Honoring Dan’s Papers Cover Artist P. Michael Kotasek

This week’s cover, “The Lobsterman” by P. Michael Kotasek, celebrates our local heritage and the hard-working men who have farmed the sea’s bounty for generations. The large oil is expressive and moody, with an eerie, peach-colored light.

But the painting used to look different, once featuring conifers, rocks and a blue sky where the stark, orange emptiness now lives. Kotasek rarely feels a painting is complete — it is fluid and changing, like the waters he so often paints.

“The Lobsterman,” has changed since the first time you “finished” it. Can you explain?
Initially I did it as a watercolor. Then decided to take it further and do a large oil painting. It was more prosaic looking. The face was somewhat crudely done. It sat around in the studio in that state for probably more than a year before I got back to it. Also, the overall color scheme has changed.

The painting became a self-portrait. How did that come about?
In a sense they all are [self-portraits]. It wasn’t so much intended to be a self-portrait as it was more of a situation where I used myself as a model. When I did the oil painting the model I had used for the watercolor wasn’t available so I put my face in instead.

You’re a rather humble guy. How is it painting your face into a piece?
I‘m not the type of person who spends a lot of time in front of a mirror. But you must if you‘re using yourself as the model. I suppose any artwork really is a reflection of the artist no matter the subject matter—encrypted bits of the artist’s psyche.

How do you find your subjects? What do you find yourself most drawn to paint?
Everyday life and throw in a little magic realism.

Tell me about your process. 
I like drawing directly from life. Sometimes an idea will go directly to a painting. Other times an idea takes more time to congeal and the drawings lay around the studio for some time before I revisit them. I have a lot of drawings that are pretty straightforward renderings from direct observation. Occasionally something in it will stimulate me to further elaborate.

The sea is a recurring theme in your work. What’s the attraction? 
I like the mystery of the sea—the unknown lying just beneath the surface, unknown beauty and danger. Like once when I was a kid on vacation with my family. I was having a great time playing in the waves on a Caribbean beach, until I stepped on a sea urchin.

Who are your primary influences, your favorite painters? 
The obvious influences are painters Andrew and Jamie Wyeth, Edward Hopper, Winslow Homer, Bo Bartlett. But I’m also a big fan of Lucien Freud, Vincent Desiderio, Julio Larraz, John Currin, Jenny Saville and Rembrandt.

You say your paintings are “distilled” to their most important elements. Tell me about the editing process. 
I look at the process of painting as writing in a visual language. Like telling any story, you can easily lose your audience by spending too much effort describing things that aren’t critical to the story. But by downplaying certain details while embellishing others, the same subject matter can take on an entirely different meaning. It sounds easier than it is. I think of it as visual eloquence.

Do you imagine a narrative in your paintings? What’s your lobsterman’s story? 
There always is [a story], but often not obvious—hidden somewhere beneath the surface. If the viewer simply enjoys it at face value that’s fine with me. I always prefer to hear other people’s interpretation of my paintings.

SCROLL DOWN for 10 Rapid-Fire Questions with P. Michael Kotasek!

See more of Michael Kotasek’s work at Grenning Gallery (grenninggallery.comin Sag Harbor or at kotasek.com.

P. MIchael Kotasek Dan's Papers cover

10 Rapid Fire Questions (Only on DansPapers.com) 

1. Favorite book?
The Big Oyster by Mark Kurlansky

2. Best place to go swimming?
Anywhere as long as there’s no hospital waste, sharks, or flesh-eating bacteria in the area.

3. The last thing that took your breath away?
Witnessing a car accident involving a car and tractor-trailer.

4. The last thing that made you cry?
A friend of mine died this past January. I’ve known him since the first grade.

5. It’s the eve of your execution… What would be your last meal?
Steamed clams, a lobster and fries.

6. Something worth fighting for?
My stay of execution.

7. Something worth giving up?
What do I get in exchange?

8. Spend an afternoon with anyone—alive or dead—who would it be?
Alive. If they’re dead I’d have to do all the talking.

9. An interesting object in your studio?
A hornets’ nest the size of a soccer ball, or the moose skull.

10. Last film you watched?
American Hustle. I loved it.

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