Secrets of a Visual Poet: Meet Collage Artist Richard Curtner

Written by Artie The Panda

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” We’re all familiar with that saying, but Richard Curtner puts a clever twist on the adage with his one-of-a-kind collages. Armed with an X-Acto knife and an eye for detail, Richard blends visual beauty with verbal poetry, attracting clients from across the country — including at least one famous fan, Tom Hanks. (See Tom’s handwritten thank-you note on Richard’s Instagram page.)

Painstaking precision

Richard’s subject matter runs in themes. One series is devoted to cities: San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, London and Paris among them. He has created whimsical works with cocktails and romantic couples as the star subjects. A recent focus is his “library” series — like the girl-in-window-seat collage shown here, titled “Collection.”

No matter what the scene, Richard’s process involves looking through magazines in search of the perfect words, phrases and color palettes. He trims out hundreds of details by hand with an X-Acto blade, glues them together and tops the finished work with a layer of varnish. After purchasing “Chaotic Embrace,” one Curtner aficionado wrote the artist saying, “I am still finding new lines to read every day.”

Balancing the complexity

When an artwork is so meticulously detailed, it’s important for the framing to complement the piece and not overwhelm it. Richard appreciates Frame Destination’s Wood Frame Profile 852 for that reason. “The frame is modern-looking, and just enough to add elegance to the artwork without taking away from the complexity of the art itself,” Richard says.

See more of Richard’s work

Based in Palm Springs, California, Richard is a prolific exhibitor, annually participating in 26 shows and festivals in 11 states. In lieu of a road trip, you can visit Richard’s Instagram page for his latest work, or see his complete collection via his online portfolio. In my Q&A below, you’ll learn how this artist sees his role in society, and the tender age at which he created his first collage.

Now for Artie’s Eight Q&A with Richard Curtner …

1. What is your background; how did you get started?

I don't remember a start, because as far back as I can remember I've always had a pencil or paint brush in my hand. I recently found a collage I created as a kid; my mother estimates that I was three years old. I don't remember a time where I wasn't creating, drawing or painting. It really has been my life-long passion, and if I am not creating I feel less than whole. I feel so privileged to be able to provide for my family of four financially with something that I love to do.

2. What role do you think the artist plays in society?

The artist serves as the eye of society, causing viewers to stop and reflect on expressions of the artist, but also to see expressions of themselves in the art. Art transports people to a favorite memory or a feeling, and it connects people to each other. It starts conversations and relationships. It adds flavor to life and is so much more than decor or pretty pictures, although it can also be just that when needed.

3. What has been a formative experience or the best advice you’ve received within your career?

The best formative experience has been the process. The process of making the art as well as selling that art and marketing the art. To get to any level of perfection many wonderful learning mistakes are made along the way.

4. What ways does your work reflect your personality?

I am a fan of the visual arts as well as the literary arts. I have created a combination of both loves. I am fascinated how words on a page can create images in your mind. Artwork that includes those words adds another dimension to the artwork. It fills gaps in the visual imagery. I love that my selected words words within the works can reach the viewer on an emotional level. My art tells stories literally. It draws people in out of curiosity, but also keeps them there as they discover new elements, new phrases that speak to them.

5. Creative blocks, do you get them? If so, how do you overcome them?

I have found that an artist has blocks just as a writer would. Sometimes it is a matter of just setting a set schedule of time to create and once creating it starts a momentum that helps you break through the block. Kind of like the idea behind "a body in motion stays in motion.” An artist in creation stays in a creative mode. Once you get that inspiration, you need to maximize it and work as long as humanly possible without stopping, because that's when everything flows together so easily and effortlessly.

6. What is your most indispensable tool? (Not counting the obvious, like paints, brushes, canvas, camera, etc.)

An X-Acto knife and a love for meticulous details.

7. Do you have a new project you are working on, or a new passionate idea?

My artwork seems to evolve in phases. The themes change from year to year. One year the main focus of the pieces can be figurative pieces, the next year city scapes. This year the running theme seems to be my library series, literary-themed pieces.

8. What is your favorite paint color name?

Favorite color name is “periwinkle” just for the name. Favorite color is “terra cotta.”

Richard Curtner Headshot

All artwork and/or photographs used in this post are subject to copyright held by the featured artist.

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