FIGURATIVE MASTER - DAVID KASSAN

The world’s first Instagram-curated exhibition, Paintguide, is now closed at Unit London. The exhibition was a massive success, and was incredibly well received by fans, collectors, critics and press alike. To delve a little deeper into the minds of some of the incredible Paintuide artists, I sat down with a few of them to discuss their inspirations, backgrounds, hopes and dreams. Today I introduce you to one of the most prominent representational artists of our generation, the one and only David Kassan.

Lisèle Teyssier for Unit London: Could you tell us more about your background and your debut in the art world ?

David Kassan: I was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the US South, my father was a pilot in the US AirForce. A year after I was born before we moved to West Germany for 5 years, while we were there, we traveled all over Europe, I still have vague memories and flashbacks to that time growing up in such a culturally rich environment and visiting all of europe’s greatest museums.  

Six months after I had moved to NYC, when I was 22 years old, I started exhibiting in NYC at Gallery Henoch. They have been a great Gallery to work with for these past 16 years. The culture of the directors have been very nurturing to my work as I have evolved and honed what it is I’m trying to say in paint. My first solo exhibit with them was in 2009, and I had another in 2012. They have been very patient with me over the past few years, because I feel like I don’t want to have any large solo exhibitions for while as I develop my work further. 

UL: Could you take us through your process - how you paint a piece? 

DK: For this painting I had the model Jaece pose for me from life, I started with a 3 hour charcoal drawing that I transferred to a panel then continued to paint her for 5 or 6 hour pose sessions over two months.  We created a film documenting the entire process as well as interviews with Jaece. 

UL: How would you describe your technique?

DK: 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.

 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.

UL: Why have you chosen the figure/portrait as your main subject ?

DK: There is a challenge in painting the figure/portrait, How can we create an authentic living representation of another human being. The paintings that I want to create have blood in them, they are alive and represent the life that the subject has experienced.   

UL: Where do you work ?

DK: My studio is in an old prewar brownstone in Brooklyn, NY.

UL: Do you work on several piece at once?

DK: I work on a lot of paintings at once. Right now I have 5 or 6 pieces going at once, I like to have each piece speak to the others. I’m currently working on a series for a potential museum exhibition and I want all of the piece to flow together. I feel like I’m constantly learning more about painting and by working on a number of pieces the new ideas that I want in my work spreads across all of the works in progress. 

 UL: Your work is so detailed - how long does it take you to create and finish a painting? 

DK: Drying time really isn’t much of an issue, my paint tends to dry over night. However my paintings can take me a long time, usually a couple of months to a year or more. I don’t like to rush any work, there is a saying “The brushstroke lasts longer than the hand that has made it”. Basically if I feel like it would take me another month to make a work stronger, I want to take that time.

 UL: Where do you find inspiration for your paintings?

DK: Painting is my excuse to slow down life so that I can really, learn more about a person or experience that interests me. I am very much a social realist painter which means that I’m a documentarian with paint. If I wasn’t a painter I would be an anthropolgist/socoiologist.

 UL: What is your proudest achievement to date ?

DK: Probably my latest painting, the work is really the fleeting award. I get excited when a painting starts to turn a corner and really represents the subject well. I’m proud of those moments.

 UL: Who are your favourite artists?

DK: Right now I’m really into the work of Antonio Lopez Garcia. His work is super natural in how you can really see his seeing in the works multiple layers. His work is very deliberate and his paintings are records of every thought that pushed his brush based on what he was painting at the time. Some of his paintings have taken longer than 10 years to complete, and I have so much respect for his artistic integrity.

 UL: What would you like to achieve in the future ?

DK: Nothing compares to seeing paintings in real life. The web or print really isn’t the best way to view my work, all of my figures in my work are life sized, so that the subjects seem more real. When you shrink my paintings down and they are viewed on a slick screen, they tend to look a little like they are photorealistic and you lose the tactile feel that I work very to create. So for the future I would really like to have more of my paintings out on public view, so that people can see them the way that I meant for them to be displayed.

 UL: What attracted you to the Paintguide show ?

DK: I’ve been friends with Henrik for a few years now, and we met up in Rome this past summer and he invited me to be a part of the show and curate the account for a week. I’m a big fan of most of the artists that are included, and I have collected some of their works, such as Henrik. Its an honor to be part of this show.

 UL: What do you think of the art world ?

DK: The art world is great, it is so diverse, it really gives everyone the freedom to do what they do. There are galleries and collectors for all different types of work and artist.

 UL: Tell us one thing about you that nobody else knows...

DK: I love telling Willie Nelson Jokes and I’m addicted to jetpack joyride.

Below: “Jaece" by David Kassan for the Paintguide exhibition. See an exclusive video capturing the process of creation for this stunning painting.

Interview conducted for Unit London