USC Shoah Foundation – David Kassan – The Edut Project

USC Shoah Foundation – David Kassan – The Edut Project Glance at one of David Kassan’s artworks depicting Holocaust survivors Samuel Goldofsky or Elsa Ross and you might assume it’s a photograph. But look closer and the piece comes to life as an intricately detailed and stunningly realistic oil painting. Kassan and his two partners,… Continue Reading »

USC Shoah Foundation – David Kassan – The Edut Project

USC Shoah Foundation – David Kassan – The Edut Project

Glance at one of David Kassan’s artworks depicting Holocaust survivors Samuel Goldofsky or Elsa Ross and you might assume it’s a photograph. But look closer and the piece comes to life as an intricately detailed and stunningly realistic oil painting.

Kassan and his two partners, journalist Dan Maccarone and filmmaker Chloe Lee, have formed The Edut Project to capture and tell Holocaust survivors’ stories through Kassan’s paintings as well as written profiles and short films. So far, Kassan has painted four survivors – Goldofksy, Ross, and twin sisters Roslyn Goldofksy and Bella Sztul – and all except for Sztul recorded their testimonies for the Visual History Archive.

The Edut Project’s goal is to create a website that will display the paintings as well as the written and multimedia aspects of each survivor’s story, and also open a multimedia gallery exhibition. They hope to raise $450,000 to fund 17 more paintings and accompanying elements, plus the exhibition and a book.

Kassan developed his realist painting style after graduating with a BFA from Syracuse University, learning from masters of realism including Harvey Dinnerstein and Burton Silverman. Kassan said he started out painting his family members and friends – not for commissions, but simply as a way to get to know his subjects better. He paints from life, but also from photographs if his subjects aren’t able to pose for a long time.

“Painting was an excuse to get to know people’s stories and spend time with them,” Kassan said. “You’re learning about someone through their face.”

It has taken him anywhere from two months to two years to finish his life-size paintings, Kassan said.

Kassan first got the idea to paint Holocaust survivors from a student of his while he was teaching art in Tel Aviv. She mentioned that her mother-in-law was a Holocaust survivor, and Kassan immediately wanted to paint her. Though the woman ultimately declined to be painted, the idea to paint Holocaust survivors was planted.

Kassan had personal reasons to focus on Holocaust survivors as well. His grandfather escaped ethnic cleansing in Romania, and through painting other survivors, Kassan feels he is meeting him and learning more about what he went through.

Kassan, Maccarone and Lee have so far found their subjects through word of mouth but are hoping to find more who would like to participate.

While many survivors have already told their stories on video (as in the Visual History Archive) or in memoirs, Kassan believes painting offers viewers a different kind of connection to the survivors, one that puts a personal face to the sometimes abstract idea of the Holocaust.

“It’s handmade, raw, life size and it speaks what the survivor went through, and the hard work in their lives after the atrocities,” he said. “We wear our lives on our faces and our skin. [The painting] shows the pathos of the sitter and what they’re going through. It forms a connection with the audience.”

Philadelphia Daily News – June 26, 2015

To life: S. Jersey native is finding his roots through art BROOKLYN, N.Y. – A woman sits between two easels in David Kassan’s studio, her bony dancer’s feet dangling above the hardwood floor, and she’s content to simply listen as her nephew tries to demystify what he does with a paintbrush. Kassan, 38, doesn’t consider himself… Continue Reading »

Philadelphia Daily News – June 26, 2015

To life: S. Jersey native is finding his roots through art

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – A woman sits between two easels in David Kassan’s studio, her bony dancer’s feet dangling above the hardwood floor, and she’s content to simply listen as her nephew tries to demystify what he does with a paintbrush.

Kassan, 38, doesn’t consider himself a “photorealist” just because his paintings bear an uncanny resemblance to their subjects, he says. His portraits, life-size and often full-body, have a three-dimensional quality that makes one imagine that his aunt, Dale Katzen, visiting on this weekday afternoon last month, will emerge from the canvas at any moment and walk across the room.

“My goal is to make them as living as possible,” Kassan explains.

Kassan, who grew up in Medford, Burlington County, N.J., is a huge Philadelphia Eagles fan and has fond memories of his years at Shawnee High School before he left for Syracuse University. As a teen, he spent hours roaming the halls of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where he was inspired by Marc Chagall’s “Half-Past Three (The Poet).”

 Lately Kassan has turned his artistic focus to the few remaining survivors of the Holocaust. He says these aging subjects have helped draw him closer to his Jewish heritage.

He calls it the “EDUT (Hebrew for testimony) Project: Living Witnesses, Survivors of the Holocaust.” His first portrait, of Auschwitz survivor Sam Goldofsky, is on display in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

“My sister was killed in Auschwitz when she was 18 years old,” Goldofsky says in a video that Kassan created for the project. “My mother, father, the same way.”

For Kassan, life in the South Jersey suburbs didn’t include organized religion, but he remembered the stories about his grandfather having to hide in a well as a boy when the Cossacks were out for ethnic cleansing on the border between Romania and Ukraine. During a trip to Tel Aviv, Kassan had the Hebrew word for “roots” tattooed on his forearm.

“It’s ironic, because in the Jewish religion you can’t get a tattoo. I kind of like the irony,” he says, holding up his forearm. “I don’t really know much about my Jewish heritage, but ethnically I feel Jewish.”

A portrait of sisters Bella Sztul and Roslyn Goldofsky, whose mother hid them from the Nazis with the help of Catholic families, stands on one of the easels in Kassan’s studio.

The piece looks about 65 percent done to the untrained eye, but Kassan never counts the hours and doesn’t care how long it will take to complete. He says the Holocaust paintings could take up to a decade to complete, possibly longer. Paintings, he says, quoting a phrase he’s heard before, are abandoned, not finished, by the artist.

“I have friends who will do like a zillion paintings a year and I’ll do three, if that,” he says.

It’s easy to see why Kassan’s paintings take so long. He uses mirror-like canvases to add “luminosity” to the paintings, he says, and they have to be prepared by hand. He often tries to make his own paint. The videos he’s made show the intricate details he focuses on – barely visible veins or wrinkles – and it looks as if it could take a month to paint one eyeball alone.

“I don’t care about the time at all,” he says. “It’s about exploring who they are. If it takes 200 hours, that’s awesome. It’s like reading a good book you don’t want to end. I suffer a lot for that, I guess.”

Gallery Henoch, in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, has been selling Kassan’s paintings for more than a decade, and assistant director Andrew Liss says the time Kassan puts into each piece makes it more valuable.

“He’s not following a gridded path,” Liss says. “He’s following a conversation, getting to know someone over a period of time.”

Steven Kassan, David’s father, said he saw the gift in his son early and has marveled at it ever since. Both he and his wife, Roberta Kassan, have been painted by their son.

“He keeps improving. You think, ‘How can anyone paint any better than this?’ and he does,” said Steven Kassan, who is retired from the Air Force, by phone from Ocala, Fla. “You can see into the minds of the people he paints and know how they’re feeling.”

David Kassan is currently in Rome, teaching art classes, and later this summer he’ll have a monthlong residency at Dublin’s Royal Hibernian Academy. His son, Lucas, 9, lives with him in Brooklyn. He also has a nonprofit that kicks some funds toward aspiring artists and musicians, and he has designed a painter’s palette that became a staff pick on

Success has brought him to a point that any artist could envy, where he “doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to do,” he says, including take commissioned jobs for people who can afford them.

“I don’t paint them for people’s living rooms,” he says. “I want them to be on public view. I want them to be in museums.”

The Times of London – BP Portrait Prize review

What is the point of painting a portrait? We live in a photographic age. So, if you want to record a likeness, won’t a snap serve instead? But for thousands of artists, sitters and spectators alike, the painted portrait seems to remain relevant, as the National Portrait Gallery’s annual competition, now in its 35th year,… Continue Reading »

The Times of London – BP Portrait Prize review

What is the point of painting a portrait? We live in a photographic age. So, if you want to record a likeness, won’t a snap serve instead? But for thousands of artists, sitters and spectators alike, the painted portrait seems to remain relevant, as the National Portrait Gallery’s annual competition, now in its 35th year, continues to prove.
The 55 paintings on show to the public were selected from a record number of more than 2,300 entries.
What they present, on the face of it, is a cross-section of contemporary society. This is an exhibition that fulfills a historical function. It captures not only a handful of well-known faces — this year Timothy Spall, who plays JMW Turner in the newly released film, and the poet Simon Armitage are among the better-known sitters — but also the looks and styles of their times.
The NPG exhibition introduces us to everyone from the elderly father in his red leather armchair, to the woman who sits meditatively upon the loo. It runs a gamut of possible styles: photorealistic close-ups, Sargentesque swagger portraits, faux-naive replicas and splashy expressionistic works.
In fact, it feels rather too strongly like a “one-of-each” hang and occasionally — as in the case of a woman seen only from the back — it pushes definitions of the genre to their limit.

There are three shortlisted contenders for the £35,000 prize.

Thomas Ganter, painting a homeless man slumped against a chain-link fence, pays homage (not least in its gilded background) to medieval forbears. Richard Twose found himself struck by a sternly gaunt old woman with an edgy haircut and asked her to sit. She turned out to be the former model Jean Woods. David Jon Kassan presents us with his mother, a reluctant poser, apparently, since she keeps her eyes shut.

The winner will be announced today. But I would give the prize to the last of these three. Kassan gets to the heart of why this annual show proves so popular. The sense of relationship is what the painted portrait can still forge. The slow process of creation becomes as essential as the finished product.

The BP Portrait Award is at the National Portrait Gallery from June 26 to September 21


Art News – Reviews: New York

David Kassan – Solitudes, Gallery Henoch In this splendid show, David Kassan’s realist – not photorealist – portraits (all 2013), including nine paintings, eight studies, and numerous drawings, captured and portrayed him, his family, and friends, as multidimensional characters. Set against gold or gray abstract backgrounds that often resemble street graffiti, his characters reveal themselves… Continue Reading »

Art News – Reviews: New York

David Kassan – Solitudes, Gallery Henoch

In this splendid show, David Kassan’s realist – not photorealist – portraits (all 2013), including nine paintings, eight studies, and numerous drawings, captured and portrayed him, his family, and friends, as multidimensional characters. Set against gold or gray abstract backgrounds that often resemble street graffiti, his characters reveal themselves through their postures and facial expressions. Kassan observes his subjects, without passing judgment.

In Epilogue, a young woman floats against a gray background littered with large letters that don’t spell recognizable words. She wears a gray slip and looks troubled. She turns her face away from us and holds her shoulders back; her bony knees touch. She almost looks pinned against thebackground, like an insect in a scientific display. As with all Kassan’s individuals, she is not simply thoughtful, but is consumed by her thoughts. The painting A Letter to My Mom shows an older woman, with long curly red hair, standing with her heavily veined handsclasped. She wears a dark V-neck sweater and jeans. Her eyes are closed and downcast, her face wrinkled. Running above her head are the words in Hebrew that read, “This painting is my way to spend more time with you” The father in Portrait of My Dad appears less touched by sadness; his gaze kindly.

Kassan’s charcoal studies have an entirely different kind of intensity. Self Portrait Study is stark. Kassan looks straight ahead with dark circles under his eyes, a full expressionless mouth and deeply shaded cheeks.

For this moving show, Kassan created the substance of a novel without words.

-Valerie Gladstone

Artists on Art – On Painting Antonio Lopez Garcia

It is November 27, 2012. I’m in Antonio López García’s studio in Madrid, Spain, and the master himself stands before me, remarkably, as my model. My brush is tentatively placing little spots of color onto the painting surface. I’m pleased with myself. Not with the painting, but with the fact that I didn’t actually drop… Continue Reading »

Artists on Art – On Painting Antonio Lopez Garcia

It is November 27, 2012. I’m in Antonio López García’s studio in Madrid, Spain, and the master himself stands before me, remarkably, as my model. My brush is tentatively placing little spots of color onto the painting surface. I’m pleased with myself. Not with the painting, but with the fact that I didn’t actually drop too many paint tubes as I clumsily added them to my palette. I’m feeling a little rushed and I’m afraid to ask him to hold still. I have so much respect for this artist, and he is looking directly at me with the same intensity that he brings to his work. I’m confused about what I should say to him. Usually I talk a lot to my models, but my brain is frozen right now. I’m grasping for a better understanding of him, not only for the painting’s sake, but also for what I can learn about him in this short time.

From the start, I know that this quick alla prima painting doesn’t need to be good. It is just for me, no one else. I want to remember this moment for as long as I can—to turn this fleeting moment into a concrete memory, an experience that will stay with me. I have a very deliberate way of working, focusing on only what is in front of me.


About ten minutes into the painting session, Antonio says something loudly in Spanish and laughter fills the studio. I naturally smile even though I have no idea what was said. My good friend and translator Borja turns to me with a smile and says, “Antonio is fascinated with the strange shape of your ear.”

When Artists on Art asked me to do an article, I thought it would be the perfect publication to write about my experiences meeting and painting Antonio López García. Over the past couple of years a number of people have asked me how I was able to meet him and what he was like, as well as a number of other questions. It’s an experience that has always been really hard for me to summarize, because the story unfolded over a few years and only happened because of pure luck and the generosity of friendship.

It all started strangely enough with an email I received in 2006, from Borja, an aspiring artist in Europe.

Bonafuente Gonzalo,

Amazing. I have no more words. Amazing. That ́s what I want to learn to do. Do you accept students in your studio?
I ́m from Europe but I will be in New York for 3 months from november to january. May I visit your studio please?
Just to see it or something, I don ́t want to disturb any of you. It ́s really amazing your paintings.

Thank you for your time. Borja

Fortunately, I get emails like this on a somewhat regular basis. They are incredible, especially for an artist who is pretty much a hermit when I’m in my studio, with all of the weaknesses and insecurities in my work that I’m struggling to overcome.

So many folks that you come across in life (family, friends, strangers) don’t understand what it is that we do, or how hard we work. They think it’s a hobby or they’re waiting for you to grow up and get a typical job. It is not their fault that they don’t understand the passion that we have as artists. As a result, I’ve really come to cherish and appreciate every kind word that is thrown in my direction.

Back in 2006 when Borja was visiting New York City, I had my studio in my home and had just welcomed a new addition to my family—a four-month-old baby named Lucas. I wasn’t really into having studio visits with strangers. I suggested over email that we meet at an exhibition opening or maybe a museum. A week or so after he arrived in New York, we met up at one of the Salmagundi Club shows and hit it off right away. He was super serious about painting and was really chill.

At this time I had the great fortune to teach once a week at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine’s sculpture studio. The Cathedral is a huge gothic structure up near Columbia University on 116th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Few people know that there is a huge art studio with thirty-foot- high ceilings in the cathedral’s crypt. The space is the working studio of artist Greg Wyatt. The studio was funded and run by a foundation, and they hired me to teach a drawing class there once a week. At that time, I was really hungry for teaching jobs, especially with the new addition to the family. I was struggling to make ends meet and desperately trying to keep my painting career alive. I jumped at the chance to teach, even though it didn’t pay very well, and was a two-hour commute in each direction. I had to hire a sitter for an hour each class to watch my son, but the models for the class were all paid for, and the best part of the job was that the students could attend for free!

Once I saw how cool Borja was, I immediately asked him to join the drawing class. Over the next few months, we hung out a little together and I even had him pose for a drawing, which ended up on the cover of the Australian magazine EMPTY. We used to joke around, saying that you know it’s a small world when a Spaniard is drawn by an American and the drawing ends up on the cover of an Australian magazine.

Fast forward to July of 2009. I had received an invitation to teach in Faro, Portugal, where I had taught the previous year and fallen in love with the city, which is located right on the southwestern coast of the Iberian peninsula, in an area called the Algarve. Since I was already going to be in that part of Europe, I figured that it would be easy to first fly into Madrid and then train down to Seville and grab a ride over to the Algarve region. Faro was only a two hour car ride west from Seville, and the year before my buddy Nuno, who lived in Faro, said that the Portuguese in the Algarve regularly drove over to Seville to shop at the Ikea.

Having never visited Madrid as an adult, I planned for an extra five days to visit Borja, who was now living in Madrid. The last time I was there I was only three years old, but I’ve held on to the strangest fondness and memories of my trip there. They are almost like vague dreams.

My father was in the air force for 22 years, and in the late 70s and early 80s we were stationed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. While we lived there, my parents’ goal was to see as much of Europe as they could. They would pack my two older brothers and me into a compact green Renault for long road trips to other countries, one of which was Spain. It is funny the things that stick in a kid’s head, but we happened to be there at Easter time and I participated in an Easter egg hunt, right outside of Madrid. I won a huge Tonka truck—well, at least it was huge to a three-year-old. It was so large in fact that we had to strap it to roof of the car. So since I was three, I’ve always loved Spain—the land of enormous free toys, and it goes without saying that by default, I was super-psyched to drop in on Spain again.

I arrived early in the morning, since it is my practice to take redeye flights so I can sleep on the plane and wake up the next morning in the country I’m visiting. This helps me to not waste a day of my trip and keeps me from getting jet lag, because my body is immediately synchronized with the local time. Borja was immensely hospitable when I arrived, even picking me up at the airport and driving me to his apartment right off the Grand Via. He stayed at his girlfriend’s place for the week, so I had full use of his place during my visit.

Gran Via, Antonio López García, 90.5 x 93.5 cm, Oil on board

Ropa en Remojo, Antonio López García 80.5 x 74 cm, Oil on board

As we drove to Borja’s apartment from the airport, he turned to me and said that the area through which we were then driving was where Antonio López García lived. The next time I was in Madrid he said we would meet him, then he laughed and said, “We would track him down, that we will do it, that you will meet him one day.” I just smiled. Being in Spain at that moment was overwhelming enough for me; I just said “Yeah!”

I had no real mission for this short five-day trip, just wanted to have fun, catch up with Borja, get to know the city, see some amazing artwork, and track down some books on Antonio López García. I guess that’s a lot. Oh, and one of the guidebooks recommended Oreja de Cerdo tapas—roasted pig ears. (But after taking one bite, I don’t recommend it.)

Borja’s apartment was close to everything, in the heart of the city and walking distance to the major museums including Prado, Reina Sofia, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, and Sorollo’s house, as well as being close to the Plaza Del Sol and Mayor.

On the second day of my trip, Borja and I visited the Cuesta de Moyano, a street that has about two dozen open-air used book dealer stalls. It is very near Retiro Park and the Atocha train station. We scoured each bookstall in search of hard-to- find books on Antonio López García. Back home in Brooklyn, López García books are rare. We came away with a few treasures including one of the first publications of his work from the 70s and a small blue book that he had written called En Torno a Mi trabajo como pintor (About My Work as a Painter).

We were also able to buy some Cuban cigars for my buddies back home. Spain subsidizes the Cuban market, so the Spanish get the cigars for the same price as in Cuba. I’ve since made it a tradition to visit the same tobacco shop near Plaza Mayer on each of my visits to Madrid, even though I don’t smoke cigars anymore.

The next day we visited the Antonio López García Room at the Reina Sofia Museum, an amazing contemporary museum that is across the street from the Prado. Picasso’s Guernica is on view there, and in real life it is truly majestic.

Ventana al Atardece, Antonio López García 141 x 124 cm, Oil on board

I got up early on the second-to-last day of my trip so that I could draw at the Prado. I quickly got lost in all of the Ribera paintings. I love how he creates volume, and I’ve been trying to incorporate my study of him into the work I’m trying to create. His style is close to how I approach painting form.

After a full day of sketching, I received a call from Borja, asking if I could meet up with him. He said that a friend of his—an art rep and collector—had seen my work and asked to meet me. Borja had said that his friend was also one of Antonio’s collectors and that she had a few of his pieces. Unfortunately, the woman had limited availability that week, and could only meet that day. Borja said that he would arrive in a half hour to pick me up in front of the museum.

After drawing all day, I was a sweaty gross mess, and I asked Borja if we could swing by the apartment so that I could clean up and put on a button-down shirt. I wanted to look at least a little bit presentable. Borja said it was more important to be on time, rather than well dressed, and that we were already running a little late—there just wasn’t time. When I came out of the museum Borja and Jorge were already there. I jumped into the backseat and we were off!

We drove to the outskirts of the city to a more residential area of town that looked familiar to me, although I couldn’t quite figure out why. I was still a little out of sorts, having been overwhelmed by my first full day of drawing at the Prado, and bowled over by so many inspiring works of art. I was also increasingly curious about this art rep-collector that I was to meet shortly.

As we drove down one of the main streets, Borja turned back to me. “Remember,” he said, “when I picked you up from the airport and I said that we were close to Antonio’s neighborhood? Well, right there is his street.” I replied, “Could we please just drive by his house quickly, so I could at least say that I had been there?” “Maybe on the way home,” he said.

About two minutes later we made a left-hand turn onto a quiet residential street. We parked and got out. The homes on the street were all gated with high walls. The “doorbell” was a box sort of contraption that had a call button and a keypad. Borja walked up and buzzed, and the box came alive with a crackle and the voice from the other end that spoke in rapid fire Spanish. I only caught “hola.” The look on Borja’s face was a little distraught and confused as he responded. Were we too late? After a few minutes of quick incomprehensible conversation the door buzzed open.

The wall protected a little front yard with a humble two-story home in the middle. I had strange feeling walking through the doorway, a real sense of déjà vu. Had I been here before? On the front steps was an older woman in a simple grey house dress. Again I couldn’t help feeling I had seen her before. Was this the art collector’s maid? Was she the woman I was there to meet with? The front yard garden was full of an assortment of fruit trees and plants, and among the foliage was a number of small marble baby heads. They were obviously Antonio López García’s work. I had only seen the colossal version of the baby head during his exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston a few years before. Borja had mentioned that this woman was a collector of Garcia’s work, so I thought nothing of it.

We walked up the front steps and followed the woman inside. We stopped in the living room and on the mantle was another López Garcia sculpture, a portrait bust. The walls were covered with some amazing landscape painting studies that looked like they were the seeds of some much larger ideas. Borja was once again in an intense conversation with the woman in the humble grey dress. I was really confused at this moment, partially exhausted from the full day of drawing, and my brain was tired of trying to follow the context of every Spanish language conversation of the last few days. I took Spanish in high school, so I would pick up every fourth or fifth word, just enough to kind of understand what was going on, but at this time in my trip, my brain surrendered and just shut down. I was in a fog of confusion, feeling like I had been there before and wondering if this was the art collector we were there to meet, or if we had missed the appointment.

I vividly remember the worried look on Borja’s face and how it suddenly changed as he nodded his head up and down in understanding. Borja just turned to me with a big smile on his face and proclaimed “We did it, you are here!” “I’m where?” I replied. “You are in Antonio’s home!”

For a split second I was in complete disbelief. Then it was as if my fog of confusion just completely dissipated and the world came into sharp focus, everything made sense. The woman in the humble grey dress was clearly Antonio’s wife. I had seen her in paintings, and the portrait bust and sculptures in the garden were also familiar to me. I had been here before, through Antonio’s work. Also the source of Borja’s worry was revealed, “But Antonio isn’t here, he is at the studio. We will go there, now.”

The studio was only a short walk from the house. We walked out to the car and grabbed my backpack, camera and video camera. Borja had grabbed the books that we had bought a few days prior, and brought them along when Jorge and he had picked me up at the museum, so we could get Antonio to sign them.

We headed up the street towards Antonio’s studio. As Jorge, Borja and myself walked giddily up the slight incline, I could make out the vague outline of a man waiting for us in the middle of the street. Antonio was wearing a white smock decorated with plaster and paint smears. Under the smock were a t-shirt and shorts. We introduced ourselves and he introduced himself as if we didn’t know who he was. He ushered us into a nearby building where his studio was on the ground floor.

The studio was lit by skylight, and looked as if it had been an apartment in a previous life. The natural light was beautiful. There was a model stand in the middle of the room and what had looked like little landscape painting projects and sculpture projects scattered around the room. We followed him into the naturally lit kitchen of the studio. He gave us chairs and we settled down to hang out with one of the most respected representational painters alive.

The walls of Antonio’s studio were a hodgepodge of newspaper clippings, intricately gridded-out drawing studies, torn-out images from art books or magazines of Greek statutes and modern paintings, a compositional study of a painting that he was working on in the royal palace, a portrait of the royal family of Spain, and some images of his own work that he was laying out for a book project. Like a kitten in a room full of balls of yarn, these were just a few of the interesting things that were attracting my attention.

Antonio doesn’t speak any English and I don’t speak much of Spanish, and the only phrase I remember from high school was to ask if I could use the bathroom. I used it to get out of class to wander the halls. I’m guessing that Antonio did the same thing while in his high school English classes. I was extremely fortunate to have Borja and Jorge there to translate. It was also helpful that they are both extremely talented artists and had questions of their own. Antonio was also very gracious and allowed me to film the entire visit. Again, fortunately, I had my video camera in my backpack with a fully charged battery and plenty of memory storage so that I could capture and translate the entire two-hour conversation. About a third of the way into our time there, one of Antonio’s friends stopped by the studio, a young guy in his 30s, named Eduardo. He has known Antonio for 20 years. He grew up in the neighborhood, and also spoke very good English, having lived in America for a little while working for a few international tech companies. We all got along right away and the more translators in the room the better. Unfortunately, I know that I probably only really understood half the conversation that happened that day.

Antonio was very earnest and steadfast in his opinions, in some ways stubborn. One discussion was with Jorge, who had started a painting of a mechanical box in the underground that inspired him. Because the space between the box and the tracks was only about three feet, he decided to work from a photograph of the box in his studio, rather than compete with all of the people getting on and off the trains while he painted. López García was really against this idea; he said that if the subject could not be painted from life then the subject was out of the realization of the artist and shouldn’t be painted. Both arguments were passionately debated, as you would no doubt expect in Spain. My own opinion falls somewhere in the middle. I now use photographs to paint from all of the time. When I was in school, on the other hand, I used to paint only from life, but I ultimately found this style limiting in subject matter and scale—not to mention it was wicked expensive. I strive now for a hybrid approach. I paint as much as I can from the live subject, and I’m always looking to the photo reference as if it were a living person, so there is a lot of editing that goes on beyond the photo.

What I was struck with the most on this visit was Antonio’s courage. He doesn’t care about selling a painting or about the market, or how difficult a painting is to paint or what anyone else thinks about his subject matter. He is just concerned with the work itself and the meditative process of creating the piece. He said that he knows that there are paintings that he will never finish. Some of his paintings have taken him over a decade to “finish.”


In a review of Antonio’s 2008 Exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston John Yau stated this so elegantly: “For López García,” he said, “being truthful to what he sees amounts to embracing what he knows to be true: time is devastating and unquenchable, and it devours us all.”

López García really is the living embodiment of Howard Roark. He views himself as just a humble painter, painting and sculpting his life as honestly as he possibly can, regardless of the onslaught of time. A quote whose source I don’t remember sums it up for me: “The brushstroke lasts longer than the hand that created it.” This is a truth I always think about when I have a deadline for an exhibition and I feel like I’m rushing a painting. In the long run—in the big picture of what I want to create and what I want my work to represent—is this show’s deadline important enough for me not to take another week or even a month on the painting to get it better and closer to what is in my mind’s eye? With Antonio, he is thinking not in weeks or months, but sometimes in years. To make this painting better—closer to his vision—that may be what it takes.

It is for these reasons that Antonio and his work represent the artist that I wish to be, the path that I want to follow. Not that I would swap my work for his or want to copy him in any way. His art is his journey and mine is my own open-ended search for understanding. He represents the values that I hold near and dear to my heart: authenticity, time, depth, weight, and purity—values that seem to be the first ones compromised while trying to make a living as an artist.

While I was sitting in the little kitchen of Antonio’s studio, I was struck with a question that had always been in the back of my mind. It was more of a curiosity really, regarding one of his paintings. The painting was part of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts exhibition of Antonio’s work I had attended in 2008. This exhibition was hugely influential to American representational artists, including myself, and I can already see its impact on many of my fellow artists.

I made the trip to the exhibition towards the end of its run. Here in Chinatown, New York, you can hop an old Greyhound bus up to Chinatown in Boston for only 15 bucks each way, so one morning I got up early and jumped on one of the earliest buses headed north to Boston to see the show. There really is something about seeing paintings in person rather than just printed or digital reproductions. It is kind of obvious, but in reproductions you really do lose the richness, texture, subtlety, depth and scale of the real thing. As long as I have the means to do so, I hope to ultimately see all of my favorite paintings in person. The travel and expense are well worth the experience that the real painting has to offer.

This exhibition in Boston had the feel of a holy site in Jerusalem. But to be honest, I’m only guessing at that since I have never been to a holy site in Jerusalem. The rooms of the exhibition that were on the ground floor of the museum had a solemn, reverent air to them. When I got there I ran into a few other artists from New York that I hadn’t seen in some years, who had also made the four-hour trek north to see the exhibition. What also blew my mind was that I ran into my friend Emil Robinson, who had come to the show from Cincinnati, Ohio along with Jonathan Queen, a ridiculously talented still life painter. We had all made this pilgrimage to see the show. Emil is an amazing artist I met while we were both studying at the Art Students League a few years ago. This was crazy to me—way before the Facebook days. Only five or six years ago the world of painting was way less connected. Today everybody knows what everyone is up to and what shows are happening all over the world. It is an amazingly collaborative and supportive environment on Facebook. Seeing all of these artists at this show was also comforting. It is great to know that you are not the only crazy person when it comes to the painting life.

Okay, so back to the mystery question that I had for Antonio. While I was at the Boston exhibition, which I soaked up like a sponge, or at least tried to, there was a painting called The Table. The painting is of his family sitting down to share a dinner. The figures flicker in this liminal space as if in motion, and right in the foreground on the dinner table amongst the painted remnants of food is a photo of a piece of meat glued to the canvas. This baffled Emil, Jonathan and me. This was something that I had never noticed in the reproductions of the painting. I had just assumed that it was a painted part of the canvas. Why did he do that? This was my main curiosity about his work. Today, the art world seems to be getting more and more convoluted. So I braced myself for some complex explanation about why he added this collage element to the painting. The answer surprised me. He said that he was working on the painting for a while in the studio and was never quite sure of the composition of the elements on the table, so instead of painting the meat, he decided to just add a photo of it, to move it around and see if the composition worked. He left the painting to work on some other projects and the gallery had sold it as it was, with photo attached. So he decided that it would stay that way.

Overall we spent a little over two hours with Antonio discussing different artists, the different representational art cultures from country to country, as well as his main influences. I left with a huge thirst to paint and draw more, and was truly inspired about the directions in which I wanted my own work to go. I wanted to make my work as personal as I could get, without the input and influence of a market that dictates what is more sellable or popular. Something stirred inside of me, stimulated me to journey towards a more authentic and heartfelt body of work, one that is unbiased and gutsy!

The weight of how valuable Antonio’s time was didn’t strike me until we were driving home. I felt so and how fortunate I was to have had this experience and the immeasurable friendship of Borja, who worked hard to track down Antonio to make this experience possible. It truly was the surprise of my life.

Fast forward to a year and a half later, I got an email from Eduardo. He was coming to New York with his wife and was wondering if he could stop by the studio. I told him of course and we had a great visit together while he was in town. I’m so glad that he made the trek out of Manhattan to my Brooklyn studio, especially while he was on vacation.

One night about a year later, I thought of how amazing it would be to do a life-size painting of Antonio. It couldn’t hurt to explore the idea, right? What is the worse that could happen? Only that he could say No. So I sent out an email to Eduardo asking if he thought the idea had any possibility of happening. The first email I sent him was in January of 2011, to which I never received a response. For some reason in April 2012 the idea was rekindled in my head. I thought that it had been over a year since I first asked, and that I wouldn’t be a pain if I asked again. This time I received a response in a few weeks, and learned that the original request was sent to an email that Eduardo didn’t check often. He replied that he had no problem checking with Antonio to see if it was something that he would be interested in doing.

At this time, Antonio was extremely busy, with museum exhibitions and meetings all over Spain. He had recently had a solo exhibition at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and his time was in high demand; he was traveling all over Spain, lecturing and planning further exhibitions. So it was a challenge for Eduardo to even communicate with him. After a few months, I got another email from Eduardo. He had talked to Antonio, who said that he would love to pose. Now the only difficult part was figuring out when this could happen. He had been extremely busy, and I had been traveling a little more lately as well. We finally settled on the month of November 2012. I left the entire month open so I could travel there as soon as I got word from Eduardo that there was a window of time in which Antonio would be back in Madrid. At the beginning of the month we settled on a ten-day stretch over Thanksgiving. I bought my airline ticket and two weeks later I was off to Spain.

So this brings me back to where this story started—fumbling through my painting as one of my painting idols and role models is remarking on the funny shape of my ear. What goes through your head when you have someone posing for you for whom you have such tremendous respect for? For me it was incredibly humbling, even though I was pretty confident in the finished study. I’ve learned to embrace my insecurities over the years, so I’m ok if the painting doesn’t turn out well. In a strange way there isn’t a thought in my head that is negative. Maybe this is a false confidence, a coping mechanism for the brain. I figured that anything that is put down on the painting is part of this pivotal experience for me. There is no thought of what anyone else thinks of the painting, even the model, in this case Antonio. This is probably the most valuable lesson that I have learned from these experiences getting to know Antonio, his work and career. It’s about having this purity of observation and a positive meditative approach to painting that comes solely from artist him/herself. The experience and time that we put into our paintings add a psychological depth to the work. These works are the cumulative collection of our thoughts about what we are painting, mistakes and successes mingling together revealing the history of how the work was observed. This is how the artist puts his viewers into the space of his works.

I didn’t want this to be an instructive piece for Artist on Art, but in a holistic way I think in a way it is. It is about developing a state of mind, about being your own artist, about being who you are and bringing your own truths to your work, in the way that only you can. Individually, we are the sum of our own life experiences and investigations as humans. These experiences cling to us like our unique fingerprints. Harvest these truths with what, why and how you create. Have the courage to write your own personal “novel” without words.

Toward the end of that painting session in Madrid, as I was wrapping up my brushes and gathering up my supplies, I looked up at Antonio. With a thoughtful expression he spoke to me in Spanish. I had the usual puzzled look on my face when Borja turned to me and translated: “Antonio says that you have guts for coming all the way to Spain to paint him.”

In truth this story is more about life than it is about art. It is about developing lifelong friendships and understanding
through example about the type of artist and person that I would like to grow and evolve into. I learned to strive to be more
like Borja and Eduardo, just as much as I learned to be fearless like Antonio. In 2006 Borja took the chance on emailing me
about meeting up, and I followed Borja’s example in contacting Eduardo six years later, which led to the incredible experience
of clumsily recording my own unfocused fractured thoughts while painting Antonio in his studio.

I just muttered, “Thanks, I’m learning.”

Thank you Borja, Eduardo, Jorge, and Antonio for being role models; I really appreciate our friendship.

Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery Catalog – The Portrait Now and Then

Outwin Bocheaver Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, Washington D.C. Catalog Essay

The Portrait Now and Then
Mary Sheriff

Although only a few of the portraits in this competition work with untraditional materials and forms, all wrestle with two perennial questions: how to balance resemblance and artistry, and how to make a portrait that exceeds its generic definition to the ‘artistic rendering of an individual.’ David Kassan takes on both challenges in Portrait of My Mother, Roberta (fig. 4). In some ways the painting appears to erase the intervention of the artist and promote direct confrontation with the sitter. The particularized features and detailing of the wrinkles, veins, and sagging flesh suggest an individualized likeness, and the sitter appears to meet us eye-to-eye as she looks out of the frame. Kassan furthers this sense of direct confrontation by erasing the marks of his brush, at least in representing Roberta. At the same time, the work draws attention to itself as art in the painterly background filled with undecipherable marks and letters. Thus in placing a painted figure that seems transparent to the real against an opaque, painterly background, the portrait claims to be both nature itself and entirely artifice. The work, in fact, proposes no chance encounter with the mother, who is carefully and artfully posed. And although Roberta is hunched over with hands firmly clasped in a prayer like gesture, when combined with her focused gaze, her posture does not suggest resigned acceptance of declining strength.

Although artists from Albrecht Durer to Salvador Dali portrayed their mothers, today the best known maternal portrait is Whistler’s depiction of his mother, entitled Arrangement in Grey and Black #1 (fig. 5). Here is a good example of a work that both in title and appearance draws attention to the portrait as an artful composition of colors arranged on the canvas. Kassan’s portrait might be called Arrangement in Grey and Darker Grey, for it is rendered in a subtle palette enlivened primarily by the auburn of Roberta’s hair. Yet whereas Whistler transformed his mother into an aesthetic object drained of personhood, Roberta appears as a living subject staring at us with as appraising eye. Kassan’s portrait therefore recalls both the psychic power of the mother and the objectifying power of the gaze, here turned on the real viewer.

Tharunka Review UNSW – David Jon Kassan – Solitudes

“My work is a way of meditation; of slowing down time through the careful observation of overlooked slices of my environment.” By: Harriet Levenston Raw, poignant and profoundly honest, David Jon Kassan’s work aesthetically captures humanity in its true form. As an artist, Kassan acts as an empathetic intermediary between the subject he portrays and… Continue Reading »

Tharunka Review UNSW – David Jon Kassan – Solitudes

“My work is a way of meditation; of slowing down time through the careful observation of overlooked slices of my environment.”
By: Harriet Levenston

Raw, poignant and profoundly honest, David Jon Kassan’s work aesthetically captures humanity in its true form. As an artist, Kassan acts as an empathetic intermediary between the subject he portrays and the viewer. More than simply replicating his subjects Kassan seeks to understand them. He seeks to capture the essence of those he paints, imbuing them with their own voice. They communicate with the viewer interpersonally and we see them through our own eyes. Our gaze transcends the picture plane and permeates deep into the subject’s psyche. We are moved by Kassan’s depictions, captivated by powerfully expressive hands, pensive faces, and flesh that appears warm to touch. Kassan’s portraits pulsate with the lives of his sitters – the weighty streams-of-consciousness of past experiences, feeling and introspection.

This is what reality means to Kassan – preserving the realness of nuanced emotion and expression emanating from the people he paints. Kassan’s technical mastery of oil paint combined with adept draftsmanship enables him to fluently represent what he sees. This is evident in the stunning flesh tones Kassan achieves. Transparent layers of oil paint are built up, forming an intricate lattice of veins, blood and skin. Through this light enters and is reflected back, infusing the subject with veridical luminosity. We can also sense movement and life beneath the undulating creases and folds of clothing. It is the artist’s intent to control the medium of oil paint so that it is not part of the viewer to subject equation. Kassan facilitates an interface between subject and viewer with which he is conscious not to interfere. The technical aspect of his work is thus a means to an end; an end rooted in the viewer’s experience.

We find inherent contradictions in Kassan’s work as it oscillates between representation and transformation, reality and abstraction. We see this in his backgrounds, which are graphic and fragmentary, yet at the same time highly refined ‘trompe-l’oeil’ texture studies reminiscent of the work of Franz Kline and Robert Rauschenberg. Weathered, graffiti-marked walls, dissected by peeling paint and torn down posters, serve as descriptive patinas. Like the figures before them, these surfaces import a sense of history, wherein the past, present and future culminate. Time is an unbroken continuum of experience, change, growth and decay, and both subject and background are visceral embodiments of this process. Kassan’s inclusion of flayed urban exteriors in his paintings invites the viewer to appreciate that which is typically overlooked and deemed mundane.

Ultimately, there is a truth and timelessness to Kassan’s work because it is so deeply human. His subjects are distilled in an exact moment in time, patiently contemplating their present. We share in this present-moment appreciation, this slowing down of time, and see life for what it is.

Huffington Post – Interview With Figurative Painter David Jon Kassan

by Emily Waldorf In an age of post-abstract representational painting, Brooklyn-based artist David Jon Kassan’s stark realism separates him from the pack. With a critical eye for anatomy, he expertly captures the subtle nuances of his subjects’ physiognomies through the use of oil on panel, charcoal, and graphite in his life-size paintings and drawings. He… Continue Reading »

Huffington Post – Interview With Figurative Painter David Jon Kassan

by Emily Waldorf

In an age of post-abstract representational painting, Brooklyn-based artist David Jon Kassan’s stark realism separates him from the pack. With a critical eye for anatomy, he expertly captures the subtle nuances of his subjects’ physiognomies through the use of oil on panel, charcoal, and graphite in his life-size paintings and drawings. He recently completed a documentary, Drawing Closer to Life: Documenting an Approach to Drawing, that records his meticulous studio process in action. David is currently working towards his second solo exhibition at Gallery Henoch in September 2011 in Chelsea and is teaching a workshop in the Belgian countryside this July.

Emily Waldorf: You cite the Ashcan School of American Realists as an inspiration. Why realism? What other artists influence you, both contemporary and historical?

David Jon Kassan: Realism is a philosophy as opposed to a style. For me, painting is about observing and recording my existence as accurately as I can, it’s my way of understanding the world around me and staying constantly engaged with it, the more carefully and patiently I look at what interests me in the world the more faithfully and honestly I can document it. It is only through intense, subtly nuanced observation that we develop an understanding of the psychology of the subject. I’m hugely influenced by the stark truthfulness of Lucien Freud, Andrew Wyeth, and Antonio Garcia, as well as the psychological aspects of Jerome Witkin and Francis Bacon. I am also inspired by the usual suspects such as Rembrandt, Alma Tadema, Bouguereau, Sargent, and Waterhouse. They made paintings that breathe. I’m also a huge fan of the New York school painters, Rauschenberg, Klein, Jasper Johns, Twombly, to name only a few.

EW: What’s your philosophy on the nature of the portrait? What do you think it fulfills within society and what should its purpose be?

DJK: Not sure if I have one. I’m aware of the history of the genre and I rarely do portrait commissions. When I do, they are rarely any good. I tend to paint my subjects exactly how they are and that is not always cool to the sitter, they want to look younger, thinner and with lower hairlines. I sort of feel that the role of a portrait in society is to represent the sitters, we see paintings of Shakespeare and we believe that it is what he looked like, well maybe a little older, fatter and with a higher hairline. I guess it would be cool if the portraits that were painted really did look like the sitter or expressed some sort of emotion that gave the viewers in the future a sense of the sitter’s pathos at the time it was painted.

EW: How do you view the concepts of the real, the hyper-real, the authentic and the imagined playing out within your works?

DJK: I want my paintings to give the viewer a true sense of reality – that includes but is not limited to depth, scale and a tactile surface as well as the real sense of what the subject looks like and is feeling at the time that I painted them. There should be a discourse between the viewer and the subject, to feel as though they are in a way connected. My goal is not to set a narrative but rather to have the viewer bring their own experiences to the painting and the subject as they would if they had seen the subject on the street in real life.

EW: Your figures are often set against a more abstract and somber background. Is this juxtaposition intentional? How do you create the background?

DJK: The backgrounds in my works are referenced from thousands of photos that I have taken around Manhattan; street art, graffiti, torn advertisements, stains, construction barricades. I’m very interested in the anthropological aspects of the city; there are so many different layers that all come together in these random abstractions. It’s easy to see where the Abstract Expressionists gained their inspiration. I usually compile these reference photos into Photoshop collages, looking at them as different formalistic abstractions where rigid typography is part of the composition as well rough accidental shapes caused from ripping or staining. I develop the backgrounds in Photoshop with the drawings of the subjects to compose the pieces, which I’ll use as a basis for a final painting.

EW: Do you remember your first interaction with art? When did you decide you wanted to become an artist?

DJK: My first interactions with art were vague daydreams that I grew up trying to figure out. While I was young, around the age of four, my family lived in Germany and my father was a pilot in the Air Force. We were able to travel all over Europe to all of the great museums and churches. These first interactions were very confusing to me as I grew up and would have deja vu moments when I was older from seeing paintings and sculptures in books. When did I decide to be an artist? Hmmm, I don’t think that I really ever decided to become one, it’s just something that I did, something that came naturally enough to me that it wasn’t work to learn more about it or how I could really push myself to get better.

EW: You recently completed an instructional DVD and also do a lot of teaching. It seems like teaching drawing and painting is central to your artistic practice. How was your own experience in art school? What kind of formal training did you have?

DJK: Teaching is a huge part of what I do. I love to think about what I do out loud, and the best way to do this is to teach. I usually learn a lot from the students in my workshops, because we work to build the classes around a collaborative environment where everyone is working towards the same goal of learning how to observe and see the subject well, because everyone brings different approaches and experiences with them, the other students and myself learn new methods that we can add into what we do. My own experiences with art school are very varied, I studied theory and art history at Syracuse University, the program there was less drawing from life and technique based. Syracuse was incredibly freeing for my mind because there was no reading and regurgitating like I had gone through in high school, so going from the whole non creative environment to a creative environment was definitely something that really opened my mind. In NYC I wanted to develop my observational skills as well as technique so that I would have a better grasp of how to vocalize and paint my concepts. I decided to go back to school at the Art Students League to study life painting full time and better develop my observational skills and understanding of how to approach a painting of the model. I studied with Sharon Sprung, Harvey Dinerstein and Costa Vavagiakis. These technical classes helped me discover how to paint instead of what to paint. A balance between something that is expertly technical as well as very carefully thought out and conceived is something that is extremely important to me.

EW: Does living and working Brooklyn influence your work at all?

DJK: Brooklyn is a huge influence to my work, both in its community and as an environment. Everything in my work is autobiographical. I want my work to reflect this area. The area is rough and urban, yet is very vivid visually; everything is constantly in a state of flux and change, that’s why there is such a vibrant young art scene here.

EW: What’s a typical day in your studio like?

DJK: Hectic. I work on five or six different paintings at a time, as I figure out different concepts I can spread the info throughout all of the pieces. Some days I’m preparing surfaces to paint, other days I’m painting the models, or building up a background or doing studies for new paintings. Most of my work is done outside of the studio wandering around Brooklyn and Manhattan just trying to get a feel for the city.

EW: What are some of your favorite art world hangout spots? Do you go to a lot of openings, museums, galleries, and other artists’ studios?

DJK: My ultimate favorite art world hang out is the Metropolitan Museum, especially the drawing room, where you can “order” almost any drawing in their collection and they will bring it out for you to study on an easel. I go to a lot of openings at different galleries each month, usually I’ll end up at Marlborough Gallery, the Joshua Liner Gallery or Gallery Henoch. At the end of most gallery nights I’ll end up at 151 Rivington with my artist friends. We always go to one another’s openings and support each other during the Armory Week or down in Miami. Most of the time I’ll end up at the Half King right after the openings, because it’s pretty much the only decent bar between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues in Chelsea.

face to face | Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery | Portrait of an Artist: David Kassan

This is a continuing series of interviews with the forty-eight artists whose work was selected for the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. The third OBPC exhibition opened on March 23, 2013, and will run through February 23, 2014.

Q: Where are you from, where do you live now?

A: I’m originally from the Philadelphia area; I currently live in Brooklyn.

Q: What medium(s) do you work with?

A: Oil on panel and charcoal.

Q: Tell us about your technique/creative process.

A: My work is a way of meditation, a way of slowing down time though the careful observation of overlooked slices of my environment. I am intrigued by the subtlety of emotion in the acquaintances who inhabit my environment. My paintings strive for reality, a chance to mimic life in both scale and complexity. The viewer is given an eye-level perspective of the subject—a view that is unbiased and in its most raw condition. It is my intent to control the medium of oil paint so that it is not part of the viewer-to-subject equation. The image stands alone, without evidence of the artist. I displace textures by moving them out of their existing context. I take the abstract forms from the streets, where they get lost, and move them into the gallery space, where they can be contemplated as accidental abstractions.

The technical aspect of my work is a means to an end—an end rooted in the viewer’s experience. I am interested in a painting’s technical and transformative powers. Turning an ordinary painting surface into a textured trompe l’oeil documentation of the city, or turning the surface into a life-sized representation of a figure in space, transmits feeling that this technical process alters the viewer’s experience.

Q: How did you learn about the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition?

A: A couple of friends and past painting/drawing professors have participated in previous Outwin Boochever Portrait exhibitions. It is an honor to follow in their footsteps.

Q: Tell us about the piece you submitted to the competition.

A: The painting that I submitted was a small life-sized painting of my mom. My parents live in Florida and don’t travel much up to NYC, so I see them maybe once a year. This painting was my way of “spending” more time with her. Because painting is very meditative for me, I tend to lose myself in thoughts about the subject.

Q: Tell us about your larger body of work.

A: Lately my work has been getting more personal and more autobiographical; I’ve been painting lots of my family members, as well as close friends. I recently had a solo exhibition here in NYC. About six months before the exhibition, I had become a studio hermit and I noticed that the paintings that I had unconsciously started were of family members that I hadn’t seen in a while and missed. Painting was my way of spending more time with those that I wanted/needed closer to me.

Painting for me is largely a therapeutic and meditative process. My paintings take me a long time to complete, and in reality they are never finished.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: I’m currently working on a painting of the painter Antonio Lopez Garcia; he has been a huge influence on me. I have so much respect for his work and approach of working perceptually and keeping his work open-ended, so much so that some of his pieces have taken him ten years to develop.

It’s so hard to fight the urge to create marketable work fast so that you can make a good living or enough of a living to be a painter. I find that the best work comes from a pure place within the artist and isn’t market-driven.

Anyway, I ventured out to Madrid to meet up with Antonio, and he posed for a quick three-hour alla prima painting. He allowed me to photograph him for a more fully developed painting that is currently on the easel.

Q: How has your work changed over time?

A: My work has changed a lot over the years; I started out being really interested in painting the city and its textures when I first moved to Brooklyn fourteen years ago. Then I became interested in painting the people who lived in the city.

Most recently I’ve been really interested in combining and juxtaposing both the formalistic textures/graffiti/broken letter forms of the city with that of life-sized living figures. It’s definitely been an evolutionary process over as my tastes become more defined.

Q: Tell us about a seminal experience you’ve had has an artist.

A: I think that my years studying at the Art Students League were tremendously helpful with my development. I was able to have serious, long time in front of the model—two weeks, sometimes three weeks, with single poses—that helped in my understanding of the technical aspects of painting that have become more and more intuitive over the years, making it possible for the more creative passionate side of my brain to take over while painting, hopefully bringing me closer to giving life to the work.

Q: Who is your favorite artist?

A: Right now, I’m really into the work of Jerome Witkin, Rembrandt, and Nicholas Uribe. My tastes change frequently.

Q: If you could work with any artist (past or present) who would it be?

A: I would love to work with the young Rembrandt; there is something so luminous and living in his work. His figures breathe.

Painting Perceptions – An Interview with David Kassan

An Interview with David Kassan June 17, 2010 by Larry Groff David Jon Kassan (Born 1977) is a contemporary realist painter best known for his life-size realist portraits. The paintings combine figurative subjects with abstract background textures he says are inspired by such painters as Franz Kline and Robert Rauschenberg. Kassan says, “my effort to… Continue Reading »

Painting Perceptions – An Interview with David Kassan

An Interview with David Kassan
June 17, 2010 by Larry Groff

David Jon Kassan (Born 1977) is a contemporary realist painter best known for his life-size realist portraits. The paintings combine figurative subjects with abstract background textures he says are inspired by such painters as Franz Kline and Robert Rauschenberg. Kassan says, “my effort to constantly learn to document reality with a naturalistic, representational painting technique allows for pieces to be inherent contradictions; paintings that are both real and abstract.” (from his wiki page)

I met David in person a couple of times a few years ago and we have keep in touch online. He agreed to do an interview with me to talk about his work, his approach to painting, his new drawing DVD and his recently getting to meet with Antonio Lopez Garcia in Madrid. At the end of the article I’ve also embeded a you tube video interview done with him a year ago and another video showing him giving a demo in Portugal. The audio recording that we made of our skype call was of poor quality for technical reasons and I decided to omit posting the audio version of the interview.

David Kassan currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, and teaches painting classes and workshops at various institutions around the world. He received his B.F.A. in 1999 from Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY where he studied with Jerome Witkin. He continued his studies at The National Academy, and the Art Students League of New York, both in Manhattan. He is currently represented by Gallery Henoch in New York His work has received widespread attention and acclaim and a number of articles and reviews has been written about him, many can be read from this link.

Larry Groff:

David Kassan. Thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview and to share some of your thoughts about your painting and your drawing and your new DVD.

 David Kassan:


Larry Groff:

What does working from observation offer you that other sources don’t? I understand that you primarily work from observation, I understand, right?

David Kassan:

Not completely. It all depends on the availability of the models. Actually I’ve been learning how both photography and observation can help a painting, in a lot of aspects. Within photography you can actually see the subtlety that you will tend to exaggerate or miss with observation alone.

 What is important about observation is that you get that connection with the model, where you actually can understand who this person in front of you is, With a lot of my sessions I end up talking to the model way too much so that I can learn about them. I really want that interaction, so I try to figure out as much as I can about their life, it’s important to me that the paintings are about that person and not about being a painting.

I strive to make the technique disappear, so you are thinking more about the model’s expression and emotion rather than the movement of a brushstroke… You have the viewer and you have the subject of the piece, and I want nothing in between that connection. I don’t want paint to get in the way of that. I want the paint to prop up this person to be seen, so you can feel their emotion more tangibly and they are in your space.

So, that’s kind of the main goal of my work. And I don’t think I would get that if I just took a photograph of a person and painted it.

Now, I’ll have a lot of sessions, sometimes, if I can’t get a person to pose throughout the entire piece. I would have three hours, six hours to just draw them, understand who they are, and I’ll carry that forward with photography. So it fills in the gaps.

 Larry Groff:

The next question leads into that. You sort of beat me to the punch. Many painters working from life tend to show the hand of the artist in their brushstrokes or painterly texture of the surface. Like many photo-realists, you seem to de-emphasize the presence of the artist in your painting. Maybe you can continue on the vein you were just talking about, and we’ll sort of join those two questions together, about the virtues of observation, and why do you de-emphasize it. What’s so bad about expressive brushwork?

David Kassan:

I don’t think there’s anything bad about it. There are actually, really, good contemporary artists that paint in the tradition of Velasquez, Zorn and Sargent. A number of my friends paint very painterly. And they’re about being painters. And they add to that rich tradition. I’m in awe of their work on a daily basis, but its just not where my head is right now

And I don’t really think of myself as a photo-realist, either. I’m not trying to make my work look like photographs, we’re all artist, we all kinda of take offense to that, in a way, when people tell you that your piece looks like a photograph, and you know that they mean it as a compliment, they are comparing what they know as their example of 2 dimensional reality.

And I don’t really think of myself as a photo-realist, either. I’m not trying to make photographs, we’re all painters, we kind of take offense to that, in a way, when people tell you that your piece looks like a photograph, and you’re like…

And I’ll show people an image of my work, and they’ll be like, “Well, that’s a photograph. It looks like a photograph.”

I’m like, “Well, it is a photograph, a photograph of my painting.” You know? So it’s hard to really feel the tactile surface of a real painting. And that’s what I really want in my pieces, I want to make them more real than a photograph, more real than almost even a painting, because I try to build up the surfaces and textures and the background to kind of mimic what is in real life. The unfortunate thing that we deal with today is that everything is viewed on either the internet or in reproduction and few people will really see a painting of mine in real life. And I want these works to be art objects. I see Rauschenberg as a realist artist.

Rauschenberg would actually take things off the street, almost in an Arte Povera kind of sense and just bring it into an art gallery, that was, he was a realist. You know what I mean?

Then think of abstraction. But everyone … How can you get more real than bringing something off the street and putting it into the gallery? And then painting into that? You really can’t.

So I kind of like to take that kind of concept, but actually paint it and create it by hand, so that it feels like that tactile surface that is actually its inspiration; where you could run the finger down the side of a painting and you would have those, little pock marks in the painting and texture and be able to scratch at it. And you see this kind of history of the marks and layers that are involved in the surface. I really want my paintings to have weight to them.

And it just looks like it’s been worked and weathered and kind of destroyed and then brought back to life. I want that same kind of feeling with the figures as well. And it’s just a lot of careful handling, as opposed to something quick. And I want the experience of these people infused into the piece, rather than having a brushstroke that distracts.

I don’t want to be negative towards painterly paintings in any way, shape or form. It’s just like a conceptual thing for what I want in my work.

Larry Groff:


David Kassan:

And I love to see early Antonio López Garcia works, where it’s just blocking in large masses. It’s real painterly and beautiful. You know, and I love lots of painters, like Jerome Witkin, and how he expresses everything, especially a pieces psychological power from his use of different brush work.

For my work, its a little bit more internalized where I want it to be the psychological power of the figure, as opposed to the medium used to create it. It’s kind of a different approach.

g>Larry Groff:

That’s one thing, David, about the Internet is that it’s, sometimes, over the computer, it’s difficult to see that subtlety

David Kassan:

Oh, yeah. Definitely.

Larry Groff:

… you know, I think that’s true for many, many painters. And sometimes it seems like it interferes with how people judge the work, sometimes. They judge the work less on it’s objectness, you know, and the various visual qualities that you see the actual painting, and more just on how kind of photo-realistically correct it might seem.

David Kassan:

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I think it’s just the nature of the beast. I think about what the percentage of people, you think, that actually see our paintings in real life? That’s the thing that kills me. Everyone will give me compliments on my paintings, which is really nice, and I have, I believe, a really good support system of friends and everything, But I don’t know how many of them have actually seen one of my pieces in real life. It’s interesting. Maybe 5 percent of people?

David Kassan:

Maybe less? It’s really kind of interesting, especially with the way today’s media is. I mean, I think seeing pieces before we see them in real life kind of spoils them, before you see them in real life. Imagine only seeing The Raft of the Medusa by Gericault in reproduction, and not being able to see it in real life, that would be so sad. Because when you see that painting in real life, it’s the size of a movie screen. You fall into the piece, it’s so realistic, you know? And so lifelike.

Larry Groff:

That’s interesting. Well, I’ve seen your work, and it does have a really rich surface to it. The texture is really incredible, but it’s difficult to see it as readily online. You really have to see it in person to get the full effect. But, anyway, let’s move onto the next question.

Many of your larger figure paintings have a look of gritty, urban textures and graffiti that suggest abstract paintings, such as those by Robert Rauschenberg or perhaps Franz Kline. Your figures have remarkable level of solidity and weight to their form which contrasts to the flatness of these backgrounds. The shallow space between the figure in the background almost starts to lend the figure a kind of trompe l’oeil illusion from what I’ve seen.

Is there some statement here about the illusion of space and realism versus the celebration of flatness you often see in abstraction? Can you tell us more about what you’re thinking about with your figures against these backgrounds?

David Kassan:

This is a great question.

Really I just want to paint what interests me and I’m very interested in the contrasts of a painting. The flatness and the three-dimensional qualities of things. Abstraction, and realism. And I wanted to find a way to get things together in the same picture plane. And it’s almost limiting in some respects, because I can’t do genre scenes or anything like that. I’m limited in the spatial dimension. And sometimes, as I’m trying to figure out a little bit more, well, I don’t know if I’m making a statement, at all. I don’t think my work is really about statements at all.

I could do the same painting a hundred times, the same format, with different models and be completely happy because it’s really about researching the model. And the backgrounds are more based on the environment where I live and the stuff that interests me about finding these found abstractions in nature and documenting them in paint.

Kind of like the found objects concept from Marcel Duchamp with ready made objects but finding things in nature that I find, or not in nature. There’s not much nature where I live in Brooklyn, but there are signs and typography that is worn down and there is design in all of this, formal elements. Combining that within a painting of the figure is really interesting and challenging to me. And then the level of painting that realistically and giving a tangible realness to these formalistic elements, really interests me as well.

So it’s got a lot of different little strata to it. But the figures, I do want that trompe l’oeil feel. I really strive for that, because I want the figures to be life size. All my paintings are life size. I want them to occupy the same space as the viewer, so that they seem more real.

So that again, with that tactile quality of the abstraction, it’s almost making the abstraction kind of real, because of the tactile feel that people can actually feel it. And they kind of can have a sense of place, even though they don’t know what or where it is. And it’s completely broken up typography, drips, stains, and graffiti.

So everything, the background is being rigid with the typography that’s broken up versus the roundness of the figure, with flatness versus the dimension of the figure. Its really an almost jarring kind of contrast that brings the figure forward. And I think that having that space is helpful to that. I’m not sure if I’m going to continue with this or if I’m going to evolve away from it…

…but I used to be a graphic designer, and I used to do everything in two dimensions. And when I would design websites, I would think about them as being abstract paintings, except with text in them.

When I started designing I would do designs for designers, using cool abstractions and compositions that had nothing to do with the information that I was supposed to be presenting, I was horrible, but it was a lot of fun. I quickly learned how to make the design subordinate to the information and have the sites more balances between the info and design. So all the designs are getting a lot simpler.

I mean, it’s very interesting. The more I learn about the Internet, the more simplified and sophisticated my site gets with the design and everything. I just want people to get easy access to all of the information. And I kind of feel that way with my paintings, too. It’s almost like a less is more kind of quality … that I kind of grew up with when I worked full-time. And I feel like all of this is just kind of, finally becoming like the sum of these crazy experiences that I’ve had of being a designer for a while, and then learning how to paint, then going through the wringer of the Art Student’s League, and the National Academy. And then being a follower of all these amazing painters and trying to digest how awesome they are at what they do, and how each one has an individual voice. And how does one get that voice? So it’s kind of like I guess it’s just by doing it now. I don’t know

See, I always get off-topic towards the end of the answer.

Larry Groff:

It’s good. It leads into the next question very well. I read in your blog where you got to spend a couple of hours personally meeting Antonio López Garcia when you were visiting in Madrid recently. Can you tell us more about this meeting? Did you get to show him your work? Please tell us everything.

David Kassan:

Oh, man. That was a really strange moment in my life. I had friend from Madrid who studied with me for three months here in New York. So when he first told me that he was from Madrid, I was like, “Oh, Madrid. Do you know Antonio López?” as if it was a small town.

He’s like, “No, I don’t know him. but my girlfriend’s family lived next to a couple that posed for him,” and everything. And he’s super famous in Madrid, and everybody knows who he is. And they talk about him on TV shows, and everything. And he’s kind of like a celebrity over there.

So I was like, “Oh, that’s awesome.” So I quizzed him about everything that he knew about Garcia, because the guy’s paintings are just unbelievable, and I’ve got tremendous respect for how long he spends on the pieces, as well as his sense of observation of the areas, and his sense of not doing a painting half-assed. Even if he’s not going to finish it, he’s going to put everything into it, you know? And that is just mind-blowingly honest and truthful and just the epitome of everything I would like to be some day as an artist.

But anyway, my friend said if you ever come to Madrid, he would try to put me in contact with Garcia. He said that he would figure out a way. You know, we’ll make it happen he would say. And you know, we’re just friends, and he’s one of my students. So I was like, “That’s cool, man. Right on. That will never happen, but thanks” You know?

And so, I decided to go to Spain last summer, and visit Madrid for the first time. I had been to Portugal the year before and couldn’t make it up to Madrid but was able to visit Seville.

Anyway, the next year I was like, Well, I’m definitely going to Madrid, because I was going back to Portugal. This time I flew into Madrid for five days and then filtered my way down to Portugal for a teaching job that I was doing down there. And my friend said, “Oh, you know…” Right before I flew in, he had told me that, “Garcia’s not in town. I thought we had contact with him and stuff, but he’s not going to be around, so I’m sorry, but maybe he’ll be back the week after and then we could meet him.” I was going to be in Portugal at that time and was bummed.

And I was like, “Well, you know what? If you could get something set up, I will actually get on a train and figure out a way up there. I’ll take a donkey. I mean, I’ll do anything to go to see this guy.”You know, even just a little bit of time, being just in his presence, you know, just to pick his brain. And so, my friend said, “Well, he’s not going to be in town.” I was like, “Okay cool, thanks for helping out anyway”

So anyways, I made the most of my trip in Madrid. Got to see all the paintings that Garcia had at the Reina Sofia. The sculptures and the drawings that he has there, in that room. And then I was actually able to study at the Prado a lot. And I was drawing in the Prado one day, feeling really exhausted and kind of sweaty. It was really hot summer.

And my friend called me up on the phone and said, “Listen. There’s a woman that we know who is an art dealer/art collector and she loves your work, and would love to meet you.” And I’m like, “That’s kind of cool.”

He’s like, “Can you be out front of the Prado. We’ll pick you up at seven and we’ll go over there.” I’m like “Okay.” And I asked if I, “Should wear a button-up shirt?” because I was like all sweaty, in a t-shirt and everything. He said, “Oh, no. Don’t worry about it.” I’m like, “Really? I wanted to be dressed halfway decently, you know, instead of like total ugly American, whatever, being out in Europe.

He goes, “No, no. It’s really important that we’re there on time as opposed to what you look like.” So I was like that’s cool.

So we are in a neighborhood part of Madrid and my buddy says “Oh, remember where I told you Garcia lived the other day?” And I went, “Oh, yeah.”

“Oh, he lives three blocks that way,” and as we’re going past this one road I’m like, “Oh, okay, that’s crazy. Can you stop?: It’s kind of what I wanted, just to be in front of his house. And my friend’s like, “No, no. We’re running really late for our appointment.”

So we get to this hacienda. I think that’s what they call it in Spain’s real Spanish. And he’s buzzing on the outside of the gate. And he gets this women’s voice. And he’s kind of getting upset, after he gets on the intercom. We finally get buzzed through, and we walk into this garden. And there’s actually Garcia sculpture studies in the garden and everything looks very familiar to me.

Larry Groff:

Oh, right, right.

David Kassan:

I’m think that she is a collector and that she has a few of Garcia’s pieces. I mean, she lives in Madrid. She lived only ten blocks away from Garcia. Of course, she’s got his work. You know?

So we walk in. We go up the steps of the modest house and there’s a woman waiting at a door who’s wearing a simple, gray dress, house dress. I thought that this must be the woman’s housekeeper or something? But Something looks really familiar about that woman.

So we walk in and my friend Borja who had set this whole thing up starts talking to her, kind of passionately and he’s kind of a little worried. He’s scratching his head, and he’s like what’s going on. And then the woman calls over to some place. She talks on the phone with someone. And then she comes back to Borja and then he’s like, “Ah, ah, ah. okay. That makes sense. That makes perfect sense.”

And then he turns to me and he says, “We’ve got it.” I’m like, “We’ve got what?” He’s says, “We’re here.” I’m like, “I’m where?” He said, “You’re in Antonio’s house.”, “I am?” And then I start looking around at all the artwork and there’s actually like one of the bronze busts that’s in his book on the table in front of me. And a couple of the paintings of his wife are actually on the wall. And his wife is the one in the simple dress. And she comes like right into focus, because I’m like, Wow. She looks just like the paintings. And I had this weird feeling when I walked into the house like I had actually been there before… based on just seeing his art, which is really amazing. You know how you get that when you go to people’s studios …

Larry Groff:


David Kassan:

… where you kind of know the space based on the work that is made there? I kind of felt that way about just being in his house, which is incredible.

Larry Groff:

Well, you saw the movie, right, (”>El Sol Del Membrillo )

David Kassan:

Anyway, so what I’m trying to say is that … Yeah, I saw the movie, but it’s a different house.

Larry Groff:

Oh, that was a different house.

David Kassan:

It’s a completely …. Studio.

Larry Groff:

Oh, I see.

David Kassan:

Yes. It’s a different house and different studio that he’s got. It might be the same home. I think that’s actually in his hometown where he’s from Tomolsoso or something. I don’t know the Spanish.

David Kassan:

But anyway, it’s like a small town outside of Madrid. So, it was like weird. It was as if I had this fog lifted from my head and this was the biggest surprise ever in my life.

David Kassan:

And they started saying, “Antonio’s not here. He’s actually in the studio, and so that’s why my friend was kind of bummed out. I mean he was afraid that they didn’t know about the appointment and that I would have heard what she had said on the intercom, because she had said about Antonio not being there, but I wasn’t paying attention at all. And that the surprise would have been ruined as well as out meeting. And so he said, “Antonio’s at the studio, but it’s right up the street, and we’re going to go hang out with him.” And I was amazed. So I ran to the car and got my video camera out and just started filming, which, when we went to the studio, he actually let me film two hours of our conversation while we were hanging out there.

David Kassan:

Unfortunately, I didn’t see much of the artwork in the studio. We were mostly in the kitchen. And he’s been doing a painting for the Royal Family, actually in the palace. Which I guess means they’re sitting for him, because he doesn’t do anything that’s not from life. So that’s pretty unbelievable.

Yeah, so we talked about two hours. Now the problem is, I don’t speak Spanish. I can only pick up like some of the words, so I’m going to basically take the video and translate it and still haven’t had time to do so. My friends are still over there and haven’t translated it yet for me. It’s been like eight or nine months.

Yeah, so we talked about two hours. Now the problem is, I don’t speak Spanish. I can only pick up like some of the words, so I’m going to basically take the video and translate it and still haven’t had… My friends are still over there and haven’t translated it yet for me. It’s been like eight or nine months.

David Kassan:

So I’m still working on that. But I got a lot out of it because my friend would basically translate and tell me what was going on. In some cases, Antonio just wants figurative art to become more in fashion. And actually, he wants to be more of a figurative painter now that’s what he was saying as opposed to doing landscapes, which I thought was interesting.

He also mentioned how… He knows he’s not going to finish his paintings at all, and that he has started so many of them that he just wants to start now … I don’t want to totally misquote him because I didn’t know the exact gist of everything. But he said the Spanish don’t tend to appreciate figurative painting as much and that the U.S. is actually really farther ahead now, because of all the schools that are opening up for studying perceptual painting and observational painting.

So that was interesting. And I showed him paintings that I had done just (looking at them) on my iPhone, and he seemed to like them, and he was very complimentary.

And yeah. I was blown away, I guess. I mean, I’ve been very lucky in being able to meet all my favorite painters, like Israel Hershberg. I’m trying to go study with him. once I find time to do it. And also, I studied with Jerome Witkin when I was in college, which was definitely a treat, and definitely an interesting experience. And I love like how different each of these artists are with their individual personalities and approaches. I’ve learned so much from them. I also want to study with Vincent Desiderio. I haven’t met him yet. I’d love to talk with him.

Yes. I’ve been very, very lucky. Because Garcia is like a myth, to me. This guy didn’t exist, because who else can actually spend that long on a painting, you know? Who can be that patient with how he works, and that, it’s like legend.

Larry Groff:

Your recent DVD Drawing Closer to Life(link to his DVD website) documenting an approach to drawing is a terrific production. I found it very informative and engaging throughout. Your eclectic approach to materials, the intensity of observation, and making it all seem like great fun has inspired me to do more drawing.

One thing that particularly stood out for me was your continually reinforcing the need to keep the drawing open, to change, and that the drawing itself is mainly a process of constant revision and correction as you gradually move from the larger forms to the smallest details.

Can you say more about your approach to drawing and tell us more about why we would want to get your DVD? Or anything about your DVD?

 David Kassan:

Oh, no, I don’t want this to be like an ad for the DVD.

 Larry Groff:

No, no.

David Kassan:

My idea for the DVD was, to conceptualize the process and I named it Drawing Closer to Life because I feel like—and I don’t think I describe this, actually, in the video, in what got, it might be on the cutting room floor actually, which I should have totally included—was this concept of getting to know somebody within a drawing for me. I idea that you don’t know very much about this person, really, if it’s not a family member or someone you are close to, that you’re drawing. It’s somebody that you’ve just met for the first time.

So you see them from a mile away. And they’re all blurry. And you get that kind of cerebral haze… Everything’s atmospheric and everything’s a haze because you don’t actually know them… I’m trying to think, intellectually you don’t know anything about this person. You don’t know anything about their life. And that’s the stuff I feel is really important within just trying to catch them in a drawing… their personality, expression and emotion.

So intellectually and also visually, you don’t really know much about them. So this concept of drawing for me is almost like researching and trying to find out about the person. So, the idea is that they’re a mile away, they’re completely blurry, and that if it takes fifteen hours for that person to walk that mile, closer to you, each time they take a step closer, they come more into focus, and you learn more about that person and about their life, and that kind of filters into what you’re doing on the paper.

And drawing for me is, and painting, actually … I don’t know. I mean, I’m concerned a little bit about with the product, I guess, or how the drawing comes out, but for me, in life in general, is I just want to be observant of my time here, you know? Of just being around and having a record of everything I see and observe and what I find interesting.

And having this person in the studio that you’re learning about, when I draw, I want it to be started out very hazy, very broad, very blurry and then it starts coming into focus again as they walk closer and as I learn more about the person. So it’s always kept open. You kind of have to have that time period with the person to understand them and to research things.

And even if that’s just learning the shapes… of how mundane things like the angles of how the mouth go or … That’s why I use the binoculars, to zoom in on these large masses to find out where they actually meet, how the angles are, and how to actually see things correctly and clearly. Because the seeing is the most important part to developing an understanding of this person in front of us, and kind of understanding how we see is real interesting to me… being awake and constantly engaging with the world around us.

About the DVD though is it’s … I didn’t … It was really hard to keep it down to three hours and I really tried to make a resource for people where they could understand exactly what I’m thinking about, no matter how dumb stupid and funny and goofy the thoughts are while I’m drawing.

So I’m always constantly engaged with the person when I’m drawing and within the drawing, to be where I’m asking myself, really, just simple questions, such as… is this longer or shorter? Is this lighter or darker? and while I’m looking for the answers to these questions that the model has, usually the person in the studio is talking back with me.

So this is kind of weird, is to actually have him be quiet while I draw him, which is … it was kind of odd, actually. I don’t think I did the best drawing because of that. I think I would have liked to learn more about him as I was drawing. Since then, I’ve drawn Henry a lot of more times and I’ve learned a lot more about him …

Larry Groff:

He seemed like a great model.

David Kassan:

He’s really awesome.

Larry Groff:

He sat so still, and it was so interesting.

David Kassan:

Yeah. No. I think in the credits, I guess, or the DVD, it’s thanking him for his stillness. No, he was really an awesome model, and he has that like kind of Rembrandt look to him. Like he could have stepped out of a Rembrandt painting. And his facial features and expressions were intriguing to me. He really wears the experience of his life on his face. And that’s really something that just makes you like want to learn more about that person.

Larry Groff:

I was curious to hear what he might have said about the drawing when he saw it, when it was finished.

David Kassan:

I don’t know. I didn’t even think to even ask, actually. I don’t know. I think he liked it, I hope he liked it.

I’m always really worried about locking anything in within a drawing, because I feel like if you lock in something too early, it kind of gets static and less organic, and it almost turns into like a formula. And I mean, I don’t want this DVD to be a formula for anybody. I want people to kind of learn from the DVD a la carte, like just take parts that you can grow from, areas of it that speak to you. I don’t want people copying this method exactly. I’m definitely not dogmatic in anyway with my teaching and my philosophy on art, I want to leave things open, open for growth and evolution.

Larry Groff:


David Kassan:

So, when I first came up with the title, my approach to drawing the figure or something like that. I had to change it to an approach instead of my approach, because I thought, this is not my approach. There’s tons of people who can draw way better than I do and I have had teachers of mine that have imparted so many different philosophies to me that I follow. Such as the Drawing Closer to Life philosophy of seeing something far away is really adapted from what Sharon Sprung who teaches at the Art Student’s League and I’ve really learned so much from and how she thought about painting, as well. So, she’s probably been one of my strongest teachers. And it’s that I owe her for this idea and concept. So it’s an approach, not my approach.

I start my drawings with pan pastels, which are amazing because it’s almost like painting. I want painting and drawing actually to be as similar as possible. And a lot of my students kind of notice that when I paint and draw, it’s the same kind of hatch mark and it’s the same kind of small tools and everything. It’s just what I’m comfortable with. And the idea of having that hatch in my painting and when I draw, is about having just these multi levels of layers and strata, kind of stacked on top of each other, being transparent with one another. Kind of like when you look at your hand, you have millions of broken color in there, warms and cools intermixed. It’s not just like a fleshy hand, or just flesh-colored. You know what I mean? Like there are greens and blues and pinks and all these interactions of colors going on and I build that up in a lot hatch and foundation when I paint, so that I can attempt to get luminously in my skin tones.

So I’ll get to that in the painting DVD.

Larry Groff:


David Kassan:

If I have enough energy to get to it.

Larry Groff:

I’ll be looking forward to it. So let me just ask the last question, David, if I may. What are you currently working on? And when is your next big show?

David Kassan:

My next big show? Well, I’m thinking that my show is in the Fall of 2011, in New York. I’m excited about it … At Gallery Henoch in Chelsea. I think we’re shooting for September. That date could change, though.

David Kassan:

The paintings I’m currently working on are very varied right now. I think it’s just … People ask me if I’m coming up with a body of work for the show. And I don’t think about painting for shows, I guess. I kind of just go with the wind, I have of things I want to paint and explore.

And I don’t know if that comes out as a cohesive body of work or not … Like I don’t think about planning out all of my piece in advance for a show and then just produce them over the next year. For me, that almost gets to a point of like, well they’re only paintings for the gallery and not paintings that I can evolve and learn from. And I think just for myself, it’s kind of just similar to the last show. Maybe just different subjects. And I mean, different paintings, hopefully.

Larry Groff:


David Kassan:

So I don’t know if this is going to be very interesting or not. I hope so, because I hope that I’ve learned a lot in the last year, since my last show. It will be two … It will be like a year-and-a-half, two years, Two-and-a-half years, actually, wow, since my last show.

So I think that the technique will probably be stronger. The emotion, hopefully, will be stronger. The figures will hopefully speak to the people better. My understanding of everything will hopefully be better.

David Kassan:

Oh, okay. Okay. Yes, so what I am I trying to work on? Specifically I’m starting a couple of big pieces. I really want to start doing bigger pieces. Multi-figure. But these are probably going to be more singular figure pieces because I’m not at a place, right now, in my income level where I can kind of just say, I’m just going to paint on one painting for a whole year. I would love to do that.

But these are still kind of, a bigger pieces for me is for me around 4 feet by 8 feet, I’m planning out two pieces around that size. 60 x 80 inch. Eighty inches wide. So it’s in wide screen format and a full standing figure piece that is more vertical 8 feet high.

Larry Groff:


David Kassan:

So you can kind of fall into the pieces that way. I think that the bigger pieces tend to kind of enwrap the viewer a little bit more. Like engross them, I guess, so that you kind of feel, you feel a little bit more in the space with the model and subject.

I’m also doing some smaller studies. More intimate pieces. So I can understand myself and my family a little better.
Yeah, so that’s specifically … I’ve been trying to study drawing a little bit more. I’m getting away from that so I can paint a little bit more. I go and like sometimes I’ll just study drawing for like six months and won’t touch painting.

Larry Groff:


David Kassan:

And that’s just bad, because my gallery doesn’t like that, because then I don’t have anything to show.

Yeah, and I’m trying to stay away from drawing, but I’m in this constant search for the right medium for me. You know, the right kind of, I guess, vehicle to understand things better. Something that comes a little bit more naturally for me than other mediums. I don’t know. I’m just constantly always struggling with them. So Hopefully, that’ll get easier eventually. The magic medium. The magic bullet. You know? I don’t know.

So that’s it, I guess.

Larry Groff:

David, it was awesome. Thank you again.

[End of interview]