December 17, 2015

Karl Kurth: An Artist in the Family

I have been really caught up in various business since Noel Night, but I’ve been meaning to write something about a really interesting little show I dropped in on at Ocelot Print Shop. I’ve written in the past about Bayard Kurth, who is a screenprint artist, Detroit original, and genuine oddity–as well as a tirelessly patient teacher and contributor to projects, from the dreams of novice screenprinters, to his West Village community garden.

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I’m always happy to see Bayard, and was very interested to check out a show that he put on in the CCNDC community space adjacent to the print shop, featuring selections of work from his uncle, Karl Kurth, who passed away in 1990. Karl was born in 1937 in Detroit, and cultivated love and skill for visual arts early in life, beginning with Saturday classes at the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts, and going on to continue his art training at Norte Dame University in the late 1950s. He subsequently lived in the Cass Corridor, participating with protesters during the 1967 Detroit Rebellion, and eventually moved to San Francisco, becoming involved in the Haight-Ashbury scene, and living in Greenwich Village around the time of the Stonewall Riots.

20151205_164914There is a tangible thread of social protest and equal rights advocacy within Karl’s work, but just as much a sense of art as a mechanism and personal expression. The work on display at CCNDC runs a gamut of styles, including this fascinating abstract work that incorporates dense layers of paint and military patches (see above). Some of it is much more personal portraiture, including the recurring motif of a young man, and this self-portrait:

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I like the idea of putting the work of a family member on display. I’m sure countless families have these artists, known only to their immediate circle, but representing an unknown talent. Just as major collectors build provenance in their big-ticket artwork, I think there is a real power to grassroots art exhibitions–if for no other reason than it brings compelling work that represents the efforts and creative spirit of beloved people to light. As Karl put in a 1983 diary entry, following a painful break-up with his partner, “Thanks to God: My painting is it…the meat of my life. Wonderful to have my art.”

Wonderful indeed, and wonderful of Bayard to share it with the rest of us. If you want to drop in on the show, check in at Ocelot Print Shop up to Christmas–I’m sure he’d be glad to take you through it!

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