What is your passion?
It’s kind of a canned answer I guess-art, kids, wife, friends and the wonders life has on this journey.
How did you find your passion?
Living, making mistakes and loss, through it all - three marriages, the death of loved ones, OCD – art kept its place at the top, I wake up each day and I’m totally blown away that I am an artist.
Do you make money from your passion?
Yes I do but I don’t ever depend on it. I also work in non-profit as the Artist in Residence at Midland Center for the Art, a title and job that means the world to me. Money has never been a goal but it comes with success even the small amount of success as I have, and money buys time and time is the biggest ally an artist can have.
What does your typical day look like?
I get up at six go in my studio draw until 8:30 go to work come home at 5 go in the studio at 7 draw until 11 sit in my chair and fall asleep sometimes with a beer sometimes not. The weekend I am in the studio a lot of times with my son Ean who is 18. We listen to music and watch movies while I draw this is all he knows and loves me for it or spite of it.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Music…everything from death metal to folk, county to classical, it hits me much deeper than the visual arts, I want to draw like Metallica or the Beatles sound. Other inspirations, my son and my best friend Todd Burroughs (a great artist in his own right) and of course my late father Fritz, for without him this would never have happened. Valerie Allen my artist wife an abstractionist is certainly an inspirations we constantly talk and debate art a very healthy part of artistic growth for both of us.
How do you find time to do the things you enjoy most?
I don’t play video games, I don’t golf or go on holiday’s I’m the world’s most boring person, and this gives me time.
Was your passion a part of your formal education?
Yes it was, but 90% I taught myself as all artists must, you can get a start in school but you leave a robot…and you have to re-invent yourself as an artist from within. I’m not knocking education the foundations are important but there are no magic certificates or credentials that will make you an artist only the artist can to that.
What is the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
When I was in art school I my goal was to make a living from my art. I thought it would be wonderful to get up in the morning and just paint and draw. At first I supplemented my income by, teaching and working in picture frame stores. Soon I started to get lots of portrait commissions, at first just in here in Michigan, then Chicago. So my wife and I packed our bags and moved to windy city. Portraits Chicago is a very exclusive agency for commission portraiture represented me. I started making great money, and for the next two years I was never without work, but I was miserable!
Art, my sanctuary, the very thing that gave me such pleasure was now reduced to paintings and drawings of corporate bigwigs wanting to look important in cliché poses, pipe in hand, arm on an overstuffed chair and so on. I had very little input on the creative side. I was told to make the subject look younger and thinner and I would “rake in” the cash. Soon I started cutting corners (the faster it got done, the more money I made). I lost the will to improve and actually my work started to suffer and I had no energy to do “fine art” in my spare time. I had to get out of this, I told Portraits Chicago that I am no longer available for commission portraiture, and got a job in an art supply store. In the evenings I started to work on my art again, every night I drew and painted, the enthusiasm was back! I worked forty hours a week in the store and did my art for thirty hours. I made less money, and I was much happier. Now I am the Artist in Residence at Midland Center for the Arts, my work is still growing and the excitement has not diminished. I sell my work just fine now, but under my terms. I don’t need to make a living off of it; I never want to lose that artistic freedom that I enjoy now. Art is so precious, and I almost lost it.
To hone your creativity is there anything you do over and over and recommend others do as well?
Look at the world, discover things others miss, I draw all the time even when I don’t have a pencil or paper I draw in my head, how would this stroke be how would I shade that and so on, immerse yourself into whatever you want but if you just do it half ass so will the outcome be as well.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
Well art becomes rather insignificant with this question. Of course get rid of cancer, war and Rush Limbaugh! Art is a tiny spec compared to these things.
What is the one book that others who share your passion should read and why?
The Artist by Norman Garbo…fiction…out of print I would image. It changed me and my work profoundly.
Who is your hero?
My dad Fritz Mersmann…..my Step Dad Carl Pitsch both live on within me and they were as different as day and night.
What is your favorite quote related to your passion?
“A good “rendering” represents what a person sees, but “a work of art” illuminates what others do not.”
What do you consider to be your top three most important values?
Values as they relate to my artwork, a great work ethic, I’m very obsessive and driven; I have more ideas then time on this planet. I’m not a perfectionist I can’t afford that, I have tendencies but I know when enough is enough and when it’s time to move on to another work. I value friendship it is very hard to find but when I have they are friends for life.
Any advice or words of encouragement for others who share your interests?
Don’t work from someone’s else’s photos for the art is done for you, just work from your own, it’s better to use mediocre photographs because it makes you invent more than just copy. Say more about larger topics or small intimate things not just that you can draw; for many here can draw very well. Try to work from life at least some of the time, if you don’t reference photos will become a lifelong crutch. In the end your goal should be to create art and not another copy of Angela Jolie or Johnny Deep this kind of drawing misses the mark, unless of course you can get them to model for you in person then you might have something.
Are you a photo-realist and if so why bother?
If copying without change, construction and re-invention, be it form a photograph or from life, then the creative process is not addressed, in this case I agree there is a useless element about it, it becomes a fundamental exercise at best. There is nothing wrong with these exercises if it improves your knowledge and skills as a technician. But if your aim is only to draw like “a photo”, I’m afraid you will never attain what “art” has to offer. Also I think too many photo-realists rely on technical eye candy alone, with no imagination, in some sense just a limited skill in observation and a stunted creative process. Working in this manner should be a foundation to build on not an end goal.
My goal as a realist is to understand complexities and details; my interest is how the human eyes perceive not how a camera sees. The hallmark of photorealism is capturing distortion and out of focus areas precisely how the camera does, I’m aware of these things and eliminate most of them. My journey begins at the first look of my model the drawing process then becomes an all-consuming study. When I complete the work, I develop an understanding of the subject that’s both heightened and very personal. After spending hundreds of hours drawing a person’s face all the while observing the small details that cause “likeness” a journey takes places that cannot be achieved by any other means. I don’t draw just what I see; it’s a combination of facts and feelings that would not work from just a snap of a shutter. I change and alter many thing from the reference photos, to me they are just a blueprint an informal guide at best, I transform not just translate what I am observing. I look at small particulars of a person that cannot be seen or deciphered by “normal” cameras. I delete, enhance, elaborate, exaggerate, alter and reinvent, and I do this with putting it through my own psyche. I change what’s in front of me, not for the sake of change but because it’s inevitable and expected, it’s filtered through 50 plus years of living. I have 100% control of every aspect of the final image can this be done with a photo and Photoshop? Perhaps, but not with my unique and very personal technical and artistic language.
In the end, some still call it photo-realism; it’s something as an artist I have to accept. We tend to put things in categories, I just have to keep on this road and be true to my vision and artistic language and it’s that honesty that will let me connect with some and not with others.
We know you have OCD how has this manifested itself in your personal life and art?
I have been obsessive about mortality since I was kid, not so much afraid of it as intrigued, bewildered and curious about why we are here and the process of nature reclaiming. Almost all of my work addresses this issue. OCD is always with you there are many things about it that suck, but I’ve taken and used it for my art in a positive way. Taking medicines for it helps knowing what it was helped the most. It’s strange I know no one without and abbreviation, OCD, ADD, GAD, ADHD, SUD as long as i'm not DEAD i'll make it work.