ART: Collage artist and Boulder City art show frequenter paints with words
— Richard Curtner is no stranger to the Henderson area. The Palm Springs, California artist has been displaying in local art shows since 2007 and has become a regular at Boulder City’s annual Art in the Park.
Specializing in collage art with a metropolitan feel, his work stands out from the typically Southwestern genre seen at Art in the Park and other shows he routinely enters throughout the Southwestern United States.
Curtner doesn’t mind offering something different to these show audiences and seems to embrace the attention drawn by the unconventionality of his award-winning work.
A craving for originality was the initial force that drove Curtner to collage work in the first place.
“I did oil paintings before this,” said Curtner, “but there are so many good oil painters out there it’s just hard to stand out. I’ve always liked ‘literary art’ — the use of words in art. Even in my oil paintings I would put in a phrase or words. Then I decided to make a work completely out of words so I could add a story element to it.
“The first piece I did was pivotal. It was a woman playing a violin. It was all black and white. It was done completely using paper, and that was my transition from oils to collage.” told Curtner. “Once I did that I realized that no one else was doing this.”
Though the images he produces are simple in overall appearance, a closer look reveals a complex process. Curtner’s pictures are typically 20 to 24 square inches of strategically placed bits of paper, each printed with words that are as important to the master project as their individual colors and shapes.
The finished product typically takes about 50 hours to complete. This does not include the hours he regularly spends hunting through magazines and other publications for material to add to his palette.
“I don’t keep track of the time it takes to search for the word pieces because it is something I’m doing all the time. I go through magazines and sort colors, themes, and words into a filing system.”
An avid reader, this is a labor of love for Curtner.
“I like to read. I get sidetracked during the cutting.
“Sometimes the words will conjure an image that I want to do, or a theme. The majority of the time, though, I’ll have an image in mind and then I’ll do a rough sketch of the piece and then I’ll just start piecing it together like a puzzle.” continued Curtner. “I go through my files and start thinking about what colors I want to use, then within that color I start looking for the right words.
“If I don’t have enough of a certain material, like a certain color, then I have to go back again through the magazines and start doing my search over.”
Curtner maintains his works’ integrity by only cutting from published material and insists that he resists temptation to conveniently print his own words on colored backgrounds or fill areas in with unprinted pieces. He feels this gives his work a quality unmatched by other artists attempting the craft.
“I don’t take any shortcuts. I want to stay true to it. Nothing is tainted or altered in any form.” Curtner claimed. “My unwritten rule is every cutout that I use has to have some written text on it. I won’t use a piece if it doesn’t have words on it.
“I’m starting to see similar techniques creep up in different works, but usually others don’t use as many words as I do and a lot of times they’ll come back to me later and say ‘I wanted to try this but it was just too hard. It takes too much time.’ And they give up.
“The more detailed I get, the harder it becomes to replicate it or copy it,” Curtner explained as he pointed to a work featuring apartments in an urban setting. “Like all these little flowers here, these are all cut out as well as the planter boxes, the air conditioners and the wood slats. So, you have to really love it to keep up with it and keep doing it. And others might do one or two but then that’s it. They’re done.”
In addition to reading, Curtner enjoys classic movies and many of his pieces depict imagery reminiscent of mid-century classic films.
“I’ve had a few women cry, right there at the art show, just because the romantic pieces have moved them.” said Curtner.
“There was a piece of a guy down on his knee proposing to a girl,” the artist remembered. “It was an original I did for a guy that actually brought his girlfriend to my booth and proposed. I had a bottle of champagne ready for them and everything. I placed ‘Will you marry me?’ in big letters within the piece.”
Curtner’s originals currently sell for $1,500 to $1,800 and prints are available from $40 to $250. Pieces will be displayed for sale at Art in the Park in Boulder City October 4-5 and can also be ordered online at curtnerart.com. | iH
All images published courtesy of Curtner Art.
This article was featured on page 18 of the January 2015 issue of Inside Henderson Magazine.