Kurt Black: Spontaneous, Intuitive & Unthoughtful

Words: Louise Nilsson
Photos: Louise Nilsson
Kurt Black fits a very stereotypical description of an artist; denim overalls, paint splattered nails, paint stained jacket and those chunky round glasses I can’t imagine anyone would wear if they were not creatively inclined. His studio however, is less typical and I know it will make me nauseous.
It is a still and cloudy morning and the abstract artist rows the Rant team out to his floating office, Dream Catcher. It’s a 24ft sailing boat; simplistic, wholesome and just like camping on water, except it being located on the Noosa River gives it an air of luxury. Kurt tells us that today marks one month since the boat became his home.

“Before I moved here I was like ‘how am I actually going to paint here?’ And all I did was downsize everything, just go, shrink” – he makes the sound of a balloon letting out air – “I had to shrink myself you know, to fit in here. My ego had to shrink a lot. I was like, Jesus, I’m really fucked aren’t I?” Kurt jokes.

In three words Kurt describes his art as ‘spontaneous, intuitive, and unthoughtful.’

“The thought thing is very important to me. I can’t think of what I’m going to do because it’s a block to me … if I start to have a little seed of a thought saying ‘aw let’s do this, let’s paint that,’ then I just shoot it down really quickly. Boom. Execution,” he says.

As we sit down in the hull, Kurt talks a lot about his creative process and it is evident that this is where his passion lies. He is an ‘action painter’, so he uses the method of freely splashing, dropping or smearing paint onto the canvas without deliberation.

“It’s stepping into the unknown for a little bit … the mystery of creativity, I think is what intrigues me.

“The well is never empty, you know, the well is there every day. Because I do a painting a day, so it just flows out basically. You know what you’ve got to do with it.”

It takes Kurt four – five hours to complete a piece and he aims to complete one each day.

“So it’s all building up the layers underneath and it dries quite quick which is good. So you’re just layering, layering, layering and then something comes together and you start to see something and then you’re on the home run.”

Kurt painted on and off for most of his life before he finally made the commitment to begin painting full time 11 years ago. In earlier years, Kurt says he used to paint landscapes but now his style has evolved to abstract, representational expressionism. There is a real rawness and depth to his pieces, which he achieves through thick layers of acrylic. Each painting begs the viewer to feel emotion and often the piece constructs an image in the viewers mind which may be different for each individual.

Kurt lists off his mediums: oil paints, oil pastels, pencils, colouring crayons, charcoal, markers, spray paint but mostly acrylic paints. He reveals he is quite thrifty with his use of materials. He shows us an empty wine box which he has painted on one side and mentions he sometimes paints with nail polish.

“I don’t want to advertise it too much but yeah. I’m in love with it. The pharmacies know me very well,” he laughs.

“I use anything I can get my hands on, you know … I can use anything and I do.”

As Kurt is process driven he says it is hard to pinpoint what influences his work.

“The translation of coming from inside, interpreting something outside. I think that’s my thing. It comes from the guts … I’m not painting something as I can see, really, it’s more what lies behind that. The feeling of it, the mood, something like that. Yeah, ephemeralness of things.”

The beauty of action painting is that there is no need to plan, the process is all about improvisation and the artist never knows where it will take them. Kurt says that without making the conscious decision to, he has moved away from complete abstract pieces and begun to focus on figurative works.

“I try and capture people, not perfect but there’s representation; colour fields of people, different moods and different situations. That’s just how I see people I guess

“People are endless you know, they’re fascinating, what they give out and what I see.”

Kurt’s activities on an average day may include surfing, taking the boat for a cruise, regular boat maintenance or venturing onto dry land for water, coffee and food but it always includes painting.

“I like that spontaneous capture, you know, in one day. You have got to be there for it. You have got to be there and offer yourself to this ritual. That’s how I see it.”

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“I think what I try to capture is atmosphere, a sort of ambience of the interpretation of something, which might be a person or even a landscape, you know, it’s more the feeling of it that I try to capture, you know the experience of it.