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Sketch Pad

Kurt Dahlke
Will paint for food
by Kathy Anderson

native Portlander, Kurt Dahlke grew up in Raleigh Hills, then jumped between Northwest and Southeast Portland for several years before landing on the North side where he's been for the last 10. Kurt believes his wife, Sarah, is an artist at heart, but she is not interested in pursuing a fine-arts career. She does accompany Kurt to musical venues around town where he listens to, then writes about a wide variety of acts for NW Drizzle's Aural Report.

Systems analysis
Kurt Dahlke looks at his artwork as if it's a pop song; he wants it to be broad enough that anyone can relate, but pointed enough that no one is left scrounging for meaning.

"Super Adaptoid"

"Further still, I like to have many elements in my work that can connect in some way, and interchangeably, so that a viewer can trace one thread and then jump to another over and over, hopefully never reaching an end to relations within the piece," he said.

"A good piece of art needs to bear repeated viewings and always seem new. Ultimately, the work explores how, in our world, different systems are simultaneously set to work, and how the systems affect each other."

Kurt's paintings are mixed media: joint compound, dry pigment, acrylic paint, pencil and pure acrylic emulsion.

"I also draw, usually lots of tiny circles," he said.

Sometimes why
Always amazed at how profoundly music affects him, Kurt's biggest influence has been driving around at dusk listening to songs and looking at the changing colors of the sky.

"I'd like to capture the feelings that I get looking at clouds, noticing the way the Earth is lit," he said. "Those days when a thin veil of clouds hide bright sunlight and make everything look like it's lit from inside by neon and fluorescence, that's where the sculptural element comes into play in most of my work. It needs to be lit specifically to bring out hidden elements."


Any time Kurt sees someone else making art, from musical theater to a DJ spinning records, it inspires him to create.

"It's just a feeling that I want to make something beautiful or profound," he said. "There are no stories behind the pieces; I draw from things that could be read as natural imagery."


The titles Kurt gives to his works are meant to be open ended, or imply multiple meanings, so the viewer is left to her or his own devices. Except for his most recent pieces, which take their names from Marvel Comics characters.

"The pieces are small and subtle, and I like how they contrast with names like Colossus or Juggernaut," he said.

It's also important for Kurt to feel like his art has both intrinsic and extrinsic value.

"Otherwise, why do it? I'm not a political artist, although it would be great if I could exert influence on societal thought patterns with my art," he said. "But there are others who do that so much better than me."

Looking good
Local artists who influence Kurt are Matthew Haggett, Brenden Clenaghen, Laurie Reid and Mel Katz. Others include Agnes Martin, Gerhard Richter, John Cage and Cy Twombly.

"I'm a big Rauschenberg fan, though it doesn't show," he said. "I also like Vija Celmins. I freely admit that there's always more I could and should be looking at."

"Beta Ray Bill"

In August and September, Kurt's art will hang at Fife, a restaurant on Northeast 45th and Fremont. His work can also be seen on the Gallery 114 Web site.

"I'm working on a site of my own," he said, "but in the meantime, if people are interested in movie reviews of a questionable nature, they can go to one of my other time wasters, www.videosewer.com."

This is the second year Kurt was asked to donate a piece to the Cascade AIDS Project Art for Life auction.

"I think one year someone at Cascade AIDS got hold of the Gallery 114 roster and they just sent me an invitation to donate," he said. "Fortunately, my piece was accepted and sold, so I got invited back. I'm happy to help them bring in some green."

Slow dive
Supplied with a cardboard box filled with paper that was blank on at least one side, drawing became one of Kurt's main forms of entertainment growing up.

"I got my first sketchbook at age 7 or 8 and filled it with drawings of R2-D2," he said.

Kurt claims that neither of his parents is very artistic, but his oldest brother was a big hippie who played guitar, drew and painted spacey stuff influenced by Roger Dean.

"So I guess my second-generation influence is Roger Dean," he said.

"Baby Sitter"

In kindergarten Kurt worked hard at art. In high school he took all the classes required, but didn't go out of his way to take extra art classes – though he did spend a lot of time drawing comics.

He went to community college right out of high school, but decided he couldn't handle the free-form nature of that type of education.

"My bachelor's degree was a long time coming," he said. "I took classes part time for a few years, then dropped out and worked for a number of years while trying to make a go of it as a musician and picking up the odd credit here and there, before finally diving back in."

Kurt enrolled at both Portland Community College and Portland State University in 2000. He received a Professional Music Certificate from PCC and his BFA with a focus on drawing, painting and printmaking from PSU.

"Looking back I think that community college is a good thing," he said. "Anyway, I started at PCC in 1987 and completed my degree in 2003!"

Making camp
As someone who experiments with minimalist/repetition-type work, Kurt finds himself in a camp with artists who find the very core of the work – repetition used to reach an altered state of consciousness – a bit of a chore.

"I Feel Like Such a Clown" (detail)

"This is mostly my take on the subject, based on the small sampling of repetition artists I've talked to. It's counter-intuitive and not something we necessarily feel good about. Maybe it's an American thing," he

"The funny thing about being a 'working artist' – Lord knows I'm not making a living at it – is that, if you're lucky, you end up mostly making work for upcoming shows, which seems to be taboo among many artists.

"I don't see anything wrong with making pieces that are aimed at a target; I don't think it messes with the 'purity' at all."

After a while of workaday without creating, something seems missing and the tension builds in Kurt.

"Like most artists, I do stuff because if I didn't I'd probably blow a gasket of some sort," he said. "It may come out as music, writing or visual art, but it's eventually going to make me create.

"On the other hand, I'd be remiss if I didn't say I want to share the work, meeting the largest audience possible and, on a practical level, getting people to buy it seems to make the most sense. If we lived in a barter society, I'd be happy to trade for food."

E-mail Kurt at orangeandorange@msn.com. You can reach Kathy at kanderson138@comcast.net and draw on other Sketch Pads.

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