Artist and writer: An interview with my brother, painter Evan Kutz

Brother and sister in Olympia, Washington earlier this year.
Brother and sister in Olympia, Washington earlier this year.
Sarah Cass

This is one in a series of posts in honor of Denver Arts Week that salute some of our favorite people and places on the arts scene.

I have watched my younger brother, Evan Kutz, build his artist's portfolio since he first got into trouble for doodling on a wall. Beginning with a now legendary (and possibly slightly inflated) tale of his expulsion from Catholic School in first grade for drawing a picture of a naked lady -- my parents supposedly declared it 'Picasso-esque' and kept the piece -- to a decade and a half later when we found ourselves working at Chili's and he would sketch monsters on the backs of fellow server's receipts, I have been fascinated by his imagination. For the first time ever, I convinced my brother to talk about his artwork, and why he does (or doesn't) consider himself an artist.

Westword: The pieces you have been showing over the last two or three years look like advertisements with your work sort of layered over the top. What inspired you to make those paintings?

Evan Kutz: Well, I used to work at the Gap doing shipping, as you know, and I would have to take out the trash. Those are old advertising materials from Express window displays. I use recycled stuff -- Not necessarily because it's recycled. Sometimes I think I do that, because I'm better at defacing things than actually making art. It's easier to fuck someone else's shit up -- plus, making giant prints is expensive. They (stores at the mall) throw away so much of that stuff.

Artist and writer: An interview with my brother, painter Evan Kutz

Your last show was a few months ago at Yellow Feather Coffee. Do you personally solicit galleries?

I've been lucky in that other people are really motivated, and want to include me in their shows. I've had like, one real solo show. And that was because Blair Pascal (Former curator at City O' City) gave me, Kevin Hennessy and Aaron Nye a show at City O' City. After that show, she gave me a solo show at KAZE Gallery.

That's a big problem with my lack of motivation lately -- I work a lot better with a deadline. I haven't had any shows lately, so I haven't been making art. So then, an opportunity for a show might come up, but if it's too soon, I can't do it because I don't have any art already working.

That's an interesting way to work as an artist. But, it makes sense to me as a writer because that's the only way I do anything -- by deadline.

Yeah. Some people say they need to create. But, I don't know...

You don't feel like you do?

I don't know, sometimes? More often, I feel like it's self-indulgent. Even now, just talking about art. I feel so..

You feel weird talking about it?

(Laughing) Yeah. I have a desire to create and even if I wasn't doing this, I'd be doing something else creative. But it's not always the case.   You don't have any proper training, other than regular school art projects, right? Or did you take art classes in college?

For the most part, I don't. I took drawing classes in college but they don't play a part in what I do at all. I took figure drawing and drawing 101. It can be fun, but it doesn't play any part in what I do. Everything I do is way more cartoony. Image assembly, not drawn art composition.

Do you feel like what you do isn't true art in some sense because, like you said, you're defacing what's already there?

Well, I don't know. That's another reason I feel weird talking about my own work is that it's not...I feel like, what I do is really far from fine art. It's cartoonish.

Yeah, but look at Keith Haring or Basquiat. I assume they didn't think of themselves as fine artists at all either. Look how they ended up.

I like both those guys, but a lot of their stuff...I think they were just extremely lucky. It was just like, a time and a place. And they were more like...

In a moment?

Yeah, it seems like it kind of exploded. Keith Haring and Basquiat were both "outsider art." And then who is investing in it? Rich, white people from upper crust uptown New York City. They were buying downtown shit from this gay dude who is on the party scene. And then Andy Warhol's little black darling from the ghetto...I like what they made. I just feel like, if it were any other time or place, they'd be nobodies.

Who are some artists that you like?

Definitely Maurice Sendak. He is fucking dope. When I was a kid, and now, I still like his stuff. Aunt Kelly (Yeats') art was big to me. I don't know, sometimes I think about why I do it -- other people have this need to create. I'll always doodle and draw, but that's different from showing it off.

I think that, wanting to be an artist and showing work and making something out of it comes from wanting to make mom proud. Thinking about it, that's one of my earliest memories. Thinking that mom actually really liked what I did, not knowing that everybody's mom thinks that everything they do is great.

But also, other people's moms are like, "Yeah what you do is great," but our mom is like, "I want every painting you've ever made and I want to hang it in my house!"

True. You know that mural (painted by family friends, Mike and Diane Kenny) in the upstairs' bedroom growing up? Growing up around art like that, that is stuff I liked. Uncle Ed (Kutz's) art is all over our house, and it's like, really wild. A lot of kids don't have original art from people that they actually know in their house.

Totally. Not everyone has that experience, growing up around Uncle Ed's giant paintings of naked ladies in crazy colors.

Yeah. And I thought "artist" was an actual profession, and you had to wear a beret. You could go paint shit, and then get paid, and that was like -- a viable option. I'd like to figure out some way to have a real career and still do art and not just be, like, a starving artist. But I'm sure I'll always draw, to some extent.   Do you ever give your paintings titles? I've never noticed any.

Not often, but sometimes. I jokingly wrote "Self Portrait 1 through 15," on the backs of all of the pieces I made for the last show -- but I you couldn't see them unless you looked at the back. It would be kind of pretentious, I think.

Well, a lot of art can be considered pretentious in that way, so you might as well just call it a "self-portrait."

I know, that's what I'm saying. I have a "I want to draw things" side, but when you show it out in public, then it's different from just having a desire to create. Then it seems like the masturbatory self-indulgent shit. All my pieces are self-portraits, but it's just silly.

Hypothetically -- and I'm just pulling a reference from something I know you like -- What if the dudes behind Yo Gabba Gabba! wanted to turn your cartoon-style work into a television show, how would you feel about that?

I'd be into that. Because if it was somebody like that, I liked what they did, and I felt like they would make it for kids, and not make it lame. Make it somewhat interesting, if an adult were watching it; If I trusted the direction they were going in, and depending on how much work they wanted me to do...I don't know.

Would you consider that to be "selling out"?

People talk shit about selling out, but if you don't have to compromise, then I don't really see it as selling out. Even if you do have to compromise, to a certain extent it's like, I want to make money being creative. Rather than compromise by making money at a job.

Kevin (Hennessy) gave me a card of some lady that came to the Yellow Feather Coffee show. I don't even know what she wants. She might not want anything. But it's been weeks since I got the card and I haven't called her. I have crazy anxiety about if she wants a piece for commission. It's hard for me to do it. I really should do it. Sometimes I take projects, and I just don't do it. I don't know.

Do you feel like it's a fear of not giving them the finished product they want or not being able to come up with something?

Uh, probably a little of both of those. And just weird anxiety. A fear of failure.

See more of Evan Kutz's work:

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