“There are no repetitive typical days for me, I could be testing paint, helping an artist, flying to a new city for a demo or lecture with a group I’ve never met, teaching a painting class or workshop, reviewing toxicology reports, plein air painting, or even painting in the studio. I just spent four months on the road this past April to July training store associates about the Utrecht brand, and painting en plein air in over 30 cities during my down time. I might also participate in a few major plein air events. I am blessed to set my course for the day, the week, the month, the year. That openness has expanded my creativeness and problem solving abilities because of the infinite experiences I have had in my career!” That folks is Joe Gyurcsak.
With an inquisitive mind and a teacher’s heart, he’s been a valued employee of Dick Blick/Utrecht for a combined 18 years. At this year’s national Oil Painters of America Show, his “Successful Elements of Design in Painting” presentation was one of the highlights for me. So the next morning when I met Joe, and he was able to join my wife and I for breakfast, it was truly special. That’s when we learned what an interesting and quality guy he is. Being so involved with Utrecht, its color development and testing, I was curious to know how he suggests one goes about selecting a suitable palette. “It’s a very personal experience,” he says, “and it will develop gradually over time as an artist is exposed to various subjects and great works of art. Go to museums and galleries; make notes about the paintings that excite you; figure out color combinations that attract you. Once you have figured out color schemes you really like, determine how to mix those schemes using fewer colors while also using more paint.”
“If you’re not getting any thrill from mixing your colors, it will translate to your subject. One must love color.”
A challenging but helpful exercise Gyurcsak does with his students is to have them divide their palette of colors into two separate piles…light and dark values. He then has them select two or three colors from each pile without looking or thinking about them; from those colors they are to create paintings based on value rather than color. “Creativity immediately increases,” he says. “The lesson…never restrict yourself to a set palette, for by repeating the same mixtures over and over, it can only result in the death of creativity.”
How do you pronounce your name; what nationality is it? (Ger-Sak’) I am Hungarian / Italian 50/50; mom’s name was Italia Maria Ann Panichella
Why did you decide to become an artist and what training did you receive? At a very early age, five or six years old, I could copy any cartoon you put in front of me. As time went on my parents and teachers recognized that I was very advanced creatively. I had learning difficulties in school… dyslexia and vision issues…so I repeated the third grade. It turned out to be a good thing because the teachers gave me all the special creative projects, it really helped foster my confidence. By the time I was twelve, my parents realized that this thing was special and they took me for painting lessons at a local art supply store. At age 16 my high school art teacher (Larry Acciani) advised me to take a special competition test to see if I could win a spot in NJ’s first adjunct high school of the arts program. They only picked 24 students out of thousands. I won a spot, and for the next two years I was bussed to the local community college three times a week to receive advanced painting instruction taught by college professors. I had my sights set on becoming an illustrator. I loved all those great painters from the golden age of illustration and the highly celebrated illustrators from the 70’s and 80’s. I received a scholarship to Parsons School of Design. I stayed there for one year but heard about the School of Visual Arts and all the famous working illustrators that were teaching there, so I jumped ship and began receiving tremendous training from people like Marshal Arisman, Jack Endewelt, Braldt Bralds, Micheal Deas, Alex Gnidziejko, and John Foote. Then I met my first mentor, Bruce Waldman the artist, who taught me to draw, really draw! Bruce and I remain friends to this day. He is my adopted brother in a sense. After college I had the great fortune of meeting Stephen Sumner Kennedy, a gifted portrait painter, whose lineage is tied to Nelson Shanks. After all the training I had prior, I still struggled with color, but one day Stephen took me plein air painting; it was a born again experience for me. It was the first time I saw color and knew what to do with it. I have been very fortunate in my path to partake in workshops and painting demonstrations connected with company events… like Scott Burdick, Susan Lyon, Nelson Shanks, Richard Schmid, Ken Backhaus, Kevin McPherson, David Leffel, Dan Gerhartz, Sherrie McGraw, Catharine Anderson, Morgan Samuel Price and CW Mundy. I am probably forgetting some, but all these artists have added to my skill level and thinking. Morgan and CW have mentored me for many years on the fine points of painting, but the education is never complete, it always continues; there is much to learn. Without the love, tremendous support, and encouragement from my wife and family, I wouldn’t have made it through all the toughest parts of becoming an artist and therefore would have missed seeing the rewards.
How would you describe your work? It is heading more and more toward abstract/realism, and at times impressionism. It is my response to the subject that dictates creative direction. I don’t like to be boxed in so I use all avenues necessary to bring an idea to fruition!
Who has had the greatest influence on your art career, and why? Bruce Waldman for drawing, John Foote for how to be a great teacher, Stephen Sumner Kennedy for color, CW Mundy for composition and expression, Caroline Anderson for originality, Morgan Samuel Price for details and professionalism.
Is there a particular period of art that has been most influential? Late 1900’s to early 20th century because Impressionism, naturalism, nabis…the traditional movements…were the greatest movements at one time in representational art!
Tell us about the work you’re doing with Utrecht and Dick Blick; you’re a resident artist, what does that mean? I am the head artist for both the brand and company. I have created brush lines, canvas lines, paint lines and mediums for the company. I work with chemists and toxicologists to create formulations and ensure that they are safe for the art community. I have created numerous lectures and painting demonstrations for the company based on the history of art, designed to inspire students throughout the United States. I’ve been at the company for 18 years and have visited more than 150 major art institutions throughout the country.
How did that job come about? My mother-in-law, Joanna Melchior, saw the job and recommended that I apply. I started out as a call center representative answering technical questions regarding the preparation and use of art materials. Thanks to my professor, Micheal Deas, who taught us everything about materials at SVA, I was promoted to major accounts, then to Brand Manager, then Resident Artist. It has been an awesome journey to work for six different CEO’s, travel around the world and continue to grow my skills in the management of R&D projects, and hone my ever increasing skills and knowledge as a lecturer, demonstrator and workshop instructor.
Are you able to keep an open mind regarding competitive products; do you do comparison testing; do you ever recommend anything other than Utrecht? As all companies do, we evaluate many other brands; we also recommend brands that are known to have very credible products. There have been many occasions when other brands have asked me to evaluate products for them. In some cases, I have guided these companies to make adjustments before their product entered the market. I seek the knowledge of other experts at times, either to confirm findings or to get guidance. The industry is a cottage one and not as big as people would think.
What procedures do you follow in testing new products? First, understand the end use; next, determine if labeling presents the product in the best light. Finally, are the directions clear and accurate? The material is then taken to the practical application side of the business; there is no greater test then to test something live, beyond scientific equipment. Equipment is necessary but does not always reveal what can happen in real life performance situations.
You have undoubtedly worked with a great variety of materials as a painter; what are your favorite paints, colors, brushes, and supports? I love oil and acrylic paints that have heavy body; muted tones versus pure vibrant colors; flat synthetic and bristle brushes so I can push the paint around; lead primed panels for oils…nothing like that experience…and universal primed panels with a pronounced texture for acrylic.
Why do you consider Blick/Utrecht good companies to work for? Blick Art Materials is a family owned business. They hire many artists throughout the country and are a very strong supporter of the art community throughout North America. All my events are true 100% learning programs that are fully funded by the company. When I was about to get hired, the Blick company stepped up to the plate when our daughter needed a very serious operation, and this was at a time when Utrecht was being purchased by them. This showed me that they were a top notch company who is there for their employees. Blick also supports all my artistic endeavors.
What’s your role as a member of the American Standard of Testing Materials? As a committee member, we review the standards for our industry as a collective group of art material manufactures. We vote and set standards for paint. These standards include pigment lightfastness, fineness, and manufacturing procedures for all the various mediums available to artists today. It is for the consumer that we aim to maintain the highest standards in testing and performance.
Are there any new developments on the horizon that artists are going to be excited about? There are always things in the mix…improving paint flow, new finishes, paste consistencies, and finding safer high performance pigments to replace those that have health and safety concerns.
As a company employee, do you feel you’ve been able to achieve, in your personal work, all that you’d like to? Absolutely! I have had exceptional opportunities and experiences to learn from many living master artists on my travels. I learned all about the science of paint making, thanks to my dear friend and mentor, Godfrey Chamber, a chemist…something I would have never imagined back in art school. I have become an art materials expert through all these experiences. This in turn has given me a depth of knowledge regarding my personal work and professional stature.
“Art at its best is free expression, truthfulness and emotion that can be seen and felt by the viewer. When a work of art can move a viewer, that is the ultimate achievement! I remember standing before Van Gogh’s painting, “Wheat Field in Rain”, and becoming completely and utterly transfixed on the rain storm in the painting. As I began to feel his sorrow and depth of pain, then my own emotions began to flow.”
Please explain your painting process. Once I have an idea, my main objective is to defocus and let the large abstract shapes and the paint develop freely with complete unrestricted freedom and creativeness. The Zen or mastery of painting is to have a conversation back and forth with the painting. Let the painting speak to you, this takes a bit of training, the hardest part is to completely let go and let the process and you become engaged as one; it is a give and take thing. Whistler said, “I build up only to destroy and build up again.” As you mature as a painter this mastery begins to appear, if you are fortunate enough to stick around. That’s when painting becomes really fun. In the beginning students need to learn the rules in order to control the chaos, but this eventually changes, and the chaos becomes the x factor to creating works of art that stand alone on their own merit; that is where we all want to be. Then, self-expression reaches its height of power within us.
You paint a variety of subjects; why is that important to you? I paint what inspires me. Remember, your subject is just a place of departure. You should not be a slave to it, it is there for your use to interpret and create. Andrew Wyeth believed that the subject often chooses the artist, sometimes it’s through inspiration, a hunch, even something observed out of the corner of your eye that can start the process. I keep an open mind and I am receptive to those moments that move me to pursue and start the investigation. Many of these happenings are just before us, but we think something else needs to come along. You need to be all in, in order to bring something of worth forward. Sometimes it happens when all the guards and overthinking are missing and we find ourselves in the zone, creating something for no special reason when truth appears. It is very sweet and brings something special to the work that can’t be denied.
“Warning! Only paint what moves you, if it doesn’t it won’t amount to much, I promise you.”
When selecting a subject to paint, what elements need to be present for that selection to be made? I love this, I need to paint this, I am excited to get this down. This element of surprise or excitement becomes the momentum needed to work through the tough spots that need to be overcome in order to realize the vision. Most creative visions can be worked out with time and the proper spirit behind the piece.
What advice do you have for those struggling with composition? Create a title for the work before you commence. Knowing what inspired you is the exact communication that determines in the mind’s eye how to develop a viewpoint that is interesting and successful when creating the composition. Often people stare at a subject and start to create a work before they have a clear idea of what they want to say. It is better to work through some rough sketches if creativity can’t wait. Compositional issues will reveal themselves in this process, then one can rework until satisfied. I always remember Sargent’s “El Jaleo” painting of the Spanish dancer. He did more than 130 preliminary sketches in charcoal, watercolor, and oil, before he could clearly define what he was after. Today that painting is in The Isabell Stewart Gardner Museum. Concept, draw, compose, over and over until……..
You speak of capturing the essence of the subject; what do you mean and how do you do that? If all detail is stripped away from the subject would you still know the scene, the person? That is when the magic of painting begins. People are often stunned by the mere suggestion of something.
Do you have any artistic goals? Keep on learning, and keep on sharing what I have learned by teaching workshops, giving painting demonstrations, and lecturing. I always hope I can be a mentor to one person, to make an impact on their artistic journey. I have a few of those people currently that I am working with. I always want to have an open mind to accept new paths of inspiration, to keep artistically alert for my next artistic expression, whether it is in words or paint. I pray that I continue to have the capacity to create until my days are done on this earth! I don’t worry about the rest of the journey, or plans, because each year when I reflect back at what I did and where I went, I could have never scripted such a perfect plan. As I live, I realize that I am blessed. God has laid some very fine things on my table and I need to accept them and put them into action!
It’s been a real pleasure interviewing you Joe. Our readers will really appreciate getting to know you, and we thank you for all you do for the world of art. Thank You.
John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Associate Living Master
To view his art and bio, please click HERE