud member of the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association. Great organization, great group of people!

 
 

Q7. I love the Laguna Beach art scene. I’ll have to check out that association for a future blog. Thanks for the intel. So, do you believe many artists are being under-represented by independent galleries if they are working more traditionally?

A7.
Well, much like the “Farm to Table” movement has re-connected the general population’s awareness of the farmer and our relationship to our food, I would love to see a similar type of movement connecting more people to artists, galleries and our relationship to art. From what I read I get a sense that something like that is starting to happen. As I say, I hope someday that Plein air painters, landscape painters can have more gallery spaces that would seriously curate and present the enormous output local artists are producing on par with what current galleries are doing with other popular genres of contemporary art.

We need more gallery owners who believe in what we are doing and unashamedly get behind it and curate the best of what is available. One can proceed to the downtown arts district and find not much of a choice in terms of genre. Fine. But then ask yourself, why don’t more people get engaged with the arts? Why do most people never think of it or care to have public funding to support it? I recently saw a laundry basket tacked to the wall with some yarn dangling from it. The gallery was asking north of $20,000. dollars. Next door was something similar and so on. Mix it up, make a real market-place for the general public to get interested on their own and to enrich their own taste and choices instead of telling them, “this is art”, that’s all I’m saying.

Q8. Amen to that! Art can touch people’s lives, bringing happiness and hope. For example, my art school partners with Coach Art to provide free art classes for families impacted by childhood chronic illness. Is there a charity you are fond of or support, that you might like my readers to learn more about?

A8.
I am frequently asked to conduct “classes” for groups of adults who claim to have never been able to draw a thing. I love watching their initial reticence turn into enthusiasm by the time we’re done. Most people are absolutely surprised at what they accomplished at the end of two or three hours. I always say to the participants, “No one is expecting you to walk away from here doing Rembrandt caliber work today.”

These aren’t “sip n’ paint” classes which is more of a social experience than it is anything else. The whole purpose here is to enhance one’s view of the world around them and introduce some insight to viewing our “every day”, and perhaps deepen an appreciation for what it takes to make a drawing or painting. Most people are investment bankers, realtors, engineers, insurance brokers, pilots, white-collar, blue-collar, and they are most often confident in their regular line of work. But, they become very shy when asked to make a drawing. I’m telling you, I get so impressed by what these self-proclaimed “non-artists” can do! The success rate has been one hundred percent positive in terms of feedback from the students in terms of connecting to what they’re doing otherwise, either professionally or personally. The point is to make art less of a dismissive pursuit and make the connection that on any given day it is more essential to our lives, our thinking, our decision making our outlook than we typically think. Some have left the class saying their next stop was the art store!

 

Curtis Green's Art Class

 

Q9.
Thank you for all you do share the process of art within our culture at large. Those small steps have a ripple effect for sure. In closing, do you have a favorite quote, mantra or process that you find inspiring or helpful when faced with a creative block, that you would like to share with our readers?

A9.
Yeah, I have sketchbooks full of little notes and quotes all scattered about between the pages. I like doing it that way because from time to time I may randomly come across one and I can reflect a little bit on how it may mean to me today. It might be more powerful at that moment. Or, I might ask myself why in the world I felt I needed to write that down?

Although, there is one that comes to mind that is well known and I think it applies for all of us from time to time. It’s a quote made in 1913 by the French Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir who at age seventy-two said, “I am just learning how to paint.” Then six years later, just before he passed away his final words about painting were, “I think I’m beginning to learn something about it.” I believe that quote, thank God, allows all of us to just breathe a little. Every day, we think we know a lot, then every day we realize there’s more to learn.

Another thing I like to carry around is that ideas happen, you can’t make an idea. So, during “blocks”, I just go make stuff. Sometimes the fumbling around makes the best work. The so-called final pieces sometimes look too finished. When fumbling around one starts noticing things, then two and two starts to add up to something and then, an idea happens and off you go.

Brilliant! Curtis, thank you for sharing your intel and inspo with my readers, students and myself. Very good life lessons along with technical and historical perspectives.

It would be a pleasure to host a demo + workshop for you at my studio at some point. Let’s discuss and I’ll inform my readers accordingly.

Thanks again for your gracious time.
. . . . . . . . . .

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4 Comments

  1. Roz

    I think art and music naturally go together and have the power to heal and vastly improve people’s circumstances and outlooks on life. I’m glad this blog and school exists to incubate that idea, especially among young people. We are all looking for uplifting beauty and experience and Curtis Green’s art and Linda’s school and blog are facilitating that. I wish you all continued success.

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