Recently, Janine Gallizia and Laurent Benoist From the French magazines L'Art de L'Aquarelle and The Art of Watercolor requested an interview. Below is the interview as it appeared and then under it, the original unedited questions and answers. I was pleased with the result and hope you enjoy it too.
Ken, I have listed the paintings that I think would be good for the article below. To avoid a standard article on your work, I would like to really put an accent on your versatility. You have a huge range of techniques, styles, concepts, colour ranges... there doesn't seem to be a limit. This is a very rare characteristic today.
I think it would be an interesting point to speak in your article about why you choose so many techniques, what qualities you find watercolour brings to your work and also if you feel that watercolour lacks capacity/it's disadvantages.
HERE IS THE PUBLISHED ARTICLE:
To purchase the entire magazine please visit: The Art of Watercolor
or L'Art de l'Aquarelle
|Here is a screenshot of the French Version|
Here are the original unedited questions and answers:
The Art of Watercolour no. 22 // Ken Goldman Questions
1. What proportion of your paintings are struggles as opposed to “smooth sailing”?
And are the paintings that gave you the biggest challenges the ones that
you enjoy most?
I would say 95% are struggles and I am suspicious of the 5% that are not. Deibenkorn once said something similar about his charcoal drawings which show an intense struggle with lots of “corrected” marks showing up as part of the finished drawings. He claimed to always worry if a drawing developed too easily. I agree!
Painting the sort of ideas that intrigue me almost always entail a challenge or I am not really interested in even starting. In fact, I think much of my motivation to work at all, comes mostly from tasking myself to try something new that I’m not sure I can accomplish. It’s bizarre! If I start to get too good at something, I feel formulaic and repetitive so I look for a new challenge. And a new challenge does not have to be something big. It could be something as simple as completely changing a color key upon discovering I’ve been in a rut of “color sameness”.
Can you give me some examples of some paintings that
were effortless and some that were more of a challenge?
Maybe some of my life sketches like the 20 minute study seem to come easier than a meticulously designed painting such as “After Fishing All Night”. But then again, when I think about it, working quickly from life doesn’t even allow that much time for thoughts about “effort”; rather, if the process of sketching quickly from life seems like some sort of right brain “effortless activity," it is because it comes from pure instinct and intuition fused with 45 years of diligent left brain study and hard work.
2. How do you think your art has evolved over the years and where do you see it
going in the future?
Artists by their nature tend to be innovators with a mentality that always challenges “traditions” and “sacred cows”. I like that mentality and share in it myself but am not too radical in my own changes because I also love and emulate traditional art. But my taste in what other artists do is very broad. I appreciate any style, expression or genre that is well done. Nowadays I think every form of art goes. I have no idea how my own art will evolve in the future but the one thing I am sure of is that I will continue to do everything in my power to become a better and more authentic artist.
And do you look back on your earlier work? Do you
sometimes even go back and touch up old paintings?
Yes, I Do look back at earlier work and occasionally rework an old piece and consider it new again. I sometimes wish I could still do today some of the things I did really well in the past. But of course, that is a sentimental illusion. An artist in the present is always self critical and I imagine I was just as critical of the works I did in the past when that time was my present. Now I have the pleasure of viewing older works as just an onlooker with the added insight to know that what I’m doing now will also soon become part of my past.
3. You have painted and drawn an extremely wide array of subjects, yet there is
a common thread that runs through all your works that somehow makes them
instantaneously recognizable. Is this what perhaps can be called your artistic
If by artistic vision and a common thread you mean attempting to be entirely authentic and conscientiously true to myself, the answer is yes. After all, as much as I may admire the vision of another artist, all I really have are my own fingerprints, my own vision and my own unique way of doing things. I enjoy seeing what other artists do and am often inspired to emulate, but at the same time, I’m always keenly aware of the dangers of “wrong use of comparison”. Comparison, used in the wrong way is a bad weed that needs to be constantly pulled or one develops too much self doubt. I do not compare myself to others in the sense of thinking what someone else is doing is better, rather I look toward my own path, my own evolution (including past work) and try to see whether techniques I admire in someone else’s work can fit into the parameters of my own vision. If they can, I will attempt to use them in my own way.
4. Do you set out with a precise idea of the final painting, or does the painting
take at some point a life of its own? In other words, what role does intuition
play in your art?
I definitely start with an idea in mind but it seldom holds for the entire process. In fact, at a certain point, I deliberately step out of the way to see if an evolving art piece might be suggesting something different from my original direction. My painting process often has as much to do with reflection while doing other activities, especially a nature activity like surfing where there is lots of quiet waiting time between waves. Sitting in the ocean is a perfect place to contemplate my next painting moves.
5. As an artist do you find that you are able to successfully translate your ideas
into a visual language that gets through to people? Is it a consideration to
Since a large part of my livelihood is dependent on creating healing murals for Children’s Hospitals, successfully communicating ideas is definitely a consideration. Doctors and care facilitators have very strict requirements about what sort of subject matter is appropriate for children.
Commissions for private clients also have a similar requirement. I try to give a client exactly what they want, not what I think they should want. But in saying this, I am also always careful to guide them into a compositional direction that I will be enthusiastic about painting as well.
6. Improving your painting of course comes with practice and more practice…
but are there one or two “tricks” you discovered along the way? Have there
been some enlightening moments when you discovered one thing or two you
knew would improve your art? If so, what were they? (Again, can you please
provide me some images)?
Yes, practice and more practice is all important, but I think it is also important to take breaks. I used to feel guilty about this but after 45 years as a professional, I now know better. Just like my earlier example of sitting in the surf to gain new ideas and insights, I will sometimes also deliberately pull myself away just as a painting seems to be going well. Then, when I come back with a refreshed retina, inevitably my new eyes see errors that eluded me before. Another “trick” is that I also use mirrors a lot because they give me the same fresh objective view I get from stepping away. Paintings such as PICTURING LAUTREC or CELL ABSORPTION are examples of the sort of paintings that could not be forced because so much of the composition only came about through reflection as the pieces evolved.
7. Your paintings on your website show a great variety of techniques: wet on wet,
wet on dry… How and when do you decide to choose each particular
Each idea requires a different solution. Using various mediums in differing ways allows me to express the idea behind each painting in a unique way. Throughout my training I’ve always been curious to learn as many techniques as possible. If knowing many techniques is similar to knowing many different languages, then I am a multi-lingual artist.
8. Please describe one of your average workdays? Do you have for instance any
special rituals before you start painting? Any music or audio books you listen
to when painting for instance.
I have always been an early riser and do much of my reading, emailing, concentrating and painting well before first light. Then I like to go surfing. Since I don’t drink coffee, this 51 year surf habit has always been a big part of my morning, pre-painting ritual. After a two or three hour surf session, I shower, eat breakfast and get right into the work day. I love to listen to Audio Books while painting. It almost seems as if the words engage my left brain (with full comprehension) while my right brain plays freely in the world of art. Many artists prefer music and I used to as well, but not anymore. Right now I’m listening to War and Peace by Tolstoy (and probably will still be listening to it when this article is published)!
9. As a painter, are you influenced or stimulated by the large number of works
you see from members of the NWS?
10. What role does creativity play in your painting overall?
If by creativity you mean having lots of seed ideas to plant, water (through hard work) and watch grow, then creativity is the force that motivates me more than any other.
11. Where does your inspiration come from?
• An attraction to certain light effects or unique compositions;
• a desire to express deeply felt emotions and ideas — either
narrative, poetic, or formal;
• an appreciation for the simple joys of painting and drawing as
exercises in skill and craftsmanship.
New ideas are everywhere. If I stay open, they continually flow
towards me from many directions including nature, people, places,
and literature. I also believe that by teaching others, I gain new
perspectives on my own work.
12. You are President of the NWS; how does the Society help artists?
We are a non-profit organization with a single purpose: To find and give the best water-media
artist in the world a chance to exhibit their work, to win awards and to gain notoriety for their artistic achievements. We do this by finding top notch jurors of selection and organizing two major exhibitions a year.
Our entire board, including myself, are all volunteers. Signature Board Members are not allowed to enter NWS exhibitions for as long as they serve on the Board, but associate members on our board are allowed to enter our exhibitions.
13. How does one become a member of the NWS? What should a European
artist do in order to become a member?
Whether from Europe, Australia, the Middle-east or Far-east it’s super easy.
Artists should just go to www.nationalwatercolorsociety.org and register on the website with an email and password.
NWS has an active support group in its Associate members. Anyone may join by paying yearly dues of $50 USD which entitles them to the same privileges as Signature Members with the exception of using the NWS initials after their name.
Associate members are entitled to:
Receive invitations to all NWS events, openings and functions.
Submit an image for the Annual Exhibition at a lower fee than non-members.
Submit an image for the Annual Member Exhibition.
Receive the NWS Newsletter, published 3–4 times per year.
Be listed in the catalog of the Annual Exhibition as an Associate member.
Receive the Annual Exhibition catalog for free.
If money is a problem, artists can also register free of charge as non paying - non-members to receive emails informing them about a Prospectus for our Annual International Exhibition as well as announcements of upcoming demos, workshops, and lectures.
14. Would you say that the aim of the NWS is to spread the awareness of
watercolour as a whole instead of promoting individual artists?
Yes, our aim is mainly to spread awareness of watercolor as a whole. But at the same time,
for individual artists, the difficult achievement of making it through our stringent jurying process is a feather in an artist’s cap which many use for self promotion. So I would say although our main activity is to spread awareness of watercolor, indirectly, we end up also promoting individual artists.
15. What are the mediums allowed in the NWS shows?
Any water-based medium (except water soluble oils) applied on paper. If a non-waterbased medium such as pencil, charcoal or pastel is used, it must comprise less than 20% of the composition.
16. Does the NWS have any links with foreign Watercolour societies?
No, we are not affiliated with any other organizations in the US or abroad.
17. Has your presidency affected in any way your approach to your own painting?
Yes, I think I’ve become a better painter because I get to see so many great originals.
Also, spending five weeks in China as an NWS ambassador was particularly inspiring because I got to see just how incredibly good the Chinese are at watercolor. Because many of these Chinese artists will enter future NWS international exhibitions, I’m sure our level of excellence will be raised even higher.
18. Do you have any upcoming exhibitions, shows, book releases, etc. you would
like us to include? (the magazine will be released early March 2016).
I am one of very few watercolorists (among many oil painters) to be juried into the California Art Club’s prestigious 105th Annual Gold Medal Exhibition, to be held April 3 to 24, 2016, at the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles.