David Joel Kitcher

— I understand that this series of drawings started with graphite rubbings, which eventually became oil transfers. Could you talk a little bit about your process—what draws you to a given pattern that an object leaves on your paper? How do these transfers connect your drawings to the outside world? How do you extrapolate these patterns into the overall drawing?

When the pandemic first hit, I was given leave from my job at the Portland Art Museum and began spending much more time in the studio. I recall trying to make my usual watercolor work. They are these improvised, playful abstractions that are really enjoyable to make and generally give me a lot of peace of mind. But given that scary new world we were all entering, I couldn’t get into that meditative, patient place anymore. It just wouldn’t function the same way. I started getting frustrated and worried that the work that usually gave me a sense of joy and that helped balance me out emotionally was no longer accessible. I tried changing mediums, something I do when I am feeling lost.

On morning walks I started bringing a large graphite stick along with some printer paper and started doing frottage on all kinds of textures. What I loved most was the patterns of things like sewer lids and brick walls, really anything with repetition. I then started to dive into studying which is another thing I do whenever I get stuck in my work. I remember looking at a lot of Klee and Gauguin. These pioneers of frottage, oil transfers and various kinds of monotypes really inspired me.  I related to the noise and dirtiness, the ghost like lines, the spiritual feel of it all. So I started frottaging with anything and everything I could find in the house and in the studio, the tool shed, out in the back yard, etc. After finding my way with what the best materials were and the right pressure to use, I started to move away from just making shapes and designs and started to make pictures. What came out was a lot of heads and anxious faces. Fearful eyes and painful expressions. I started making things based on the dark and depressing feelings I was having and was no longer trying to make things look pretty like the work I was doing before.

— Faces are inherently expressive, carrying the weight of emotion and affect—particularly in your drawings, with their grins and grimaces, tears and sweat. How do you think about what’s going on emotionally in your drawings—when you’re starting a new one, over the course of a drawing, and/or after it’s completed? What emotional states are you most interested in expressing and why do you think you’re drawn to them?

I think when I opened up to how to show a fuller range of emotions in a drawing, it was immediately therapeutic. I just literally started to draw the different ways I was feeling, and that helped me let those emotions out. I like to take contrasting feelings and combine them in one piece, which can sometimes feel quite disturbing or disorienting. I have, unfortunately, experienced a lot of trauma around mental illness in my family and grew up with family members dealing with profound mental health and substance abuse problems; psychosis, manic episodes, deep depression, etc., and I am talking a lot about that in my work. Showing what the subject is going through mentally and emotionally is cathartic for me even if it’s potentially off-putting for the viewer. I am interested in representing the complex range of emotions I, or one, can be feeling in any given moment. If I feel it, then I want to draw it. After the work is done, I don’t spend a lot of time analyzing it or even looking at it. It’s time to make another one and move on.   

— What other work (art, literature, music, etc.) inspires you?

Music is a constant inspiration/companion in my life. In the studio I really enjoy deep listening where I get into a dreamlike place with my work. I like to work in a way where I kind of let go of reality and let my subconscious take over. I can usually only do that with repetitive, instrumental, drone-like music. The longer the tracks the better. Brian Eno’s “Reflection” comes to mind. It’s one long track that goes on for like an hour but stays compelling the entire time. You can float in and out of listening to it and let yourself fall into a dream.

I also watch a lot of films with my wife, Sara, when I get home from the studio and find a ton of inspiration from that. Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love, Being There with Peter Sellers, To Have or Have Not with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and another recent favorite was The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. I am in love with photography, which is a side passion for me, and there’s nothing better than really good cinematography. I enjoy getting lost in a film and letting that brand new world wash over me. I like how I feel different after a good film, as if I’ve gone traveling and now I’m back, changed. I am truly inspired by things that take me somewhere else and away from home and the familiar.

— In several of your drawings, text plays a role. How do you think about language when you’re making a drawing? What role do you feel it plays in the image?

I enjoy how text can be such a sharp point of focus in a piece. If our brains see a word, it’s a lightning quick thing. Words are the most recognizable symbols we have. I enjoy using text once in a while but try to use it sparingly. Sometimes I like to just write the word instead of trying to draw a particular thing. Maybe it is just an element I want to include about the character that I’m drawing but I have no other way to say it other than to just put the word(s) there. There’s one drawing that says “tooth” over and over in the subject’s mouth and “gum” over and over above the teeth. Maybe I write “EAR” where the ear is supposed to be and somehow it still looks and reads like an ear.

David Joel Kitcher was interviewed by Jake Brodsky via email on January 22, 2023.

View David Joel Kitcher’s selected works.


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