Timothy Roepe is a fantastic artist who is a born and bred New Yorker. I met him on social media and I’m glad that I did. He has become a cool friend and his work www.timroepe.com harkens back to Jackson Pollock and Milton Avery among other greats, but he clearly has his own voice and vision about art, the art world and life in general. Here’s our cool chat.
MICHAEL: Timothy, your work is very cool. I actually see abstracted Impressionism in a lot of your work with some Jackson Pollock influence. The work is elegant with some edge. Am I in the ballpark?
TIMOTHY: My work is cool? Too much blue and green, huh? Well, I do work with the warm and hot colors from time to time and have mastered pink and yellow. Just kidding, know what you mean and thank you for the compliment, but be warned; I am a real fan of color theory. There are some very strong color concepts that are my friends and I have a healthy dialogue with them. They speak to me through nature as well as theory and have probably distracted me from all the other areas in my life.
MICHAEL: What do you mean?
TIMOTHY: Color is non-verbal and says what words cannot. I that think color, truly expressive color, is downright bone chilling. Most painters will "paint with colors," but there is a sophisticated class of artists that "paint color." It is a subject unto itself and I for one think that, like line, it is one of the most rudimentary and powerful issues in visual art.
MICHAEL: I see. What about your abstracted works?
TIMOTHY: You mean Abstract Expressionism? I do also have a connection to Impressionism as a landscape painter as well. An artist's relation to nature is unavoidable and I took this quite seriously in a happy way. It also is a great window into the development of painting from an art history perspective. So, if I may cordially be difficult, I have a relationship to Realism (was trained in the figure) Impressionism, Abstraction, Abstract Expressionism and in all seriousness, I think this embodies a rather pain in the ass problem artists today face; To sort of "pass through" these movements as a developmental process, empathize, examine, analyze, enjoy and embrace the work – and "Visit everyone ...the ones you like…" on the evolutionary scale and as I used to think "add to the conversation."
MICHAEL: Yes. So, when you’re painting, you’re adding to what other artists have already done.
TIMOTHY: … I am a mutt, a product of a melting pot, I have perspective, which I feel is a strong endorsement to Democracy, not politically, but culturally. I am a freakin’ poster child for a melting pot of artistic standards. Hear that Mr. President and all you curators out there? … I walked through a fair amount of fire, being attracted to many types of painting. I'll admit I was naive, because I had no real idea when I was younger how difficult it is to paint and foster my own style.
MICHAEL: What's your fascination with Jackson Pollock? Also, don't living artists influenced by dead, famous artists risk having an eventual identity crises on canvas?
TIMOTHY: I am very fascinated with the literary level of people around his life and work and that his painting, as it turns out, raises so many crucial issues in 20th century painting. He freed line from its “obligatory role” to be a boundary for descriptive form, which may be his greatest contribution. Line is now expressive in its own right, mostly due to him. He used gravity, which anyone who has tried will tell you is quite fun, freeing, and opens up a broad range of expressive possibilities. There is a language there that you don't get with a paint brush. But he emphasized the control necessary to make cohesive artistic statements. He mastered the technique to such a high degree that he made the art world expand the idea of masterpiece.
MICHAEL: Yes, I absolutely love looking at his work in museums. It’s fun and freeing.
TIMOTHY: He is one of the few artists who was willing to "rethink" painting. He understood tradition, but wanted something more interesting and original to do.
MICHAEL: And so, when you're painting, how do you honor Pollock while remaining true to your own individual expression? Some of your works are clearly Pollock influenced.
TIMOTHY: If a living artist is on a trajectory and the task should present itself of "mastering" or "dealing" with an influence, rather than the influence overpowering him/her, I believe the artist will become intimately acquainted with really strong concepts, as well as techniques, that expand the horizon line so to speak. His/her work will evolve with an added significance, because that artist will inevitably become engaged with the dialogue and most likely will have "downloaded" some extremely valuable insight.
MICHAEL: I understand. Go on …
TIMOTHY: This isn't the same thing as "copying" some other artist, but rather "speaking to that artist" and using the terms of their language which then creates an artistic message to the "now." So, I am saying there is a difference between being "influenced by" by a dead artist and mastering - using that influence to form a new point of view.
This also raises another favorite point of mine that an artist can have "many influences," and working through multiple influences I think is a sort of creative process unto itself. It is a form of empathy; artists need empathy, of their subjects, their materials, and the artists they learn from. I sure feel like a child of an artist melting pot. Which today is a formidable position because I adhere to painting and don't, or haven't yet, crossed over into other areas, such as digital or installation as time moves forward. I am bringing up older artistic ideas for a new argument. But hell yes, when artists resort to copying other artists, they don't really even have an identity to have a crises with. There isn't any complete empathy and they are more interested in the "look" or appearance of their work and not the process. That is a sort of crises.
MICHAEL: There’s clearly no crises in your work. I love the landscapes.
TIMOTHY: In my own work, I always return to nature; the outside, onsite communalism with earth, sky, plants, the mountain or the beach light and color - the sun, the moon, the light and night, the cold. Nature nurtures the visual experience in a way I personally don't think anything in art history can. Nature is life, it is visually infinite and can be interpreted and re-interpreted from many points of view.
MICHAEL: Is there a connection between your landscapes and abstract expressionism?
TIMOTHY: I became more interested in abstract painting BECAUSE of my interest in nature. My experience as a landscape artist is in my subconscious big time because I did it for over twenty years. So in exploring the Abstract Expressionist modality, I have given new voice to my experience in the landscape. And it presented new possibilities for painting for me, new scope, depth, energy, aesthetic sensibility and took my mind to a deeper place in that elusive realm they call inspiration.
MICHAEL: And does Pollock factor in at all with the landscapes and abstraction?
TIMOTHY: I honor Pollock by being as true to form as I can be and by bringing my own experience, background and technique. My relationship to nature is entirely different, as is my artistic background and point in history. But culturally, because a lot of people don't like him at all, don't think it is valid as art, I am working with a standard that reveals a level of expression that goes beyond a set time frame.
Just as Chiaroscuro continues to get used, the technique and vocabulary of gravity can say new things because we aren't in the 1940's. And I honor him by using rocks. Recent work has incorporated representational icons. I have brought pencil rendering into it and two dimensional logos. I have associated part of his language toward a different direction looking for something else to say with it. I am from a different age; post Vietnam, television, pre Nintendo Age, the Soho age and I bring something new to the table. Also, I worked into the dialogue from a point of view of the picture as a "space" and not the way others might have, as a "surface." Pollock's work can be interpreted in many ways, which is why so many people get caught up in his work. I think I honor him also by incorporating some of his techniques, not his philosophy really, into another dialogue I am having with nature and the art of my time really, not his.
MICHAEL: Is there anything else?
TIMOTHY: My color, for instance, plays a big role in what I say, and I don't really use line they way he does. I also don't have an affinity with lines that seem to never end. I also believe I honor his honesty as an artist, by learning something from him because I actually hated his stuff when I was a student. It took me 20 years to see anything in it.
Mostly I would say I honor him, like a lot of other artists, by exploring the credibility and aesthetic possibilities of all the issues he raised. When I am painting, I am working from an entirely different level of conscience. I have an "inner psychic radar " and keep a another level of conscience on what I am creating. In the moment, in the act of creative painting, there really can be no influence because painting comes from a complete focused absorption in that time. That's why copying doesn't work. A technique may come out, the choices made can have an aesthetic association, but the statement is something else entirely. From what I understand about his personality, I think he would be glad to see that the effect of what he was saying, the struggle he went through was, admired, his work loved, and that he opened a whole new area in visual art.
I want to state that my painting practice is not about "honoring" Pollock. I have learned a great deal from the Ab Ex Painters, but my aim is to always expand, from a place of observation and feeling, which is a place of always changing.
MICHAEL: Your figurative pieces and landscapes are charming and innocent. They have a simple color blocking and layering and wistfulness that make me think Milton Avery. Lovely.
TIMOTHY: When I lived and worked in the Woodstock area, I frequently painted near Avery's property. There is a great hill/valley landscape there and lots of open space with barns. I recently completed one of these pieces large scale.
MICHAEL: What do you think about aging? The art world - like the rest of the world, for reasons we know all too well - is obsessed with young talent. However, young talent can't hold a candle to more experienced artists. What do you think about how society views aging and where you are now in your life?
TIMOTHY: It looks to me that the fetish of celebrity embraces youth and that getting older isn't so "hip" which then implies experience doesn't count for much. I feel a little sad about that because when I was in art school it was the other way around; experience and discipline and vision were the desired things to realize. I think that what you are talking about comes from the mass media. Magazines, Hollywood and when the art world shifted to more of a business. "The shiny new thing" (as well as the "cheaper new thing") is a driving ideal in a society that, well, let’s face it, has become very consumerist and throws things away without much thought; our buildings, our products, our businesses, and our culture. I think one of the overarching values in art is, in fact, tradition. Most artists are viewed as "left wing" liberals when in fact the whole idea of tradition is quite conservative. Artists can be, not always, both developers of new thought as well as adhering to traditional practices that go far back linguistically.
MICHAEL: Yes indeed.
TIMOTHY: Technology obviously doesn't hold that nor does the mass media, but they have become "gate keepers" in a way to what will be visible. I think it may get down to how open the heart of the individual may be and how deeply an artist can be "heartfelt" and whether that will get any notice. There are, in fact, currents deeply committed to tradition; younger artists go to Italy to paint and what not; tradition is there, but our society has a problem "packaging it" and making it have mass appeal because it requires intellectual effort. You have to use your brain in a museum. I myself get headaches at the Met. I think Cristo was addressing this very thing with "The Gates." Overall, that went over pretty well, but I noticed on cable news, for instance, an adversarial air toward Christo was popular. On a mass scale, meaning TV/Hollywood, we think it's "fun" to make fun of artists because that's easier than dealing with meaning and content.
Maybe the mass appeal for entertainment has something to do with it.
But when was the last time you saw a visual artist on Oprah? Or heard the views of a visual artist on Bill O'Reilly? Why isn't Chuck Close taken as seriously as an athlete or movie star? Many artists and scholars are quite profound and it surprises me that they aren't more embraced.
MICHAEL: That’s why I’m here Tim.
TIMOTHY: Getting older is good in that art is quite cumulative, the experience draws on itself and your knees don't suffer like they do in sports.
I was turning a new bend as an artist when I turned forty and didn’t have to worry about injuries. So I am glad I didn't get in to sports. Craft is directly connected to experience, physical experience; work. Insight and wisdom come with age. So the two things naturally play out favorably when an artist gets older.
In Bridgehampton, I was a grounds keeper and assistant to an older established artist who now is 87. He paints every day. Famous? No. Respected among his peers? He's well loved and respected. His work is great. Never have I met a more optimistic person. Why doesn't society magnify this kind of thing? I don't really know, seems to me that it represents some kind of "cross value" intersection thing for culture.
My answer is, artistically speaking, getting older is great, everything as an artist becomes more enriched. There is a deeper connection to every brushstroke, every stretch of the canvas. But socially? It is a little scary. Even if you exhibit, people will still think you are a little weird.
MICHAEL: Wow, I’m sorry to hear that.
TIMOTHY: Society, the larger culture, seems fascinated with the "new" which certainly doesn't work out fairly when it comes to art. In the context of scholarship, in the academic sphere, it's accepted that discipline, practice, work and analysis are the hallmarks of an accomplished artist. Maybe a good way to look at aging is, "as long as my ideas are new, immediate, in the moment and the style vibrant and alive, what does age matter?” And let that pendulum swing each way. An art history book will show you Hans Hofmann painted quite powerfully until age 86, Picasso to 92, and Lee Krasner to 74. Where is that sort of honor today? I would say that's worth looking at.
MICHAEL: It most certainly is. Older artists are doing some of the most incredible work that I see. They are formidable.
TIMOTHY: Without trying to sound like I am making a sweeping generalization, another thought is that the younger artist is more reactive to what is sensational. Pop Art, a movement I don't care for, was about this. It conspicuously avoided the turmoil of the sixties; the war, assassination of Kennedy, it avoided a more "mature view" of its world. It wanted to have "fun" when the country was a volatile powder keg, so the "minimalists' took the more thoughtful view. I always figured the mainstream may have lost a lot of respect for art around this time, so they still favor Andy Wyeth and are tired of new "of the wall ideas" afraid nothing profound is going on. Wyeth and Norman Rockwell are comforting and don't rock the boat. Older, more mature people, who are well-travelled tend to like my work. The whole Pollock House circle is older people and I am the younger guy.
MICHAEL: Do you come from an artistic family? What was your first experience with art? When did you know you would become an artist? You might have been a doctor, lawyer, engineer or something else, No?
TIMOTHY: My father died this year and in looking back at so much, I recently viewed my family background as perhaps having artistic potential, but that it was repressed. I think both my parents had some sort of "artistic inclinations" but due to their upbringings, there would have been no encouragement or even the idea of being an artist would be seen as silly and impractical. I mean "be" a "real" artist; not a hobbyist, Sunday painter, weekend painter with a "day job” or "real job,” but live the life and take on the "real identity " of "being" an artist, dedicated, working, thinking, doing feeling, being what artists do, the ones I learned about. What did come from my father especially is that one lives from the intellect and you do something "for real,” meaning no half asses or phonies, be authentic and mean what you do.
I am from a large family and most of my siblings "did something for real." My older brother and sister, for instance, were not f*ing around in the real world. They had serious goals. My mother, the arguably irrational temperamental half of the marriage, I kind of view as the "guts and passion" against my father’s, quiet, contemplative, book smart, humble, respectful nature. My father was a true "listener" and had a very objective way of looking at things. He almost never got riled, and though he had some strong views, was not into conflict, he was tenacious...a quality which serves painting quite well. He said things like, "the truth will always come out" and "life is relative."
About three years ago in Southampton, I had a solo show of larger abstract paintings and the owner, who is very well educated, she has a great eye, told me, "you have the right amount of both intellect and passion, there is brains and fire in there" which I thought was insightful and I immediately thought of my parents. Am I at war internally as an expression of my parents? I think there may be a degree of truth to that.
MICHAEL: And so, what was your experience with art while growing up?
TIMOTHY: In high school, I wanted to take "wood shop" with the "cool guys," but my mother told me that I had to take art because I was " too refined" for that. I did, however, become a carpenter when I was 26. So I took art in high school, but never thought of it as "something to do with my life."
In the fall, my father would drive us up to the Finger Lakes to visit some friends every year and I did my first landscape, a pen and ink looking down a road at Lake Cayuga, with the road sign in it. I found it recently and thought right away, wow, my life became that, but I didn't know it at the time; it's a weird feeling. Later on in my twenties, the bulk of my "onsite work" was driving around randomly from the Adirondacks to Vermont to work along the roadside, the vehicle was a sort of travelling studio. I did this for years, and still do it, but it was a major driving force to my art practice.
There have since been many road signs that have appeared in studies from time to time. Also, this practice of "leaving my life behind" to paint, as opposed to working at home, near the phone, the fridge, personal distraction, was quite a smart way to go for me; the landscape views always fresh, one "leaves" at the end of the day so there is this closure, I like the completion, the painting begins and ends, and with weather, am forced to make quick decisions. This bears down on my work a lot, even today. I know intuitively when to stop a painting, even if it's a seven foot abstract piece.
In high school on a class trip, my first time at MoMA,1977, I saw, or rather "experienced" Guernica. It did have quite an impact, and really left me with this sense that art was serious in a very big way. I mean ships from Mystic, even a Van Gogh reproduction is nice, but, at that point art was literature, Picasso was like Shakespeare, bigger than Bob Dylan, art was beyond comprehension, and I knew that everything I heard from adults where I came from was complete nonsense. Where I came from, a small lower middle class town in Upstate NY, "Modern art is a bunch of bull sh**t," "My four year old can splatter paint!"' You know, the usual litany of stupid illiterate remarks.
MICHAEL: And what’s your earliest memory of art?
TIMOTHY: My earliest memory with paint is when I was about three or four years old in New City, New York on my folks’ white-speckled, linoleum, kitchen floor, which had a distinct 'bump" in it and I finger-painted quietly and calmly with yellow and green. It probably meant next to nothing at the time, but from where I am today, it is a very powerful memory. I am sure the picture probably wasn't too important, but the act of painting and the fact that I didn't have and paintbrushes, hell I was, I think 3!
In grade school for at least a full year, I incessantly drew "Lost In Space" robots and then moved onto incessantly drawing dinosaurs after my first in a series of visits to the Museum of Natural History. I kept them in a pile, collected, until my passive-aggressive brother burned them all in the fireplace.
MICHAEL: That’s not good. I’d still be pissed about that. I’m sensing that your might be just a little too. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have mentioned it. LOL.
TIMOTHY: Well, I guess that didn't stop me! When did I know I was an artist with an identity?
If you can bear another quick story:
I am 26 years old, had already moved out of NYC, where after college I had a job as a waiter and worked at MoMA books and posters, where I spent my lunch time with the MoMA collection and had a pass to any museum in New York. I was very affected by Van Gogh, Cezanne especially, and knew I wanted to get out of New York and paint in the landscape. Most of art school was figure plus experiments. So, I had this job painting a house in a beautiful remote area in September and I was up on a ladder, painting a house and the weather, the brilliant, blue sky and fluffy white clouds and all the trees, just took over my conscience. As irresponsible as it was, I simply, without even thinking, got off the ladder and drove all the way to Paramus Pearl on Route 17, an hour drive, and spent the money I had on some Old Holland oils and brushes, and was I dying to paint, and drove an hour and a half to Minnewaska State Park, where I hiked into the woods and painted on masonite near a waterfall.
TIMOTHY: I think I knew for real then because I just listened to my instincts and without fear. The trouble was I had no actual skill using oil in the landscape. It took a few years from there to really get a grip on the use of oils. Landscape painting is great to teach yourself a range of techniques. But I was pretty dedicated from there.
MICHAEL: Finally Timothy, What is the point of all of this? We're not ending world hunger or homelessness or curing cancer here. Why should people care about art? Isn't it really only for wealthy Hamptonites? What's the point of art?
TIMOTHY: No, I don't think art is for wealthy Hamptonites, but for anyone one who is interested. In a broader way, it’s about communicating across wide divides in humanity, such as time. But it really is about aesthetics, what we as a society feel is beautiful or maybe urgent to say. It’s communication and aesthetics. The point of making it is to elevate human expression, organizing, visualization, the human need to say something. And the artworks themselves exist as a form of literature, so there is socialization, education, a relating to others that goes on through art. Art helps define a good life versus mere animal survival.
MICHAEL: That’s for sure.
TIMOTHY: As human beings finding power, we can adopt constructive or destructive ways, and art remains one of the constructive paths. It’s ultimately, real art that is, giving from the soul. Art also is outside of politics, so it doesn't get on teams, choosing sides like Democrat/Republican/Communist, etc. Art is free to go beyond such boundaries. It isn't bound or obligated to any "team," thus it takes a frightening position on true individuality.
Most of all, art embodies and hopefully this won't sound too dangerous, a spirituality, as in meditation, that is free of religious doctrine. Please note here I am not dismissing any religion, insulting or criticizing any of at all in the least. But I mean to be free of the REPRESSION of the misinterpretation, even practice, of pageantry, ritual, and authoritative words handed down, and I sincerely believe, shaped for other agendas. Again, this isn't an attack on religion, but to be real, God will talk through us in all kinds of ways and art for sure is one of them.
So, the point of painting, I mean honestly, the point that I know, is a type of ideal freedom, an ideal freedom not simply personal, but it is expressive and intellectual, that when done right is a channel that opposes destructive forces. In essence, it’s truly a connection to spirit, that has been with us all along since cavemen, illuminating our internal selves as we evolve forward. It is truly eternal, the language of art that reaches back to pre-biblical times.
So it is this huge, expansive inclination of humans to be free expressively, separating ourselves not only from the animal kingdom, but from the destructive, violent, political parts of ourselves. That is the point of art as far as I can tell, and I am quite conscious of this in my painting practice.
MICHAEL: I can clearly see it in your work. Thanks Tim. This has been great.
Check out Timothy Roepe at www.timroepe.com.