D= David R= Richard
D Thank you Richard, for sitting down with us today.
R Great to be here David as one of the inaugural artists.
D Not just one of the inaugural artists, THE inaugural artist.
R The golden calf to the slaughter (laughter).
D So Richard, how was growing up in Jersey?
R The best part of growing up in New Jersey was that my grandmother lived in the Jersey Shore, by the ocean. That’s how I got my love of the water and the ocean. I lived about half an hour from New York City, so when I got to be a teenager it was a great tool to go into the city. My mom used to take me and my friends to museums and radio city music hall. I think Jersey has gotten a bad rap, but it was good to grow up in Elizabeth, New Jersey. It was a real working class town. I remember that everyone on the block was sort of what it feels like living in Miami. There was one of everybody on the block. My neighbors were Portuguese, there was a motorcycle cop down the street, a fireman down the block; I used to play with his son. It was a real working class block, so it was the kind of thing I could walk out the door and the whole street were my friends.
D Since this is Pork Belly Times, we have to ask, was there bacon in your household growing up?
R I have to say yes. That was before I was a health conscious being. There was the BLT with mayo on wonder bread, so I did have that. Bacon and eggs… sausage and pancakes, but yeah, I did have the bacon stuff.
D How was school for you?
R Well, I went to a private school.
D Was it a religious school of any kind?
R It was based on Presbyterian values but it was any denominations; open. .
D No nuns running around then?
R No, but it was an all boys school. My last year we had an exchange program with girls, so that was like wow man. That was great you know.
D Tell us about that experience
R So the last semester, my spring semester my girlfriend came to my school and the cool thing about it was that I lived a 15 minute walk away from school. So we could go home sometimes, and my parents would be working, so I could go home, have lunch, and make out a little bit. You know you’re 16 – 17 and it’s like wow, the innocence of fall beauty.
D We see that there’s spirituality in your paintings. Did you grow up in a religious household?
R You know it was more like the furthest from religious, religious. Both my parents were Jewish so I grew up as a reformed Jew, and even though my mother had two sisters and they were conservatives, the experience as it relates to me was that when my father was in the war he was in Mississippi and Georgia, so there were the signs of no blacks, no coloreds, no Jews. Even in New Jersey going to a private school a lot of people I went to school with, their parents belonged to country clubs and there was this unwritten rule of no Jews. My father’s idea of America was to be assimilated as fast as possible, and even though I was Bar Mitzvah’d and all that it was more like fit in rather than stand out in terms of religion.
D Boxing dominates some of your paintings, how did you get into boxing?
R When I grew up boxing was big, that was when Muhammad Ali, and Joe Frazier, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Roberto Duran. It was a big sport. The first experience I had was when I went to a summer camp in Maine. I was 9 or 10 and I had some stuff with one of the other kids.
D By stuff you mean-
R We were going to have a fight. I can’t remember what it was about, but the counselor said, “O.K. you two are gonna settle it with gloves.” And so, we’re each like 9 or 10 and these gloves were big – big gloves-. So you’re all pissed off and calling each other names, and then he goes “you’ll fight till…whenever.” He says “Go!” and you’re hitting and after maybe 20 seconds you’re just so tired and the gloves are almost like pillows, maybe you get a couple of hits but it doesn’t really hurt. Then you can’t move your arms anymore, even if you want to you can’t and you’re just exhausted. He goes “O.K. now shake hands and be done with it,” and you both got it out. So that was my first thing.
D So, it was a positive experience?
R Yeah, instead of being nasty it was an instructive, healthy kind of thing. Then I remember I was in Atlantic City in sixty-eight and that was when Ali had been stripped of his title and he was just walking on the boardwalk with a few of his entourage and he was dressed in this suit and looked really dapper and it was this surreal moment. It was someone who really took a stand for what he believed in, you know there’s so many who sell out for whatever it is, usually money, and here was someone who really gave up a lot for his belief and as a naïve teenager that made a big impression on me, it just stuck in my head.
More information on artist Richard Kurtz can be found at: www.richardkurtz.com
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