Q & A

Kurt Wenner, Master Artist
Kurt Wenner with an original stereoscopic creation that comes to life with 3D glasses

Influences & Education

Which famous artists have
influenced you, and how?

While several famous artists have been of significant influence, such as Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, and Bernini, and Caravaggio, several lesser-known artists like Mantegna, Pontormo, Giulio Romano, Bronzino, Andrea Del Pozzo, and the Bibbiena family have been great sources of inspiration.

What has been helpful to your career that you were not taught in art school?

Without a doubt, it has been design geometry. It has been vital to my work over the years. 

Is there a common thread that runs through all of your work? 

My artwork almost always tells a story. I enjoy using themes and stories that withstand the test of time as they spark recognition across generations. I often use stories from sacred art, mythology, and music. 

Which are your five favorite
works of art?

My all-time favorite works are the Laocoön, the Parthenon, Michelangelo’s statue of Moses, Pontormo’s Deposition, and Andrea del Pozzo’s ceiling of the Gesu Nuovo, in Rome. These works are very special to me, not just because they are amazing, but because of what I learned studying them.

3D Pavement Art

Why did you invent 3D pavement art?

When I was learning how to work with pastels on the pavement, I started by copying well-known paintings. Once I got the hang of it, I began to create my own compositions. The public thought they were lesser-known paintings by famous artists and did not realize they were my invention. I felt challenged to figure out how to get the public to see my pictures were original.

I had noticed a slight 3D effect in photos of my work. I had not intended it and found it unusual. I realized that if my compositions were three-dimensional, it would be impossible to confuse them with masterpieces from the past. Once I figured out the geometry, I got started making three-dimensional images. They were so utterly different than anything ever seen before that many passers-by stopped and began talking with me about my work.

How do you begin such large paintings on the pavement?

I always use a string for my calculations. First, I mark out the anamorphic geometry and then the perspective (as the artwork will appear to a viewer). After that, I lay in the composition. The last step is coloring the work. I tend to work from top to bottom; however, this can vary depending on the composition.

Are you sad when time or the weather destroys your art?

I know my pastel on pavement images cannot remain fresh and beautiful any more than a flower can stay in that state. My years in Italy have taught me life is much more ephemeral than many of us in the West like to believe. I desire to share the artistic process with the public, to demystify art — that’s my greatest enjoyment.

Why do you make your pastels?

I initially began making my pastels to save money and have a better range of colors. Large amounts of pastels are consumed when working on rough surfaces such as a street, sidewalk, or piazza. Once I perfected the formula, I found my pastels were less dusty and more resistant to the elements. Having control over my color palette is also very important to me.

Painting, Sculpture & Architecture

How did your work as an artist lead you to architecture?

After spending many years creating paintings and decorations for large estates, clients began asking if I could create their architectural designs. 

How did you get involved in making ceramics?

My wife loves Italian ceramics and insisted on going to Deruta in Italy, where they’ve been making ceramics for centuries. She was in search of the perfect plate to hang in our home and finally found one among hundreds of plates stacked in piles on half a dozen tables. We took it to the register of the family-run store and were asked why we chose that plate. We both said, “because it is a work of art.” The shop owners then replied, “we know that, but how do you know that?” I explained I was an artist and retrieved a small book of my work from the car to show them. In the meantime, their father came in from the laboratory. They took a photo of him with the plate. We did not know at the time he was one of the very few master ceramic painters left. Fortunately, this started a life-long friendship with the family, and Francesco Sberna (sberna.com) invited me to paint with him and taught me all I needed to know about painting on ceramic. Once I knew how to do it, I was able to offer it as a service.

Is sculpting as easy as painting?

It turns out that my foundational skills, which are rooted in the classical principles, are universal and translate across all mediums. Learning to draw, which is the basis for all mediums, had been hard because I needed to acquire so many skills just to get started. Luckily, I had been working for more than a decade by the time I received a large sculpting commission. Since I could draw well, sculpting in clay felt rather similar to me. However, when I paint, it’s with oil paint, and I still find it a more challenging medium than sculpting.

Is the size of a commission ever a problem? For example, can a painting be
too large to create?

I enjoy large commissions as they allow me to spend long, uninterrupted periods on one project. Much of my work has been on a large scale, and I have always been comfortable designing that way. Size, however, does not factor into whether or not I accept a project.

Creative Process & Philosophy

What’s your favorite medium?

Paper and pencils are my favorite medium. I have always loved drawing, and it is essential to my work, I’m fortunate that I enjoy it. For me, putting a pencil to paper is part of the magical moment when ideas move from the realm of imagination to take on physical form. 

How do you feel about digital technology?

Digital tools have their use, but they do not give the same results as designing by hand. Skill with traditional techniques results in a product that is different from digitally designed artwork. I still create all my work by hand and then make digital files of it for various applications. I find designing with digital tools to be slow and limiting compared to what I can do by hand.

What does the word “talent”
mean to you?

I perceive talent as the ability to teach yourself something. It’s that which enables a person to surpass the limitations of what they are taught (or not taught) by working within themselves to learn and acquire skills.

What keeps you going during the long hours you put in creating your work?

When I am composing and designing, my studio is always silent as I don’t like distractions and prefer to concentrate solely on my work. Once I am past that stage, I enjoy listening to music by Vivaldi, Monteverdi, or Handel, as well as philosophy podcasts and audiobooks. I often spend long hours executing my work, and it’s nice to have something going on in the background to help pass the time.

Advice for Artists

What do you think the most important thing is to become an artist?

Just like all fields, don’t let others define what you can and cannot do. It’s good to set goals and attain the skills needed to enable you to bring ideas from your imagination into the world. Skills are rarely taught and very undervalued not only in the arts but in many fields. There is value in mastering how to do something, but it takes time and patience. The stronger the skill set, the better the creative results are. 

How critical are skills to
today’s art market?

Skills with digital design technology are useful, but manual skills are far more essential. Technology will change continuously over a person’s lifetime. Much of today’s technology will be obsolete within a decade (or sooner). Traditional art skills like those needed for drawing, painting, sculpture, and design are challenging to acquire and even harder to master. Yet, they provide a long-term advantage. There is a strong relationship between working tactilely with our hands and thinking. It’s through this feedback loop that we can tap into the “flow” of ideas that is hard to access otherwise. Skills open so many doors throughout our life that great value should be placed on them.

What should a student look for in an art school?

It’s essential to keep in mind that you do not learn art from a school, only from a teacher. If an art instructor cannot create and teach simultaneously, they might only be coaching and not instructing the students. Look at a teacher’s portfolio or sit in on a class and determine if they have the information and skills you wish to acquire.