Answering the Call

Industrial Red (oil, 40×30) is a 2001 Competition finalist.

Being an artist just isn?t feasible. At least that?s what Wausau, Wisconsin, artist Kurt Kroening thought until he quit his job at a roofing and siding company to pursue painting full time. “I was at a crossroads. I?d been at the same place for 13 years and they wanted me to commit to a great opportunity, but it just wasn?t me,” Kroening says. “I got to the point where the job took up so much of my time that I was no longer painting at night. So I quit my job, cashed in my 401(k) and I?ve been going strong ever since.”

Although it hasn?t always been easy, Kroening says he couldn?t be happier with his decision. As a student of art he felt obligated to paint what other people wanted. But now that he?s made the commitment to be a full-time artist, he?s forging his own way. “I went through all of this negativity in my head,” he says. “I don?t think I?m good enough. I don?t think there?s a market, etc. I knew I had to start working and just do the best I could. I thought, I?m going to lock myself in my studio and I?m going to paint what I want to paint and just see what happens.” Four years later, Kroening?s represented by two Wisconsin galleries and has had paintings in several shows.

And his passion still comes alive when he tackles a subject in the studio. For Industrial Red (above), the artist was drawn to the intense neon light and wanted to capture that on canvas. “The red light from the factory just lit up all this fog creating this surreal kind of Mars landscape,” says Kroening. “I sat down there for probably four or five nights soaking it in.” Doing block sketches with a pen, taking photographs, and writing notes about the sights, sounds and smells of a place prepare Kroening for the painting process. For Industrial Red he began as usual by sketching it all out on paper and then transferring it to the canvas. Next, he used a bright white gesso and acrylic underpainting to create luminosity in the later layers. “Red is a tough color to control. I wanted to get the brightness and transparency of the lights to come through, so I had to use a lot of glazes,” he says.

Whether his inspiration comes from the surrounding landscape or from the still lifes he sets up in his studio, Kroening?s just excited to notice that beauty around him again. “At the low point of doing sales, I was driving a circuit that covered a 50 square-mile area,” he says. “I was so caught up in the cell phone that I didn?t even notice the landscape. I didn?t even see the neat things, the beautiful things around me. Now I?m like a visual reporter helping other people see.”

Loraine Crouch is associate editor for The Artist?s Magazine.

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