An interview with painter extraordinaire, David Katz.
David, you quit your job as a BMW salesman to paint full time. Can you tell me how this happened, and what led you to make this decision?
I guess it started when I started painting everything in the house. And I took some adult courses at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), and it just so happened that my neighbor was Liz Osborne. She came into my house, she looked at my artwork, she immediately went to PAFA and enrolled me into their full-time certificate program, and changed my life. I owe her a lot, because I never thought I could get into an art school. I come from a blue-collar family, and you have to be real good…I don’t know.
Since childhood, I’ve always dabbled in it. Even in my business, I did all my commercial artwork, late at night I would paint the signs, and I always enjoyed the creative process.
What are your favorite subjects to paint?
I like the challenge of doing something I think I cannot do. So, give me the opportunity and something I haven’t done is the best.
The best paintings are the ones that challenge you. I make collages, and they let me paint anything. A collage can contain automobiles, or chairs, or people, and to interpret your collage on a gigantic canvas, and to fill it with color…color is very important to me. I’m not going to paint browns and blacks, I’m going to paint something that lifts your spirit.
I like to work in series, so there might be eighteen collages of chairs flying in the sky, chairs with symbolism, chairs that are upholstered, chairs that are wood, chairs that are steel…and every one has an emotion that is attached to it. They take on a life of their own.
I learned this [technique] from a teacher at PAFA: that collages are a great way to learn new skills and free your mind.
With a collage you never know what you’re going to come up with. With a collage, if you’re stuck, just throw the papers on the floor and then go and interpret it.
You seem to experiment with various styles: realism, surrealism, abstraction. What is your painter’s vision, or what you want people to get out of your art?
Life. The importance of being happy. And just a beautiful painting that expresses. If there are landscapes, then I want you to see that the trees are talking to each other, I want you to feel the air going through them.
I worked on a series, called the Fog Series, and the fog going through the trees is magic. There’s magic all around you.
Of your own work, What’s your favorite painting so far?
I think the one that is a killer painting is my giraffe painting. Again, that’s collage based, and you never know what you’re going to end up with, and at first I said, “Oh my God, a giraffe?” It has an African background, it’s larger than life. It was hanging in the cafeteria at PAFA, and the cafeteria manager said, “David, your giraffe stops traffic. We’ve never had that before.” And she thanked me for putting it in her work space.
I think my artwork attracts more non-artists than artists, because it’s not pretentious. All the guards at PAFA hugged me, they really connected to my artwork, because it is colorful, and it reaches them.
The color…there’s something about the vibrancy that they enjoy, and I don’t explain my artwork, it is just there. And I’ve always connected with the blue collar people better than the intelligent or the sophisticated.
I think a lot of my artwork has a strong sense of human humor in it. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet it’s painted in a painterly fashion, so it’s worthy of looking at.
I don’t put it out until I’ve put all my heart into it. I really put my heart into it. I work quickly, but my body goes into each painting. You’re getting me. I can’t say it enough: I don’t paint just to put on a color, I paint on a color because it goes with the other color that makes it jump out, and I won’t leave that space until I’ve really hit every level I can. It is very emotional to paint.
I’m a little color blind, and this helps me to paint, because I make it jump out a little bit more. Each color really hits you.
And I’m not saying that I oversaturate color, because sometimes you want to let that person go in and find the hidden colors. And you have to use good paint; it’s so important to find the best paint you can afford.
What does a normal day look like in the Katz studio? What is your creative process? How do you handle painters’ blocks?
Lots of music. I’ve gotta jump with the music. Classical music just takes me away. The music and the art and the art fumes, they mesh together. There’s this one classical artist, Phillippe Jaroussky, he sings like a woman, he’s an alto soprano. He’s French, and you are floating in air while listening to this music. But then, I do like also jazz, and Nina Simone, and the music of the 60s and 70s, you can’t top that. But then David goes nuts and puts on country music, because I’m blue collar at the end, and I love country music.
And I need coffee to paint. You need something to step up to the podium, because it’s nerve-wracking. It’s very scary to paint: you’ve got a white canvas (and maybe coffee’s a crutch). You’re taking so many chances. One wrong move will ruin the entire painting. Every brush or finger stroke is an adventure.
Coffee helps. I can’t be tired and paint.
What do you believe painting adds to the life of a person?
It’s simple. Put paintings up in your house. Then remove one painting. The whole house changes.
And how about in a hospital setting? How important it is to have a painting full of life!
Who are your influences?
In my mind is every teacher at PAFA when I paint. I’m not trying to conflate their egos, but many times while I was biking home, I would stop and just cry, because they didn’t stop giving 100%.
So when I paint, they’re with me in every painting. I could mention famous artists that I really love, but the teachers made me the painter, not some famous artist.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists?
You can do it! It’s simple. If I can do it, you can do it.
Snickers, or Baby Ruth?
Am I limited to those two?
You can choose another one.
Goldenbergs, they’re made in Philadelphia.
Featured painting is “Tailored Butterfly” by David Katz.