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I am a painter. www.StephenCefalo.com, http://twitter.com/#!/CefaloStudio

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

An Interview with Richard Luschek

Richard Luschek is arguably one of the best classically trained painters in Cincinnati. I would argue that he's one of the best two in fact, the other being Carl Samson. Richard always wears a jacket when he paints, because he is at work, and he is as passionate and serious about his work as anyone I've met.    His beautiful skylit studio in Eden Park is a block away from Carl's historic studio, formerly that of American painters, Herman and Bessie Wessel. 

Richard's home is packed to the rafters Harry Potter-style with old books of all sorts, which Richard collects, especially classic books on painting and drawing.  There are even those little nooks with well-lit oversized books open on them, suggesting that a monk or a wizard looms over them in a hooded cloak meditating or casting spells from them.  But they're not there to look fancy, he reads them too.

Luschek's work will not be understood by the fancypants art establishment, but your dad, your neighbor, and your kid will get it, and I'm pretty sure Chardin would get it.  He's erroneously labelled a pop artist at times, but his use of pop cultural imagery is nostalgic rather than ironic, and the focus is on beauty and craft.  Here are the simple pleasures of being alive, breakfast with the paper, a warm cup of coffee, an old baseball glove, and the toy from a cereal box.  

(The bold print is me, Steve, asking Luschek the questions.)

How did you decide that you wanted to be a painter? It sort of accidentally happened upon it. Not really a very romantic answer, but painting was not the plan.
I drew a lot when I was young, mostly monsters and robots and robots fighting monsters. In high school I was a Dungeons and Dragons nerd that painted tons of little lead miniatures. Though I really enjoyed drawing, I never considered a career in the arts. I loved the sciences. I didn’t even take art class in High school. Seemed like a waste of time. Instead I took Wood Shop so I could learn a “useful” skill.
I went to college as a Biology Major with plans for Medical School. As graduation approached and my interest in surgery increased a plastic surgeon I was shadowing suggested I take sculpture classes. You had to take drawing first. So I started taking a few art classes in the art school. I also figured it would be a much easier work load and help boost my GPA, which it did. I worked in a hospital as a Phlebotomist (the guy who takes your blood).
My first day of art class I went to the teacher to explain that I was taking Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry, Calculus and Physics, and asked what the minimum requirements would be for me to get an A. She looked at me like I was nuts, but I ended up being one of the hardest working students in the class.
A few classes became a minor in art, which turned into my major. I eventually graduated with a Bachelors in Biology and Fine Art.
Art School was not what I was expecting. I thought I would learn the craft side of process. I found that few if any of the teachers had mastered the craft themselves. So they taught ‘ideas’ over skill. I had a great time in Art School, but honestly, not only did I not really learn much of any real use, much of the information I had to unlearn once I found a good teacher.
One day during a model break I was sitting in a painting class thumbing through an Artist Magazine, I stumbled upon a painting of a model that we were all doing terrible figure painting of in Life Painting Class. The painting was called
Nude and Pan by Carl Samson. It was an amazing piece of work, and the guy who painted it was not only still alive, but had a studio just a few miles from campus. I got his information from the model that posed for him and shortly after graduating I gave him a call. He invited me over and I practically begged him to teach me. He was too busy at the time, but was very helpful in my search for a teacher. This was in the mid nineties, and there were only a few schools that taught the skills one needs to paint. During this search my wife and I traveled to Italy to look at the three schools there. I thought Cecil Academy had the most to offer among the Florence schools, but I eventually decided on a small school in Manchester, New Hampshire. This school was also run by a former Gammell student named Paul Ingbreteson. Paul studied with Gammell just after Charles Cecil and before Carl Samson.
I packed up my stuff and marched off to New Hampshire to begin my training.
After 3 years, I returned to Cincinnati and I now have a studio about two blocks from Carl’s studio.
Hmm, I probably could have answered that question in two sentences.

An early student piece by Richard

How would you describe the temperament of your work?
First of all I consider the visual. Is my painting a powerful pleasing image? Does it have color variety and a good abstraction?
Next comes subject. I am moving more and more towards story telling which gets layered on top of the above formal considerations. I have been a bit caught up in a mood of nostalgia. I have been recreating scenes from my childhood, or at least scenes that represent moods from that period. I don’t worry if the scenes are anachronistic, as long as the mood makes sense. I also enjoy adding a touch of humor to the image.
I have been strongly influenced by the Golden Age of Dutch painting. Two of my favorite painters are Chardin and his American follower, Emil Carlsen. I like painting scenes of our day. So while I use food, and items from our time- or more accurately, from the near past, I hope to create an image that is of this time and hopefully timeless. I try to avoid topical stuff, or pop culture references for its own sake. As you know I have painted a Yoda doll and characters like that, but I hope it becomes more than a toy from Star Wars. That someone with no idea of the origin of that green doll will be attracted to its shape and color and design.

Can you talk about your training?
I received what is known as Boston School training, best described as a mixture of academic drawing with impressionistically seen color. In your interview with Carl Samson, he did a great job discussing the differences in the various stains of realism, including the Boston School. As with most schools of realism, the goal of the training is get the look of nature.
So the first year was pretty standard for what is termed “Classical Training”; an entire year doing charcoal drawings of Plaster casts of Greek and Roman sculptures. It was pretty tedious work, but honestly, I loved it. I will say that the winters in New Hampshire can be pretty dreary, but I was surrounded by like minded people working under a single master. We each got a space with a high, north facing window in an old mill building. We would set up our plaster cast, with our drawing board set next to the statue, and from a viewing point about 6 to 8 feet away would view both subject and drawing, charge up and make our marks. We did not work sight size, but did everything relationally, from a spot that allowed us to see the whole of the subject and the drawing together. Two to three weeks were spent on each cast drawing, before moving on to the next. This was done for the entire first year. A year of cast drawing and you start to see and understand accurate shapes, values and form.
Second year we move on to still life. The set up is carefully done, choosing from shelves of objects. The set up could take a week. The idea that one cannot paint a masterpiece without first setting up one, was an important lesson. A life size brown paper charcoal study on brown paper and a small color study helped gauge if our set up was worth painting. If it passed the test, a canvas was stretch and the painting began. No drawing on the canvas or under painting was done. We just started on the blank canvas putting the right value, the right color in the right place. The start looked like a blurry version (a squinty eye view of the final picture). The painting was worked as a whole, bringing it all into focus, not letting any part of the painting lead ahead of the rest. “Try to make it as like as you can, then make it more like. “
Second year often meant we could draw from the model. I figure posed every day for 3 hours. A pose was selected and an 18 x 24 charcoal drawing was worked on for 2 to 3 weeks.
Third year the student continued with still life, figure, and was not able to paint portrait. The model would pose once a week for 3 hours. Students worked to get the big egg shape of the head, a likeness in form and color, before even considering any features.
I will say that after having looked around at various schools, I feel the training at Ingbretson studios is some of the best available. It was a life changing time for me, and I think the training did not just produce a painter but a teacher as well.

Is real drawing and painting flourishing in Cincinnati?
I can’t really say it is. In Cincinnati, real drawing and painting is only done by a handful of painters. I maybe ruffling feathers with this comment, but I have very high standards. Maybe that is plenty. Using paint on canvas to copy photos until you get a reasonable copy is not necessarily painting or drawing. A lot of that is going on, and being hailed as realism; it is visual dictation.
“Real” drawing and painting is something more.

Are there ways in which you have departed from Ingbretson stylistically, philosophically, or aestheticaly?

Paul Ingbreston has a beard. I have a beard. We both like corduroy jackets.
Well, I wear ball caps a lot. I never saw him wear a ball cap or any hat for that matter, so we differ in that way.
Concerning painting, his training gives the skills to develop your own style and voice. I have his teachings in my head constantly while I work, but I do have my own things to say.
I have altered my palette only slightly, adding a few colors I find useful.
What is your Palette?
The palette recommended at Ingbretson pretty much works off the primaries and white.
There is a warm side and a cool side (Just like a Mc DTL- you remember those?) Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Scarlet, Cadmium Lemon, Cremnitz White, Viridian, Ultramarine Blue, Ivory Black. There is a warm red (Cad) and a cool red (Aliz.) , a warm blue (Ultra) and a cool blue (Ivory Black). I occasionally will add Cad yellow medium to gain a warm and cool yellow.
My outside palette is different, eliminating green and black, and adding two more blues (Prussian and Sevres). I also occasionally add Cobalt violet and yellow ochre.
I have just started adding some earth tones to my portrait palette and finding them useful.

Do you see yourself ever taking on a grand-scale allegorical type piece as Samson has done?  
I do find the idea appealing, but I don’t have anything that big planned anytime soon. 

Why bother? How can an artist connect with people in an age saturated with rapid-fire images?
That is the multimillion dollar question! I have been wrestling with this a lot. I have likened what I do as deciding all of sudden that I want to be a medieval knight. I mean that would be totally cool! I would love to wear armor and ride around on a horse being chivalrous, but really everyone would just say,”Who’s that idiot in the costume?” Knights aren’t real anymore. Seriously, once you knight Elton John that title has lost all meaning.
It is difficult being a painter these days. Most people want to be amazed in the movie theater, or looking at their Facebook page on their I Phone. So, who has time to look at a painting, especially if it is realistic, I mean I could take a photo of it now.
I do think when someone sees a masterfully painted picture, it stay with them longer. The painter gets to stare at the world, study it and slow it down for consideration. Something most people could use, especially today.
What do you imagine your art looking like ten years from now? I imagine it will be bigger, better and hopefully look effortlessly done. Probably more figurative work is in my future.

Do you have an influence nobody would ever suspect?
I have a fairly narrow focus, but I am influenced by many of the wonderful Fantasy artists working today.
The story telling and image making of fantasy artist working for games and movies are doing some of the most powerful work out there. They excite the imagination and uplift the spirit unlike a lot of painters that just paint a model in the studio or a sketch of a sunset. I think studio painters have a lot to learn from illustrators.
One painter I have been looking at a lot lately is Petar Meseldžija.

Is a new Renaissance possible or are art's best days behind us?
Not in this climate.
The Renaissance was a heavily funded movement with
focused goals. Most, if not all of society supported its success, enjoyed its production and where not at war with its ideals.
Today that is not true. There are small groups trying to push similar ideals in the arts, but the museum system and the public are not as interested.
This may change, but it is a ways off. If we keep trying, we may be part of the change.

Do you believe in talent? I would characterize talent as interest. I suppose there are some genetic traits that would help one person excel over another.
Talent is interest followed by a ton of hard work.


Can anyone be an artist?
Yes, but not everyone can be a painter.
Oddly everyone seems to personally know someone that is an “artist”. Then you see the work. Owning some art supplies and having feelings is all it takes to be called an artist.
That term artist has very little meaning anymore. You are a sandwich artist if you work at Subway. Stapleton Kearns (his blog is one everyone should be checking out) put it well when he said “A painter that calls himself an artist is like a priest calling himself a saint.”
Back to your question, I think if someone has the interest, trains under the right people, continually studies the craft and then works their ass off, they will become a painter. Only history will tell if they are worthy of being called artists.

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