paint for food
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.
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.
"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
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.
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."
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."
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
"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,
This is the second year Kurt was asked to donate a piece to the
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."
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
"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,"
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
"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!"
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.
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
"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