Portrait of an Artist: David Kassan

Portrait of My Mom, Roberta / By David Kassan / Oil on panel, 2010 / Collection of Robin and Michael Wilkinson
Portrait of My Mom, Roberta / By David Kassan / Oil on panel, 2010 / Collection of Robin and Michael Wilkinson

Q: Where are you from, where do you live now?

A: I’m originally from the Philadelphia area; I currently live in Brooklyn.

Q: What medium(s) do you work with?

A: Oil on panel and charcoal.

Q: Tell us about your technique/creative process.

A: My work is a way of meditation, a way of slowing down time though the careful observation of overlooked slices of my environment. I am intrigued by the subtlety of emotion in the acquaintances who inhabit my environment. My paintings strive for reality, a chance to mimic life in both scale and complexity. The viewer is given an eye-level perspective of the subject—a view that is unbiased and in its most raw condition.

It is my intent to control the medium of oil paint so that it is not part of the viewer-to-subject equation. The image stands alone, without evidence of the artist. I displace textures by moving them out of their existing context. I take the abstract forms from the streets, where they get lost, and move them into the gallery space, where they can be contemplated as accidental abstractions.

The technical aspect of my work is a means to an end—an end rooted in the viewer’s experience. I am interested in a painting’s technical and transformative powers. Turning an ordinary painting surface into a textured trompe l’oeil documentation of the city, or turning the surface into a life-sized representation of a figure in space, transmits feeling that this technical process alters the viewer’s experience.

Q: How did you learn about the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition?

A: A couple of friends and past painting/drawing professors have participated in previous Outwin Boochever Portrait exhibitions. It is an honor to follow in their footsteps.

Q: Tell us about the piece you submitted to the competition.

A: The painting that I submitted was a small life-sized painting of my mom. My parents live in Florida and don’t travel much up to NYC, so I see them maybe once a year. This painting was my way of “spending” more time with her. Because painting is very meditative for me, I tend to lose myself in thoughts about the subject.

Q: Tell us about your larger body of work.

A: Lately my work has been getting more personal and more autobiographical; I’ve been painting lots of my family members, as well as close friends. I recently had a solo exhibition here in NYC. About six months before the exhibition, I had become a studio hermit and I noticed that the paintings that I had unconsciously started were of family members that I hadn’t seen in a while and missed. Painting was my way of spending more time with those that I wanted/needed closer to me.

Painting for me is largely a therapeutic and meditative process. My paintings take me a long time to complete, and in reality they are never finished.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: I’m currently working on a painting of the painter Antonio Lopez Garcia; he has been a huge influence on me. I have so much respect for his work and approach of working perceptually and keeping his work open-ended, so much so that some of his pieces have taken him ten years to develop.

It’s so hard to fight the urge to create marketable work fast so that you can make a good living or enough of a living to be a painter. I find that the best work comes from a pure place within the artist and isn’t market-driven.

Anyway, I ventured out to Madrid to meet up with Antonio, and he posed for a quick three-hour alla prima painting. He allowed me to photograph him for a more fully developed painting that is currently on the easel.

Q: How has your work changed over time?

A: My work has changed a lot over the years; I started out being really interested in painting the city and its textures when I first moved to Brooklyn fourteen years ago. Then I became interested in painting the people who lived in the city.

Most recently I’ve been really interested in combining and juxtaposing both the formalistic textures/graffiti/broken letter forms of the city with that of life-sized living figures. It’s definitely been an evolutionary process over as my tastes become more defined.

Q: Tell us about a seminal experience you’ve had has an artist.

A: I think that my years studying at the Art Students League were tremendously helpful with my development. I was able to have serious, long time in front of the model—two weeks, sometimes three weeks, with single poses—that helped in my understanding of the technical aspects of painting that have become more and more intuitive over the years, making it possible for the more creative passionate side of my brain to take over while painting, hopefully bringing me closer to giving life to the work.

Q: Who is your favorite artist?

A: Right now, I’m really into the work of Jerome Witkin, Rembrandt, and Nicholas Uribe. My tastes change frequently.

Q: If you could work with any artist (past or present) who would it be?

A: I would love to work with the young Rembrandt; there is something so luminous and living in his work. His figures breathe.