*Please note: some images NSFW
Curtis Welteroth graduated from Kutztown University in Pennsylvania in 2016, and is currently in Leipzig, Germany, participating in the Pilotenkueche residency. Here he shares some ideas about exploring queer identity, sexual taboo, and childhood development among other themes in his practice, as well as not putting work on pedestals — and there’s more at the links following the Q&A!
Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I was born and raised in the semi-small city of Williamsport in the center of Pennsylvania, USA. It wasn’t like other rural communities that remain totally unchanged through generations, but the change happening in the city was incredibly slow and tedious. I knew I couldn’t stay there. My time at Kutztown University was incredibly formative for me for several reasons; the big one being that once I came out as gay my senior year of high school, I knew I wouldn’t have to hold back from from full expression at college.
While at KU I studied both Sculpture and Experimental/New Media. At the time I thought painting was too safe, so I spent my time learning to weld, make moulds and wooden armatures, code web pages, edit film, etc. Ironically, almost all of my projects in both concentrations incorporated painting somehow. I knew I didn’t want to be “just a painter” then, and I still feel that way, but I’ve always loved the malleability of acrylic and oil paint and to see how far I push it, both physically and conceptually.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
My dad for a period of time worked in a office supply factory (If memory serves me correct) and would bring home large reams of copy paper he would encourage my brother and me to draw on to keep us out of trouble. There was never a shortage of cheap art supplies in our house, so I was allowed to draw to my hearts content. Being the youngest of four children in my family was also very liberating growing up, as my parents were busy seeing to my older siblings high school woes and troubles, so I had enough independence for my art to thrive. From then on, making art just became habitual, whether it was for my career or for pleasure (or both in most cases).
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
My artistic practice is constantly evolving; it’s always in flux. My work often alludes to queer identity, early childhood development, and an interest in the banal, but with my time in Germany I’ve been combining those overarching concepts with my fascination with the Flemish and Dutch still-lives from the Northern Renaissance. I’m working to merge that hyperrealism and early display of globalism with more contemporary subject matter that also exemplifies a childish sense of humor (self-deprecating in some instances). Queering the classics in a way.
What is your process like?
My process for the work I make is very organic. I’ll sketch a layout for a painting I want to make in the most basic sense and then open myself up to imagery I can randomly find in what cultural outlets I’m taking in at that time, such as the internet, books, movies, music, etc. Typically I’ll get fixated on an image or concept that strikes my fancy that I want to include in a work (which can be very disparate in some works; werewolves coupled with Lepidoptera and obscure, early youtube culture). I’ve usually got one or two paintings going at a time, but never any that are within a strict series; most of my works vary radically in content and material that I usually just say my whole artistic practice is one ongoing series.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
Several professors I’ve had back in Kutztown greatly influenced and challenged what methods I wanted to work with. I got into a huge disagreement with one of the organizers for our class’s final group show; I argued that the sculpture I wanted to include (a small pile of tromp-l’oeil garbage) needed to be directly on the floor—no pedestals, no ‘low rise’ pedestals, nothing. We compromised on an incredibly thin, low-rise pedestal that I painted to look like our gallery’s bamboo wood floor. It was the only time I’ve ever used a pedestal in my work, and God I hope it was the last. As for a piece of advice (that seems to fit nicely in with this debacle), I’m reminded of Susan Sontag’s Vassar commencement address where she ends it with saying: “Don’t take shit, tell the bastards off. Thank you very much”.
What is your studio like?
With my current Pilotenkueche residency in Leipzig, Germany, I’ve got a gorgeous open plan studio that overlooks a construction site and a phallic tower of a piano factory in the distance. My studio back in Pittsburgh is located in my apartment building, which makes those late night bursts of inspiration all the easier to tackle! I’m generally a very tidy person in my studio, but once I’ve got an idea for a painting or sculpture going, all bets are off; I throw my studio to shambles just to see this piece done as soon as possible so I don’t lose motivation from the initial idea.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
I struggle terribly with selling my work, as I’m a bit of a pushover when it comes to pricing. If I meet someone who says they love my work and would love to buy it, i’m so touched that I have to hold my tongue from saying “Oh—em—gee you can just have this piece for free please just take it!” I constantly have to remind myself that my career as an artist also needs to be treated with some business qualities as well.
What are three words you would use to describe your work?
Satirical. Colorful. Delicious.
What are you working on right now?
Right now I’m working on several large paintings that will be cut and sewn into business-casual outfits to be used in a performance here in Leipzig at the end of September! This will be my first time doing a solo performance outside of school so It’s exciting but nerve-wracking a bit! I can’t say I’ve fully conceptualized the mergence of painting and live performance yet, but it’s all slowly coming together.
Anything else you would like to add?
I’ve somehow devoted much of my time during this residency to reading almost all of author Vladimir Nabokov’s oeuvre (Lolita, Ada, Pale Fire, King Queen Knave, etc). His focus on bringing to life so many sexual taboos makes for some of the most beautiful, painful, and hilarious writing I’ve ever read.