Richard Kurtz is a textural adventurer, exploring the surfaces of old bank bags, antique luggage, children’s books — all of it left in his wake stamped with his flat, painterly icons in reds, blacks, and whites: boxing colors, bold and physical. This feisty imagery stands in contrast to the artist’s soft-spoken, meditative personality, making it that much more intriguing.
Tell me about your art.
RICHARD KURTZ Well what you hear and see are prize fighters, boxers and women boxers, and for me the image of the boxer is someone who is very present in his body and grounded and what I do is I integrate text with the image, and the text is my daily mantra or something that I’m thinking about or I hear, and in the booth today there’s some images of Flash, and the Flash character is for me an alchemical, otherworldly character from some kind of multi-verse that’s able to see around corners and reconnect with other dimensions of reality.
Would you say he’s a persona? Is he a version of you?
Of course. It’s different from an all-knowing character. It’s someone whose intuition is heightened, it’s someone who’s able to see signs, so within the body, able to move, able to move down this street.
What is his super power? I don’t remember.
Flash to me is someone who is very fast. Being in New York city and learning to being able to move through the…
Yes it’s the ability to physically move and also, like you said, move through the bullshit. It’s a time-suck, there are people who want to take things from you, but also there’s a fusion energy, where two people are greater than each other.
I love all these objects, do you just paint over the books that you find?
Yeah, for example I use old Golden Books, the ones we grew up with, I kind of reconfigure the Golden Books and create a non-linear story. Do you they always include flash? Are there any other characters? There’s “How to Survive if Your Parachute Fails to Open Meet an Unusual Woman,” so this is a woman character.
What’s your favorite texture?
Besides the human body, I like paper. And it depends on the paper, it kind of has a grain to it, there’s something feels holy, it’s a… I wouldn’t say ‘object’, but because the written word is able to go onto it it’s a grounds to expand. I’m a firm believer in the oral tradition of storytelling, and at the same time to be able to — that’s what I like about the small cards, I can take a card, it says, “Now we rise, we are everywhere,” and I feel that’s something for everyone living on the planet today, it’s coming together whether it’s sexuality or some kind of physicalness. This card is from 2014 at the fair, you can see it’s textural, it has fabric, they resonate, they become a talisman, some people have an altar, you can place it on your altar, it can be something that brings you back to a place of reconnection of who you may be or who you are. I like the portable quality to them, the cards, the suitcases. I came across these old bank bags, they’re canvas — there’s a texture, a weight to them, they used to hold money, there’s something physical.
So that’s the connection to the boxer is the physicality?
For me it’s all about being in my body.
If you could explore deep space or the deep sea, which would you choose?
Space. Space to me is the connotation of floating. It’s very expansive. The sea — Obviously there’s a depth to the sea but there’s a pressure. I feel like I’m being compressed. So when I think of compression I think of depression, suppression, oppression. Space to me feels like an expansive place to go.
Steve Mosley is a jocular man making merry rogue art: hand-carved wooden Christian religious figures inside bourbon bottles posed as 3-D satirical cartoons, a bit like The Far Side or something from The New Yorker, some with gleefully defamatory statements on wooden sign posts protruding from the corks. How could I resist speaking with this man?
Where are you from?
STEVE MOSLEY I’m originally from Louisville, Kentucky, but I’m in St. Louis now, Missouri.
How did you get into art?
I became a stay-at-home dad 20 years ago and I needed something to do, and I wanted something to do where the little kids wouldn’t have their hands all over it, touching it. So I started with ships in the bottle, and I started making those and got bored with them after a while, and I was talking to a guy and he said you should do these whimsy bottles, that was ten years ago, and after that I started making these.
They’re called whimsy bottles?
There’s three names for them: whimsy bottles, patience bottles and pullcart bottles, but I’ll take patience bottles.
So it has a long history?
First ones were probably during the 1700s, a whole lot during the 1800s and early 1900s, then it petered out after World War II — when bottles became commonplace that’s when it became big, about 1900 or 1880s, something like that. Then after World War II, barely anybody. I’m one of like seven people in the world who do this. It’s very rare now.
Do you think that plays into your art in any way?
It plays into my art in that I’m analytical. And I like to work with my hands. I was a good technician when I was in the lab, and I can do stuff with my hands and visually see it. And they’re bottles, so they’re reminiscent of chemicals. Well, actually the great thing is they’re bourbon bottles, and my wife LLC’d me, and now they’re a tax deduction (laughs). These are bourbon bottles.
Do you drink it all? What do you do with all the bourbon?
I drink it, sure. But I’ll tell you a story. God wants me to do this, because there’s another friend who puts decks of cards in bottles, and he needed some help with toppers, he lived in Chicago, he said, “Steve, sit down, the distributor for Jim Bean’s bottles just moved in next door to me” —so there’s like 13 million people in Illinois and the guy moves in next to him. I said I’ll buy as many as he wants, 10 bucks a piece, and I bought a hundred of them.
So you don’t drink all this bourbon.
Well I do drink a lot of it, and my wife helps me out. I have friends who help me out, too. Gotta support the arts.
One of the most popular pieces at the fair, Underground Subway Living, is an extensively populated piece stretching the length of an entire wall, the figures living their lives under our noses — one feels that at any moment they may come to life. The piece contains wonder, cheek, and social comment, and it’s a joy to look at — all the things art sets out to do. Jordan Maclachlan was a petite woman, and she wasn’t unlike her art: silly with a contemplative streak.
Tell me about your art.
JORDAN MACLACHLAN I make large pieces, well I make lots of tiny ones. This is one piece, it’s called Unexpected Subway Living, and it’s based on my idea of what would happen if all of us lost our housing due to a natural disaster, and then we go underground to live in the subway, and what would that be like? So there’s a farm area where they’re butchering animals and growing plants, there’s a surgery area, there’s women giving birth, there are acts of private moments, there’s violence, there are pets gone wild attacking people, there are nightmares and dreams walking around that are kind of like scary things you dream about at night when you’re in a situation that’s not so great, and animals from the wild as well, like moose, and tapirs, and snakes, rats. It just kind of grew from there. And it just keeps getting bigger and bigger and I keep adding to it.
Do you plan on continuing to add to it?
Yeah for sure. I have a few environments that I’m working on. I have a zoo, it’s called Zoo Living, and it’s about what’s it like to live in a zoo, it’s still pretty weird because what is a zoo? A zoo can be a kind of prison, a zoo can be a human zoo, a circus, capture and display. I also have a Condo Living, it’s more civilized.
And each of these is one large piece made up of small bits?
Yeah. But I do sell them individually, though, the little pieces, because people get on and off the subway. If someone leaves I can replace them with somebody else.
Do you use the subway?
Oh yeah. I grew up using the subway. I’m from Toronto, Ontario. Our subway is nowhere near as extensive as hear in New York.
So your art is about life?
It’s about how circumstances can effect a life. So if you’re living in a condo, you get a dining room and a nice bed and everything, and your pet dog isn’t going to eat you. If you’re living in the subway then that all changes.
Do you know anyone who lives in the subway?
No. I know some pigeons though. I see a lot of pigeons. I was on the subway once in Toronto and the doors opened and a pigeon got on, and he just sits there hanging out, and of course when the subway stopped at the most expensive neighborhood and the doors opened, he gets off. He just walked off.
Perhaps not quite an “outsider” per se, Joseph Kuhajec rubbed shoulders with some of the greatest artists of the 20th century — Frank Stella, Alexander Calder, and others who were still alive at the great axis of the modern era: the 60s. Kurhajec’s art seems to be poised at the moment a dream begins to evolve into a nightmare, when a benevolent god transposes into the body of a wild beast. He’s a matter-of-fact kind of man, and launched into a critique of art fair goers. Needless to say, he ruled.
JOSEPH KURHAJEC …People are too timid here! I’m actually not an outsider, I’m an independent. I live in France, but I’m in the Treadwell Museum of Fine Art. I have a studio in the Yucatan and I live there for three months a year, and I’m having a show February 9th, I’m showing in Paris at House St. Pierre, on the first of April.
Where are you from?
I’m born and raised in Wisconsin, actually. My family is from Slovakia. Kind of like Andy Warhol, same section. Tell me about your art. Tribal, tribal, tribal. African pieces, Congo pieces, that’s my main source, I’m making art 60 years now, I’ll be 80, I work full time, I’ve traveled all over the world.
Have you always done masks?
I’ve always done work that’s sort of tribal. Here, this is me as a young man, I looked like James Dean. Christo came to my studio in ’64, the guy who wraps buildings. I make fur sculptures, hair sculptures, there’s one in the Houston Museum, here’s a piece that was in the New School, they bought it and they gave it back to me because someone complained that it was too phallic. And that was years ago in ’64. I do a lot of political stuff, I did a lot of anti-war stuff. Anyway, I make art and I love making art. I make toys now because I like making toys. I met Alexander Calder in 1964 when he had his show at the Guggenheim, and I asked, “Why do you make toys?” and he said, “Because kids love ‘em and I love ‘em.” But the fact was that in 1930 when he was making them he didn’t make a dime at his show, but he became like the rest of them. I make wooden toys. These are my toys too, I love ‘em. It’s a pleasure being here because I haven’t marketed my work in the last 30 years, so it’s good for me, to show this kind of stuff.
Connected to the LAND gallery, an extension of The League Education & Treatment Center’s daily habilitation program for adult artists with developmental disabilities, Micheal Pellew’s work was one of the show-stoppers at the fair, and it was a unique delight that he was actually present to speak with. His work revels in pop culture, simple drawings of celebrities ad nauseam, their repetition and recreation a kind of pop era mantra matrix. Speaking with him was similar to looking at his work: a whirlwind of highly specific tv and radio references, as well as word associations that led him down colorful conversational paths. He’s hit the big-time.
Tell me about your art.
MICHEAL PELLEW I’m doing some big-time art, this one is on more numerous Kim Kardashian hairstyles, that one is the pinned bangs, there’s scared ones, Snookie. That one is a tribute to Hugh Hefner. I did 1990. Rock n’ Roll Heaven. Pop Art Era. VH1 Interview classics. I do sculptures, celebrity books, big books here and at home, I listen to music, I do audio cassettes, I’ve been recording audio cassettes since I was about 6 years old, 7 years old, I started recording music, the Paris Garage from around ’92, I have numerous audio cassettes. I have 60 audio cassettes, 30 in pop music.
Do you read comic books?
I don’t do comic books. I used to but not anymore. I went to the New York Trains Museum back in ’96, I used to like that a lot, I like the trains museum, I look at trains, I draw trains, I make homemade trains, and I discovered what it looked like old and new buses, and especially right now you’ve got the MTA Select Bus Service, the new trains do wifi everywhere, I don’t have wifi at the moment, my mom didn’t hook up the internet, we don’t have internet, we’ll get it very soon, I moved to a new house on east 76th street the hot water was acting up, my mom made hot water on the stove to put in the hot tub, in the garbage can to wash everything. When the shower came on, I got hot water, I got my cake and eat it too — cheesecake. I love my mom. I have weight issues, back in 92 I be callin Fat MF, Fat Hurkey, I was real upset, right now I’m eating healthy. Right now I listen to Q101.3, Classic Rock Station. I listen to Get the Layout with Carl Moore, Jim Curry morning show, 3 at 3, 80s rock, every Sunday night I listen to Little T’s Underground Garage, then I do, what else do I do? Breakfast with the Beatles. Every February 26th or 29th every year I do my youtube, I do models…
Models? What kind?
America’s Next Top Model, right now, Sophia is coming out. Phantom Lord is on every end of the drawing.
Who’s your favorite musical artist?
Everyone. Taylor Swift, The first album, Teardrops on My Guitar, Tears for Fears, I watch reality shows on Bravo and Entertainment, Kim and Kardashians.
What’s your favorite reality show?
Everything. Real Housewives, Beverly Hills, Jersey Shore. Right now I do Bump-its. I do Bump-its with the higher tease.
On yourself or you do it on a wig?
A girl, Snookie. I was watching it on tv, it made me realize, I have an idea, bobby pins.
Do you use the actual Bump-it?
I do hairspray. You do it yourself, you backcomb it? I do it myself, I get a little tease. Right now I’m gonna do socks. I do socks in it so it doesn’t fall.
So you use the sock as a filler in the hair to make it bigger?
Do you collect Barbies?
I don’t do Barbies, but I do toy cars. I do Hotwheels.
Do you collect anything else?
I’m working to make stuff, I make stuff. I do big drawings, I do cars, commissions. I’m trying to hold my money until Christmas.