This post is going to be slightly left of center from what you’d usually expect from this little black duck, but I promise you that it will be no less fascinating that I what I’ve written about in the past.
I had the extreme pleasure of attending fellow Chicago artist Larry Cutler’s Faces on Fire gallery show and lecture at The Art House, a gallery supporting emerging artists through studio courses, professional development and exhibitions. I found it… interesting that he did not conduct the lecture based on his own work. Ginny Voedisch, an art historian for the Art Institute of Chicago, gave the lecture.
There was a method to the madness of the situation as I soon came to realize speaking with the artist after hearing someone else describe his work as he stood next to her. While, by his own admission, he was not a great public speaker, a personal conversation with him was engaging, passionate and informative.
JA: Ok, obvious question first: what is your artistic educational background? Are you formally trained? Self-taught?
LC: I’m self-taught and self-teaching. My wife is a formally trained artist, mostly mosaic and mixed media work. However, I don’t like her teaching me anything. I’m very stubborn. I have to get messy and do it myself.
JA: What is your medium of choice when creating? What is the usual scale you feel most comfortable working? Why this medium as opposed to others?
LC: I use dense drawing paper. I mean, reeves of it. Most recently, I started using cradled wood panel with acrylic, inks and gloss mediums. I like brilliant color with an ease of mark accuracy. I like that it varies when mixed with glosses, different varnishes and finishes.
JA: Why use faces as your major means of expression? What was the moment that put you on this path of exploration? I’ve noticed that you stay away from natural skin tones in your work. Is this a conscious decision? If so, why?
LC: Faces tell it all: the expressions, the soft and harsh lines. All of my doodles, my graffiti in and around the faces reflect the stressors, outside pressures, how we adjust and deal with the day to day. It seems to get harder every day with family obligations, financial stress, and general physical and mental health… It all goes on the page.
JA: Your work is reminiscent of street art. Your style takes on a very naïve view of the world, childlike in many ways. Your use of color is extremely bold, almost garish with a touch of the grotesque at moments. Who, and/or what are your influences when creating your work?
LC: People I see. People I watch and meet and speak to. For example, I met a veteran. I needed to about his trials, tribulations and experiences. It’s the same with a new face at my home away from home: Pound 4 Pound Boxing Gym. That’s my peace; drawing, sweating and just bullshitting with the guys at the gym.
JA: You have studios in Chicago and Highland Park. Does the change of environment, from urban to suburban, affect your work? If so, how?
LC: Sometimes being in different places, Israel, Las Vegas, Kansas City, Chicago, etc., give my inspiration for the pieces that I create when I get home or back to the hotel room. It could be a movie. Other times, most times, I just start with no plan and see where it goes.
JA: What is your statement on the human condition with this exploration? What would you like the viewer to experience when they look at your work? What kind of emotion or thought are you hoping to elicit from the experience?
LC: I want people to feel what I feel! Sometimes, it’s very sad and soulful. Other times, there is hope! I feel that knowing what others have been through, their life experiences, motivates me to “see the light.” My art is very emotional and every face is different in shape, color, contrast and what surrounds them.
There is a separation from the head and the body. Sometimes, I feel that I am just floating through time. It has always been very difficult for me to explain using words. My hope is that everyone will see something that strikes a cord… or, a lot of cords.
I find a common thread with everyone I speak to. I’ve been a successful salesman for 30 years. Somewhere, we connect. So, my hope is that I can have people look at my art and find that connection.
As I looked at his art with fresh eyes while we talked, I felt the connection he made with so many others. Their stories became his, woven into the tapestry of his work, their large eyes, happy, sad, demented, elated, tired and knowing speaking volumes of the lives that he touched and had touched him.
Cutler is a true man of the people, gregarious and charming. He has worked with veterans, ex-convicts, and fighters. You know, the other guy, the cats that people in “polite society” try to avoid. I found that the work was less about him and more about the people he interacts with. He becomes their voice and tells their stories through his art, through his faces. With his work, he becomes a storyteller chronicling the human condition.
We ended our conversation not with a handshake, but with a hug as if we had known each other for years. Larry Cutler is a man with a big heart and a beautiful soul. His love for humanity shines through.
And, through drawing the faces of others, he reveals his own truth…
His faces burn with the fire of life itself.
For more information about The Art House:
The Art House
3453 N Albany
Chicago, IL 60618
For more information about Larry Cutler: