We had the good fortune of connecting with Kurt von Behrmann and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kurt, Let’s talk about principles and values – what matters to you most?
It all starts with being authentic. You can create the most technically accomplished work ever created, but if it has a false note, it feels brittle. Art for me, any art, that strikes the very soul of the viewer has to come from an honest place of expression. The message, the feeling, the images used cannot be something just pulled from the ether. The concept of “faking it until you make it” simply does not exist in any art form. If the work you create is not true to your beliefs, views and perspectives, it cannot be of any use to the viewer. One of the most important elements that viewers seek is something genuine. It is the very first quality they seek. They want something real, something that speaks to the way the world is, not as we would have it. You cannot be an imitation artist. You have to be the real thing or all else falls apart. The one quality that rests at the base of all art, any art, is creativity. There has to be talent of some kind. Talent, creativity comes from the authentic. It comes from that which is real. It is what is sincerely honestly felt that starts anything creative that will have any value to anyone.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My visual art has evolved over time. I started out with abstraction, but then moved into figurative work. In the end, I ended up doing both. The current works are all centered around location and tapping into the expression of universal emotions. For example, the latest work I created “Vulture,” is about dealing with Bipolar Disorder and the pressures of Covid 19 and how it has impacted us socially, politically and economically as well. Filled with metaphors and symbolism, the work is both colorful and grave. It is also influenced by the place where I reside, Phoenix, Arizona, specifically South Mountain Village. Being a Phoenician has given me a perspective I may never have had I not lived here. It is something I am appreciative. That is hard to pin down to one thing. The most recent is my group exhibition coming up this September. It is a virtual exhibition centered around the theme of suicide and surviving it. The works I created are my most personal. They are also my most raw. I had to dig deeply into my experiences and soul for the material that would make up these works. Potent, powerful, they show a consistent body of work that deals with subject matter most might avoid, suicide and self-harm. That is my most recent. I suppose the longest one was my solo exhibition in New York City many years ago. That was something that still remains special to me to this day. The journey has been a colorful, sad, enjoyable,joyous, eventful and sometimes tragic one. The one thing I have to say, it was never dull. I have never been bored on this journey of discovery and creating art. I would say a great deal of work over a prolonged period of time was a salient feature of the process. Art is never something just thrown together. You have to learn your craft. You must study the history of your discipline and spend a great deal of time looking, viewing and traveling seeing just what is out there. Formal study, informal study, lectures and classes and workshops all go into making art. What others may not know is that you become an intellectual when making art long enough. Subjects such as history, psychology, contemporary fiction, films, novels, biographical works, in short you become a well rounded person because art pulls from so many sources. One does not simply study art, one in short studies the forces that shape the socio economic elements of society along with philosophy as well. Art is a product of experiences and knowledge gained. The one way to over come challenges is realizing that you need to be flexible. One has to be able to adapt, change and deal with the currents that come your way. Become too inflexible, and you break when the winds of change arrive. Become a bamboo tree and those forces do not break you. I also remember what Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor one said. “Bad times do not last,” were the words she used during a television appearance. I never forgot the wise bit of wisdom. Another thing is perseverance. Making art is really a long game. It is not something that just happens over a short period of time. You have must invest time in order to make anything of merit. There are no short cuts. There is no “Royal Road” to learning. It is all time and determination and focus. Discipline is so important. You have to have that and perhaps a bit of “stubbornness “to secure your visions. You have to stay true to what you firmly believe is right for you. As an artist I have always wanted to be seen as a serious Artist. I take the profession of Artist seriously. It takes years of study, learning, even failing, to become a full fledged artist. One has to not only be creative visually, one has to be able to discuss art work in the written word as well as in assorted lecture formats. I took all of this seriously and I do take my work seriously. I like to see each painting each drawing as a development forward. My work is about advancement, discussion deep themes and expression how I viewed the work. I tend to think that there is a moral to the work. My paintings talk about the world as it is, and perhaps makes subtle comment on how it can be better. By discussion difficult subject matter, I can draw attention to where attention needs to be placed. I also create work that is visual. As conceptual as my pieces can be, I never loose site of the fact that they are intended to be seen. The plastic side of art matters. The formal issues matter. I do not like art so message laden no one can understand it. I also avoid work that is simply about being decorative. My work is about the marriage of meaning to aesthetics. Even in truth there has to be some beauty, even if it is far from conventional.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I happen to know a pet groomer who collects art. She is one nicest most fascinating people I have ever met. She has a wild collection of friends that range form entertainment, some well known names, and others more obscure. She even purchased one of my pieces. Every now and then she has parties. I remember one that was so different that it was unlike any event I had ever attended. There were singers, poets, artists, writers and cats everywhere just soaking up the entertainment. It reminded me what time may have been like in the Laurel Canyon in L.A. back when the epicenter of the music world all lived in a steep mountainous enclave close and yet away from the world. Her place is certainly a stop off point. When people are in town, and they are truly open minded, I would have my own wide assortment of people around in my home for a gathering. One time, an artist friend had visitors from Switzerland over. So I put together a gathering. There was a chief on hand creating unique creations and nude models to draw. It was a real bohemian gathering. It was just a fun filled gathering of friends from all over the world. From Barons of Business to Air Conditioner repair men, my get togethers get people together that may not otherwise meet. At one, yes, there was acapella singing. In terms of formal place, I have a deep affection for Durants. Even entering the place is unique. You walk through the kitchen to get to the actual dinning room. Part Vegas charm of past years and “Rat Pack” chic, it is a must experience place. There is not place like Durant’s. Part street fair meets art openings, the First Friday Gallery Walk is something of a must do. That is when all of Phoenix becomes one big open fair of galleries and sometimes street venders. Some of my friends and associates in art have their own gatherings and they range from hippie hang outs of the past to more sedate events filled with long conversations and interesting exchanges. Then there are the local restaurants in South Mountain. Some come in new, some have been around. But if you really desire Mexican Cuisine, there are formal places and really informal ones. They are really all over here in South Mountain.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There is no one person, but actually several who were pivotal in my development as an artist, writer and educator. As far as individuals, it comes down to my Father and Grandfather, both visual artists and my Grandmother, she was an educator and classically trained pianist. She was the first to recognize I had an interest in art and encouraged it. When it comes to actual teachers, it was Charlie Berger, the man who taught me how to draw. He was the key that opened the door to true creativity and imagination. When it comes down to institutions that had the most profound impact on my work, The Cranbrook Academy of Art stands out as the most important. It was there that I met Ruth Lampkins, an artist who would show me what a developed artist looks like and can accomplish, and Roy Slade, former President of Cranbrook. Mr Slade helped me not only find my voice, but he really gave me the courage and the encouragement to be a serious Artist. When he took me took me seriously, it removed a great deal of insecurity. The Cranbrook Academy of Art was difficulty, but I learned so much while I was there. The M.F.A. I earned from there had great value. It may have come at great cost, but it was in the end invaluable to me as an artist. It provided me with the process to be creative and be an individual.
All photos by Kurt von Behrmann 2020