Raleigh-artist Don Mertz discusses inspirations and motivations
Raleigh artist Don Mertz discusses his inspirations and motivations in creating his abstract art
1. WHAT WAS YOUR PATH TO BECOMING AN AWARD-WINNING ABSTRACT ARTIST?
It was a slow one. After a small-town Pennsylvanian childhood, I attended The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, planning to become a cartoonist or graphic artist. Soon sensing that neither choice would be the right career path, I made seemingly more practical choices.
I joined the Marines for 4 years, then Corporate America for 25 years. Living in NYC I spent countless hours in galleries and museums.
The art of Abstract Expression increasingly intrigued me and inspired me to want to create that free-wheeling style of art myself. I attended classes at The Art Students League taught by art icons, Frank O’Cain and Ronnie Landsfield.
Soon I traded my briefcase for a brush, moved to NC, and became what I always knew I
should be -- an Artist.
2. WHAT IS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE RESPONSE TO YOUR WORK?
I had just completed Marine Corps boot camp, and was assigned to the 2nd Tank Battalion at Camp Lejeune. Having enlisted fresh out of art school, I was confident that the Marines would put my artistic talents to good use. Soon I found myself standing, artwork in hand, in front of the battalion Sergeant Major.
After a cursory glance at my art he gave me some very explicit career counseling.
“We do not need any (expletive deleted) artists in this battalion. We need (expletive deleted) tankers. Now take your (expletive deleted) art and get the (expletive deleted) out of my office. Do you understand, you (expletive deleted)?
Not quite the way I envisioned my art career beginning. Or ending.
3. IN LOOKING AT YOUR PORTFOLIO WE NOTICE BEAUTIFUL, YET VERY DIFFERENT ARTISTIC STYLES. HOW HAS YOUR STYLE CHANGED OVER THE YEARS?
I experimented a lot in the beginning, trying to “find my voice”. Sharon Tharrington and Nancy McClure of ArtSource in Raleigh, saw some potential, and began representing me. They have been supportive of my sudden (and radical) shifts in style which become separate series,
A Glenwood Avenue studio course inspired The GLENWOOD series --the turning-point in my art. All my previous art had geometric elements which required measuring and taping. Not fun. Now I smeared paint, squirted water, scribbled and doodled. Painting became FUN. And The Durham Art Council gave me my first solo show.
In creating The WHITE Series, I freed myself of determining a color palette for every canvas, and only focus on line, shape and texture to create a visually satisfying composition. The final surfaces are turbulent, tactile white landscapes. Despite this visual chaos, the tranquility inherent in white created a profound and surprising sense of serenity and calm.
My latest work, The WONDER Series came about when facing a fresh canvas I wondered ….
What if I tried a brush instead of the usual pallet knife? Then I wondered…What if I put this color here? Or there? I wondered … What if I added marks? Or added drips?
Creating this series is full of WONDER …
4. CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR LATEST WORK FOR US?
Canvases in The Wonder Series have layers upon layers of brush strokes and watery drips. The colors collide ... complement ... blend ...often punctuated by marks and squiggles.
Palettes range from delicate pastels to thick bright colors. There are always quiet spaces surrounding the brushstrokes, creating compositions of shapes.
5. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY ABOUT THE PROCESS OF PAINTING?
That it’s play. I approach a canvas the way a child approaches a sandbox; eager to explore endless possibilities and experience the wonder, excitement, and joy of discovery that children feel when playing. It is a time of creative spontaneity -- free of rules and goals.
Wonder. Joy. Excitement. Freedom. That is why I paint.
6. WHAT SHOULD PEOPLE UNDERSTAND ABOUT YOUR ABSTRACT PAINTINGS?
Nothing. There is nothing to understand; no subject matter, no message, no angst being resolved.
They are all paintings of “nothing.” Non-representational art. There is no intention other than to enjoy the creating of art that I and others find aesthetically pleasing,
However “nothing” can become a powerful “something” to a viewer because it has the power to evoke an emotion … create a mood… or stir a memory. And that “something” is different for each viewer. It does not tell you what it is -- you discover what it is for you
You cannot “understand” it. But you will experience it.
7. And the ultimate question for every artist…. WHY DO YOU PAINT?
For me, painting is a challenging and satisfying passion … and a great opportunity
to smoke a good cigar, sip a great single-malt Scotch and listen to Willie Nelson.”
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