Interview with Rory Kurtz
Lara Cory: I’ve read that you are mainly self-taught. Can you describe how you learned the skills you have today? Were you taught by anyone outside an academic setting?
Rory Kurtz: Well, I’ve been working at it since I was very young. I really enjoyed sitting in my room, surrounded by comic books and toys, drawing my favorite superheroes. In 1989, when I was ten, my parents bought me a drafting table, and then I really became immersed. I kept drawing into my teenage years, and taking it more seriously. I would find my weaknesses and work them until they improved. I’d learn from anything. I’d buy those bargain books on the classical masters you see at the chain bookstores, and devour them. I had tried, in my early twenties, to go the art institute route but was put off by the outrageous cost. It may very well be worth the money, but seeing as I didn’t have any, it wasn’t really a choice at all.
There’s a learning curve to deal with, when trying to instruct yourself. There are frustrations in having to find methods or solutions to challenges you only vaguely understand to begin with. And, of course, you sacrifice all the resources that institutions can put at your disposal. On the other hand, there’s a great freedom in forming your own skill, and not being influenced too greatly by an educational system that often favors a certain approach and herds their students into it.
LC: There’s a lot of truth to that. So then, what artists and art helped you to define your own style?
Rory Kurtz: That’s a list that could run on forever. As far as my style, I can’t honestly say who would be directly responsible for it. I’m inspired by turn-of-the-century artists like Beardsley, Schiele, and Lautrec as well as current masters like Yoshitaka Amano and Dave McKean. I’d say I’m equally, if not more so, influenced by film. I’m moved by directors like Gondry, Nolan, and Arnofsky, and sometimes try to translate the impressions made by their art into my own. These directors see each frame as being it’s own individual story, and compose them with a great deal of intent. I try to learn from that. I attempt to work a lot of cinematic scope into my compositions; big skies, long horizon lines, etc. I’m always reaching for a big mood.
LC: Can you explain the term “digital paint” . . . what is it, how does it work?
Rory Kurtz: Simply put, it’s work colored on the computer. Maybe about six or seven years ago I had started learning the ropes of Photoshop so I could effectively edit photography for a buddy of mine I was working with. I was blown away by its versatility. I bought books, downloaded tutorials, picked up a Wacom Tablet, and committed to it. Then I started coloring my work in Photoshop, and developing different methods to work it into something natural looking and unique. I’ve tried other software, like Corel Paint, but I felt like it was too canned and generic. Photoshop allows me to manipulate brush strokes, textures, and opacities with greater precision.
LC: And that’s what art is all about; precision. What has prompted you to begin working in real paint?
Rory Kurtz: Just the desire to have something solid, that I can hang on a wall. The digital coloring is great for assignments with tight deadlines that might require revisions, and I’ll always love the freedom to do and undo so easily on the computer. But for my work to sell in a gallery environment it needs to exist in the material world and be one of a kind. I’ve been working in acrylics, but I’ve been slow to grow while I’m caught up in illustration assignments. There’s no rush though, and I’m content to move at my own pace, in the interest of keeping the work consistent.
LC: Do you make paintings in a series or just as individual works?
Rory Kurtz: I’m usually assigned to do single images for publications, so series haven’t been necessary. As for my personal work, I wouldn’t say I do series, but I certainly revisit themes or ideas.
LC: You have such different styles between your paintings, ink and line works. What explains this diversity?
Rory Kurtz: Different subjects require a different approach. If a client wants a painting of a girl on a bike in the clouds pedaling along blissfully, that can’t help but look and feel completely different than a client who wants a piece depicting a man who’s just been gunned down in the street by a hardened criminal. Each piece needs to have a mood, whether it’s soft and dreamy or dark and visceral, and I choose the assemblage based on this. A writer doesn’t want to keep writing the same novel over and over again. Likewise, I don’t want to keep producing the same kind of illustration for every client. I’d hope that my own deeper style is still evident under all those aesthetic choices.
LC: What kind of industries have commissioned pieces from you recently? Where can we see your work in print?
Rory Kurtz: I just finished a cover for Bicycle Times that will hit bookstore shelves soon. There’ll be a piece in Fogged Clarity’s first print publication, that you can find in independent bookstores in LA, New York, Seattle, and so on in the next couple weeks. There’s also Migrate Magazine, which is the official magazine of the Loerie Awards in South Africa. I posted it all on my site, for those who can’t find copies in their market.
LC: And lastly, how does commercial illustration hinder and/or help your own artistic work?
Rory Kurtz: Well it all serves to make my work better in the long run. Any time spent in the studio producing is a good thing. Illustration deadlines can teach you a lot, such as producing work when you’re not in the mood, or feeling less than inspired. It’s taught me to push through those blocks and keep moving forward. And while some people might separate the work between commissioned illustrations and personally motivated art, I think the line can be blurry. Some of the images I’m most proud of have been for hire.
Lara Cory recently completed her first novel and she’s starting a food blog. She’s always been interested in music, writing, art, film and books. She studied Communications and Music and lives in Sydney, Australia with her husband and two small boys.