Vulnerabilities, Absurdities and Humor with Will Kurtz
Written by Raquel Baillard All images courtesy of Will Kurtz

Will Kurtz underscores the pure and undeniable truth that art lives everywhere around us.  His unique newspaper sculptures present everyday life in vivid unashamed glory.  There is a great sense of truth that emanates from his figures.  His sculptures’ actively rigid poses almost serve as a reminder for all of us to live life to the fullest and appreciate it deeply.  The figures whisper “breathe and move” into the atmosphere and show us that we should cherish the everyday things and people we take for granted.  Will Kurtz is doing something truly important by depicting touchable reality in the most unique way.  It is a pure pleasure to interact with an individual that possesses such selfless ingenuity.

“My sculptures seem to take on a life of their own. This happens at a certain …”

Please tell us a little about yourself – your childhood, siblings, where you grew up, what you liked as a child, strange thoughts as a child/now, unique attributes, where you live now, etc.?

I grew up just outside of Flint, Michigan. I have 2 brothers and 2 sisters. I am right in the middle. We moved around a lot when I was young, so it seems I spent most of my time with my brothers and sisters and did not have many friends. I remember spending a lot of time out in nature. I would ride my bike to the local stream or pond and catch frogs. We once lived by a corn field and we used to dig big trenches and cover them with wood and dirt to make tunnels to crawl through. I used to spend time alone in my room building models. Being one of 5 kids I did not get tons of attention so I had to entertain myself. I don’t remember ever being encouraged with my art. As a matter of fact I never had any art classes in high school and did not really start making art until my 30’s. I hunted and fished with my brothers. Now I cannot kill anything and am a vegetarian. I was going to be a veterinarian. I think this is reflected in all of the dogs and other animal sculptures I make today.

What does your art and art in general mean to you?

To me, I have a hard time separating my art from my life. My art is its own thing in that it is sculptures you can see and touch, but they reflect how I see the world. I have a genuine love and empathy for people and animals.  I tend to be drawn toward people that are familiar and who show their lives on their face. Art that affects me has nothing to do with refined skill or construction, but rather with an originality and genuineness that comes from an artist exposing themselves. I tend to be drawn more to outsider, raw work for this reason.

How do you describe your form of art?

My art is about capturing humanity in a way that I see it. I try to show people in all of their vulnerabilities and absurdities and humor, but in a compassionate way. I think there is really no difference between people of different races or economic levels. We all have our issues and hardships and joys that life gives us.  I think my art makes people smile because it reminds them of someone they know or have seen. I am lucky in that I make work that is appreciated and understood by not only collectors but also people that hardly ever set foot in a gallery or museum. It is when people that know nothing about art, appreciate what I am doing that I know I am on track.

What tools do you use for the creation of your work and how did you create your personal style?

My tools are quite simple as are my subjects. I have a wood and wire armature structure on the interior of my sculptures. This is cut and put together with just a circular saw and screws. Then I just tape layer upon layer of newspaper onto the armature with masking tape. I make all of my figures naked then construct the paper clothes on top of them. I do not use any paint, but just the colorful advertising for the surface collage. This is put on with a hot glue gun. The sculptures are then sealed with matte medium and several layers of varnish. The correctness of the anatomy and high level of detail brings the sculptures to life and allows me to push the collage to very visual abstract levels. I found this style after tying many different types of sculpting and materials such as stone, wood, Styrofoam, plaster and clay. I like the speed that I can make a sculpture with newspaper and tape. I also like that it is a disposable material that is always breaking down like our bodies. I like the raw feeling of the finished pieces that only newspaper gives. I also like that the collage is all about words and imagery which is very much what we are about.

Your sculptures all seem to have an affable aura to them – is this done purposely? And what are you trying to primarily convey with your work?

My sculptures seem to take on a life of their own. This happens at a certain point after I make the face and hands. I am never completely sure what personality they will have. I am often surprised by this. I try to make sculptures that represent the photos of the people I take with my iPhone of people around Brooklyn and New York. I really try to capture their character and what made them capture my attention to begin with. I am trying to show a bit of the human condition. I am trying to show how we are all in this together.

What is the worst critique you have ever received about your work? What is the best compliment that you have received about your work?

I get critiques or questions all the time about the archival value of sculptures made of newspaper. I had to put together a detailed sheet of all of the sealers and varnishes I put on my work to protect them from the sun and humidity. I am now working toward making them weatherproof to be able to go outside. The best compliment I have received is that my work makes you both laugh and cry.

Since Style.No.Chaser is a men’s lifestyle magazine, what attributes/items/clothing /etc. do you think define a man?

I don’t really think a man is defined by his style or clothes. I think that is something he does to make him feel better about himself, but not for others. A man is really defined by his compassion and kindness and generosity.  He is defined by his strength of being able to show his emotions. He is defined by his sense of humor and charisma. 

What is your personal life philosophy?

My personal life philosophy is to live the life I have chosen, to not let my fears stop me, to be kind and try not to hurt people or animals or the earth, and to follow my passion and use it as an example for others to follow theirs.

Who dead or alive, celebrity or not, artist or not, would you like to go on a two week road trip with and why?

I would like to go on a road trip with Jimmy Carter and Bono and Bernie Sanders and Oprah.

How can people learn more about your current and upcoming works?

I currently have work up at Kim Foster Gallery in New York City. They can also see my work and upcoming shows on my website: willkurtz.com

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