Will Kurtz Creates Life-Like Sculptures Entirely From Newspaper
Will Kurtz is an American artist who found his calling and moved cities to study art at the age of 50. His intricate, figurative sculptures are made entirely of newspaper. With every hair and eyelid perfectly represented through folds of stories past, his characters seem to come alive on the gallery floor. We caught up with Kurtz for an insight into his journey and process.
Have you always created art?
In high school I wanted to be a veterinarian but didn’t make it into vet school, so I chose a career as a landscape architect. I only started making art in my mid thirties. I remember driving to an alabaster quarry and loading up my van with huge chunks of stone and then carving them into torsos, selling them at local art fairs.
I made huge cardboard structures for winter festivals where we would race them down the ski hills in Michigan. I made things like an elaborate gingerbread house, a giant fish, a mermaid, a giant head, and Santa Claus. I think these sculptures relate more to my work than anything else I have made.
Eventually after many years of working as a landscape architect, I felt the need to be a full time artist and moved to New York City at the age of 50 to study at the New York Academy of Art. After that I was picked up by a gallery and have had several solo shows in Chelsea.
What inspired you to use newspaper to sculpt with?
Before using newspaper I tried many different materials. I tried carving stone and wood, sculpting with plaster, with clay, making moulds and carving styrofoam. I painted huge erotic paintings with oil paints. I did hours of life drawing.
I wanted to make a life size sculpture of my mother and didn’t want to go through the whole process of making a mould and casting it. I knew when I constructed the sculpture of her, that I had finally found my material. It was fast and raw, and had just the right amount of detail and energy that I was looking for. I also loved using all of the imagery and text of the newspaper as a surface collage. I basically use the sculpture as a three dimensional canvas for my collages.
Can you walk us through the process of creating one of your sculptures, from idea to realization?
I start by walking around New York and taking candid photos of people. I usually choose someone who evoked an emotional response in me. It could be someone who reminds me of a relative or someone who is an interesting character who seems to have lived a full life.
After taking photos, I make a wood and wire armature that has the whole feeling of the piece, but is only a stick figure. I then build up the figure with newspaper and tape. For the human figures I make them naked and then make the clothes out of newspaper. I leave nothing undone. I make everything from eyeballs to eyelids to the soles of the shoes. I then apply the collage with a hot glue gun from my bins full of different images. I decided to use only collage and no paint. I like the purity and honesty of only using newspaper. At a certain point while making them, they seem to come alive and have a life of their own.
I sometimes have a studio full of figures and they still startle me, I often feel like someone else is there with me.
What are some of the challenges that arise?
With every sculpture I go through a frustration stage when the sculpture looks like sh**. I know when I get to this stage that if I just push a little harder, it will come to life. I also get frustrated picking my subjects. Sometimes I feel like I need a huge idea where all my sculptures would be of a theme. This tends to block me from getting started because it overwhelms me to commit to so much time if I am not sure of a theme. It’s best just to make one piece at a time because in the end all of my pieces relate to each other.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
To be myself, to be playful and not to worry about making something that you think will sell. It’s so important to remember what it felt like to make something for the sheer pleasure of creating. I had this when I was making the sled sculptures in Michigan. I didn’t make them for a gallery, but they certainly could have gone in a gallery. This feeling of pleasure and fun and unbridled creativity shows through and is attractive to people.
I always want to make work that not only appeals to serious collectors but also to the average person who never goes to a gallery or museum. I know I am on the right track when the metal workers from down the hall in my building stop in and love my sculptures.
What topics or issues interest you? What do you like to explore and communicate with your work?
My work is about us all being connected as human beings no matter where we are or how much money we have. Life effects us all in different ways and some of us have more struggles or more joys than others. You can see it on people’s faces. There are days when I feel very connected with everyone, as if we are all one. This is when I forget my own problems and can focus on what is around me. I sometimes get chills or even tears in my eyes not out of sadness but out of true empathy for people.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
People inspire me. I find life to be humorous and absurd. I love New York with all the mix of cultures and all the different types of people and clothing styles. I get inspiration walking around and riding the subways. I am never disappointed. I hope I never lose this sense of awe.
Check out more of Will’s work at www.willkurtz.com