This week’s cover by Kevin Muente immediately captures our attention, not because of the subjects, who seem normal, but because of the atmosphere. Something seems “off,” but we don’t know exactly what. The title of the work, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” doesn’t help to clarify the meaning, either. Which is how Muente likes it.
Basically, Muente likes to combine landscape and figures to convey a narrative that is ambiguous, to say the least. Consider some of his other works: a boy holding a rifle in a field; a woman with a baby carriage amidst tall grass; a man running with a dog in his arms, again in a field. If such images remind you of a movie, you would probably be right.
Do you, in fact, get ideas from films?
The cover was from a photograph I took, inspired by movies and other artworks. I watch pop movies and classic films, and this image someone suggested was inspired by Lars von Trier’s film Melancholia.
I see that Von Trier’s works use the environment as a character. So do your paintings. Where else do you get inspiration for your settings?
I am influenced by artists like Edward Hopper and by Gregory Crewdson’s photographs. And Sally Mann’s photo work with her children.
Besides the importance of the environment and story-telling, what else about the cover is usually part of your subject matter?
I had this idea about a young couple looking at a raft. You don’t see it in the image, but I like to use objects. Stephen King wrote a short story called “The Raft.” My raft is a symbol for desire and salvation.
Where do these ideas about content come from?
They come from my head, dreams, experiences. Some of my work is autobiographical; some come from my family or students.
Taking all these sources into account, what’s your primary goal when creating a painting?
I take stories that my friends and family tell me and figure out how to tell their story.
What attracts you to use painting and photography to tell these stories?
My work allows me to be both a film director and an artist. No one would pay me to make a movie [laughing] so I take photographs, using models, and then I paint the image.
How about your style? How would you describe it?
It’s realistic. It pays attention to perception as far as details go. It’s also surreal. I also feel it’s “painterly realism.” I think I just made up that term.
Where did you get your art training?
As an undergraduate, I went to the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. I went to graduate school at the University of Cincinnati.
The reason I ask is because you are now a full professor at Northern Kentucky University. How important was your own education and how does that relate to your teaching art?
There is no way I would be where I am if it weren’t for my excellent teachers. Teaching is my way of giving back to my students. Teaching has affected my art. I still think of myself as an art student.
Kevin Muente’s work can be seen at Sag Harbor’s RJD Gallery, 90 Main Street. Call
631-725-1161 or visit rjdgallery.com.
The artist’s website is kevinmuente.com.