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Kurt Anderson – Artist Interview

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Today’s interview is with Kurt Anderson. He has something in common with Jackson Pollack. Both Anderson and Pollock have roots in Wyoming, and then got the hell out. I think due to the lack of startled wildlife in both of their subject matter, they sensed that an art career in the Cowboy State was out. Kurt, with this Wyoming legacy I expect big things out of you; a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art… perhaps.
I think it’s so amazing when an artist from Wyoming, or has roots in Wyoming, starts to get recognized. I ran into Kurt at NCECA and he told me that if he can he would love to come back to Wyoming. I hope it happens, we would all benefit. With that said enjoy reading Kurt’s interview.

Kurt’s email: kurtcharlesanderson@yahoo.com

You can find Kurt’s work at: AkarDesign and at The Clay Studio and his website.

 

Tell us a little about yourself!

Originally I am from Santa Rosa, California, which is an hour north of San Francisco.  When I was 20 I moved to Laramie, Wyoming, to attend the University of Wyoming.  I ended up spending 10 years there, where I finally had a “happy childhood”.  I took a pottery class at UW to fulfill a degree requirement and ended up falling in love with the process.  It’s all I’ve wanted to do since then.

I’ve had some great teachers and mentors throughout my career.  Phyllis Kloda was my first “real” ceramics teacher.  I also spent 2 years as a Post-Bac student at S.U.N.Y. New Paltz, where I worked with Mary Roehm. I also spent a year at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design working with Walter Ostrom. He was probably my biggest influence.  In 2004 I Moved to Baton Rouge to get my MFA from LSU.

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How did you become an artist?

To be honest, I’m not really comfortable with the label “Artist”.  I’m just someone who make stuff.

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How would you describe your style? One of the hardest things for artists to do is to stand apart from everyone else. How long did it take you to come up with your own style and signature look?

Matt Metz said my pots were “Manga meets Mingei”, which I thought was hilarious.  I am not really a fan of Manga, but I love Japanese folk pottery, and my drawings are definitely cartoonish.  If I were to define my style it would be “Historic Tradition meets Modern Dissonance”.

It took me a very long time to finally find my own voice, and to be honest, going to grad school was what truly helped me to galvanize all of my ideas into a unified vision.   So I’d say it took me a good ten years to finally put all the pieces together and make the work I am making now.  In the ten years before I went to Grad School I made a lot of really bad work, with the occasional bright spots.  These bright spots, along with encouragement from mentors is what kept me going.

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What is your inspiration for your pieces?

I am definitely influenced by old pots; Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Persian, Iznik.  When I’m feeling a little stuck I look at these pots for a jolt of inspiration.  I am also attracted to archetypal floral motifs, which play a large part in my surface compositions.

Finding inspiration for my drawings feels a little more like “work”.  I look at a lot of advertising logos, comics and graphic novels.  Indie-rock concert posters and street artists are also a huge inspiration to me.  I love the line quality a street artist achieves with a can of spray paint.  I strive for that same line quality in my own drawings.

There are very few contemporary potters I look at for inspiration.  Matt Metz’s pots were an early influence.  His drawings reminded me of Saul Steinberg, whom I adored as a child. It was his pots that probably inspired me to start drawing on my own pots.  Kirk Mangus was also very influential on my work, though he is much looser than I could ever hope to be.  The same could be said for Ron Meyer’s pots. Michael Simon’s and Robert Brady are so amazing I don’t even want to own their work.  It would be too daunting having that great work around,  knowing  I could never make anything that good.

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What keeps you motivated?

Motivation definitely waxes and wanes throughout the course of a year.  There are times when I absolutely DO NOT feel like making work.  I’m sure this happens to everyone.  One way to combat this is to apply to lots of shows so you have deadlines.  Deadlines are a great motivator for me.

It’s also imperative to understand that down-time is a big part of the cycle of making.  I feel that I sometimes need to withdraw from the world to solve problems in my work.  It could be that during these down-times I actually experience the most creative growth.

Walter Ostrom had a great saying about down-time.  He said:  “When fishermen can’t fish, they mend their nets.”

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Are you a full-time artist? How do you come up with your creations? Can you walk us through your creative process when dreaming up new pieces?

I have never had the fortune to be a “full-time” artist.  I have always had to have other jobs.  Right now I am fortunate to have a fellowship at Ohio State University, which pays me a stipend and gives me free studio space, firings, and most materials.  I am extremely lucky to be here.

My creative process is really quite simple.  The first step is to just throw a bunch of pots.  I make them with very little thought to what the surface will look like when they are fired.  When the pots are bone-dry (or close to it) I incise lines into the surface.  My surface work is very intuitive.  I never sit down and sketch out what a pot is going to look like.  I just start incising lines and I see where that takes me.

I have some basic design templates, which are mostly based on Sung and Ming dynasty pots.  These templates help me get started. The rest just kind of flows.

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What was it that made you want to start creating? Did something specific trigger it?

I think I was always a creative person.  I just discovered pottery when I was in the right frame of mind to really commit to this type of endeavor.  I took my first pottery class when I was 29.  Before that my life had very little purpose or meaning.

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What or who inspires you?

I’m really inspired by those in my generation who have figured out how to make a living off their work, without a teaching job or supportive spouse.  Tim Rowan is one who inspires me.  I live near him in the Hudson Valley, so I see him quite a bit.  He is a force of nature.

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How do you maintain a healthy work and life balance?

I have a dog.  Without her I would be doomed.

You, like most people enjoy the process of making and crafting and didn’t get into it for the sake of “business”. But eventually you found yourself having to make the transition from crafter to a businessperson. What have you learned so far and what advice can you give others in the same situation?

The one piece of advice I have is be realistic about your prices.  If you are just starting out, I would recommend you keep your prices on the low end.  If you find there is a market for your work, then raise your prices incrementally.  I remember having this same conversation with Josh Deweese.  He said you can always raise your prices, but you can never lower them.

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What advice can you give aspiring artists struggling to find their own voice and look?


I can tell you what NOT to do.  Don’t go to the latest issue of CM or Art and Perception, or 500 Teapots. This will only encourage you to copy your contemporaries.

Walter Ostrom always encouraged me to look at the classics for inspiration.  This is when I first discovered Tz’u-chu ware, and Shino and Oribe ware.  The first drawing I did on pots were attempts to copy these types of pottery.  So if you want to follow my template, find something old to “borrow” from, work hard at it, and eventually the work will evolve into something uniquely your own.

It is very important to know what you like, and not worry about what other people think of it.  Be honest with yourself about what truly inspires you. also, do not be motivated by the trends in ceramics.  When I first started making pots in the mid-90′s, wood-firing was the thing to do.  Now there are a lot of unused wood kilns out there.

I would also recommend that you fill up your life with good literature and music and other aspects of the visual and performing arts.  John Havlicek, the Boston Celtics star,  said that if you eat hot-dogs and hamburgers, you will play like hot-dogs and hamburgers.  I think this applies to artists as well, because if we fill up our brains with crap TV and AM radio, then this mediocrity will be reflected in our own work.

I also find that reading good literature is very helpful, especially when it comes to talking about my own work.

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Kurt, Thank you for taking the time to do the interview.  Have you considered drawing startled elk on some of your pots?

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One Response to “Kurt Anderson – Artist Interview”

  1. smartcat Says:

    Good interview. I did a workshop with Walter Ostrom at Haystack back in 1990, a peak experience that moved me in a new direction. Thanks Kurt……and Connie too.