Peter Kaplan

Q&A with Peter Kaplan & Gallery Director Laura Moriarty

LM: Please tell us about your art background, and how you came to work with encaustic.

PK: When I was 13 years old, my mother came into my bedroom and saw a large, dead striped bass on my desk. When she asked what I was doing, I said I was making an ink transfer print of the fish onto rice paper, as in Japanese fish prints.  After some discussion, she realized I was sane and gave the go-head to my artistic endeavors.

I made many prints of this kind before I had any formal artistic training.  I was thrown in with young people, all with artistic aspirations, at Music and Art High School, and that experience transformed my life.  After graduation, I  pursued an art career at The Cooper Union in New York where I studied painting, calligraphy, printmaking  with Wolf Kahn, Victor Candell and Will Barnett, among others.  At some point in my education I became fascinated by photography and decided that, after I graduated college, I would try to get an assistant job with well known photographers in New York City.  After my professional photography apprenticeship, I worked from 1967-1999 at my own New York City-based commercial photography business. When I visited a friend's house in the country, I was inspired to take up a paintbrush again after a long hiatus.  Suddenly I was smitten with painting and drawing as never before. I now have a small studio next to my house, where I worked in oils for nearly eight years. 

Then, I discovered encaustic painting and that was it! I have been painting with encaustic now for over four years. I love its textural and emotive potentials, and recently I began using my photographs in conjunction with encaustic paint to create a kind of hybrid imagery. Encaustic painting is perfect for me because it can be modeled, incised, made into impasto when needed, and yet be soft and transparent, too. 

LM: Where do you find ideas for your work?

PK: Most of my work is derived from nature. I generally look at the world through a geometric prism. That is, I see the shapes that nature makes and I record them in my mind for when those shapes begin to emerge into a painting. I love looking at bones and skeletons for the geometric shapes that seem to be clearly present. Yet, I am not limited to looking at just bones, I look at everything that nature presents and try to distill the shapes I see so that eventually I use them in future paintings.  I think this process of observation serves me well as I never run out of ideas from which new paintings are derived. Even though my work is primarily abstract, its foundation is always recorded from the natural world.  Many times I begin work only knowing that I want to make a series of paintings, but have only the barest outline in my head as to how it will play out within multiple panels. I let my imagination go and start painting. That is all I really need. The rest comes in time, sometimes easily, but most after many attempts and with lots of changes.

LM: What is the most indispensable item in your studio?

PK: I think the hot box that I built for the purpose of making monoprints is my most indispensable item . I use it all the time, but mostly just to try out new forms in wax that I later use in either monoprints or panels. Wax behaves differently in different situations and the hot box is ideal for testing out variations in applying wax. 

LM: What is your favorite place to look at art, and what other artists/artworks excite you?

PK: My favorite place to look at art is usually at any museum where I can arrive before crowds invade the space. I remember years ago I could go to the Met or MOMA and walk through the galleries almost alone. That was pleasure! Today, popular culture makes it almost impossible to do that. I try to be one of the first to enter so I can have a few moments of quiet. I generally like to go to smaller galleries when in New York City as that is a little more pleasurable than the big museums. Sometimes I can talk with the gallery directors which also is a plus in getting new information about the featured artist.  It is also a way to introduce myself if it is appropriate at the time. 

I have many favorite artists, but one lately who has been on my mind is Antoni Tapies. His use of color and texture are magical. I am also very fond of the futurist painters, Boccioni, Balla, Severini and Carra.

LM: What project are you working on now?

PK: I am working on a few large encaustic panels which, at the base level, are photographic, but will start to have wax added in layers so as to soften the photo and yet retain some of the forms underneath. They are geometric but have recognizable subject matter. I hope to be able to fragment the image to the point where it becomes less about the subject and more about the development of a new reality through the use of encaustic paint to give the painting extra dimension and strength.