“I made the town my muse,” says Rich Curtis of his home in Boston, Georgia. As a full-time art professor at Thomas University, his series, “Postcards from Nowhere” is the culmination of four years of drawing in the rural countryside. The exhibition is currently featured at the Artport Gallery through June 10.
“I would go on these long walks through town and soak in the scenery and odd things I would find,” adds Curtis of his five mile walks through Boston.
Curtis spent most of his life exploring another southern landscape in Huntsville, Alabama. Instead of eating lunch in his school cafeteria, Curtis would take his notebook out into the garden to sketch flowers and leaves. At recess he recalls breaking open rocks to marvel at the grainy formations.
When he began college, Curtis gravitated towards the art department at the University of North Alabama and found mentorship with photography professor Wayne Sides. Sides encouraged Curtis to experiment and incorporate writing with his drawings as well as delve into performance art.
“What really struck me in working with him was that there was no separation between his art making and his life,” says Curtis. “From how he prepared food to how he gardened to how he arranged his house, everything was an extension of his art making and I really embraced that idea.”
It’s a philosophy Curtis continues to instill in his own students. While attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for his master’s degree, he took that idea one step further with creating time-based, body-based performance art.
For one exhibition, Curtis donned a suit with bulbous limbs that people could tie to different parts of the gallery space. Other explorations took place on the streets of the city as Curtis reverse engineered ideas from photographs. It wasn’t until he began working as a professor at his alma mater that he returned to painting and drawing.
“I folded some of the interests I had in process-based artwork into painting and drawing,” explains Curtis.
The more performative aspects of his drawings are apparent in how Curtis sources and creates his materials. He will usually begin with stained paper that he has aged in coffee or tea baths. Living near railroad tracks in Boston has given him the opportunity to find rusty, metal objects that can create atmospheric shapes on the page when he presses them to paper.
He looks to artists like Anselm Kiefer, Mark Bradford and Robert Rauschenberg for inspiration on creating real or implied textures in his pieces. The passage of time and human activity are also evident in Curtis’ drawings.
“I’m interested in the evidence of human presence,” says Curtis. “A glass of water on the table representing someone who was sitting there or has just left, or a plowed field that shows human activity but there are no humans there. It tells a story.”
Curtis also plays with alternative inks and pigments. In one instance, an ink recipe made from flower petals would disappear or change colors as soon as it dried. Another used clay from an embankment for a landscape painting.
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