Artist Kurt Halsey Frederiksen was born in Racine, attended MIAD, lived in Milwaukee for two years and showed his work in local galleries, but some might say his opinion of the city -- and the art world at large -- is bleak at best. Jaded? Bitter? Brilliant and dead on? You decide by reading this OMC exclusive interview with one of the country's most thoughful and innovative young talents.
OMC: How and when did you get into art?
Kurt Halsey Frederiksen: I drew from the moment I could hold a pencil. All my childhood, drawing was playtime, and large rolls of paper that my grandfather would bring home from his industrial design job were turned into epic G.I. Joe battle scenes.
OMC: Where did you study?
KHF: I started college at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, but I only lasted one semester there. I have always drawn cartoons -- from the moment I could move a pencil on paper that is what came out. But at MIAD, I was constantly and negatively asked "why do you draw this way?" and "why a cartoon," and I often wondered why they didn't ask other people why they were drawing realistically, why they were trying to replicate a photograph or reality on a two dimensional surface and what that point of doing that was, when we already have both photographs and reality? ... In a matter of two weeks over winter break I visited, applied and was accepted to the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and finished my education there. I did sculpture and comic books there, but I ultimately graduated with a BFA in painting, which is where a positive creative environment and forward-thinking instructors let my cartooning work naturally grow into.
OMC: So, where do you live now and why did you leave Milwaukee?
KHF: I currently live in Detroit, which sucks. I was trying to go to Canada, but being a self employed artist makes the immigration application process not very fun or friendly. It's an expensive process to even apply for, and then you need a year's worth of income saved. If I had a year's worth of income saved, I think I'd be driving a Mini Cooper instead of banking it on Canada's six-month to two-year wait to get an answer on your immigration. I think I'll be headed to Portland in the spring. Anyway, I grew up in Racine, and did live in Milwaukee after college for about two years, then I headed back to Minneapolis before coming back for another year in Milwaukee. I like Milwaukee, it's comfortable and the architecture is very appealing and friendly. But I think for me, living in Milwaukee forever would certainly be settling. It's easy and familiar, which is nice, but there isn't as much there as I'd like out of a city.
OMC: Is Milwaukee a good place for artists?
KHF: I don't think any city I have lived in has been good for artists. I don't think there is a strong art market anywhere besides big money New York and L.A. galleries. So you have to ask what artists are looking for -- a creative community, connections, availability of affordable studio spaces? I don't think you really see those things working well in most cities, maybe just small pockets here and there. I've never schmoozed around enough anywhere I've lived to try and find those things. Mainly you see jealousy and bitterness in artists.
OMC: Are you a full-time artist or do you have a "day job?"
KHF: I have been a full-time artist for two years now. For four years before that, I just worked a part-time job to supplement my income. My income is 90 percent selling prints and posters on my Web site, and sometimes bags or shirts that I design. I learned right away that one makes very little money selling original artwork, especially when a gallery comes into the equation. If you want to sell your work to real people who enjoy it, you have to sell it for a reasonable price. Selling it on my own is never a problem, but selling it a gallery -- it's almost as if you pay to show your work ... So the best thing that happened to me was becoming self-sufficient in getting to the point where I can sell all of my work on my own Web site, and that helped to actually make this a career after four years of trying to figure it out and make it work.
OMC: What inspires you to create art? Where do you create most of your art?
KHF: Nothing really inspires me to create things, I just write and draw (Halsey often includes words in his visual art) like I have always done. It's what is expected of me, almost, and really simply it's just what I do. I just write from my head, from my crazy and neurotic thoughts, and from my relationship. I work at home, trash my living room, trash my basement, wherever.
OMC: What are some of your accomplishments that you are the most proud of?
KHF: Accomplishment is its own reward, pride obscures that. I don't save any press or articles written about me, nor do I even have a copy of my resume or a list of where I have shown my artwork anymore. I am merely happy to spend every day home with my cats. To fall asleep whenever the movie ends, and to wake up when the cats wake me up and not by an alarm clock fills me with appreciation.
OMC: Any upcoming shows? Where have you shown in the past?
KHF: I am hesitant to list what galleries that I have shown at, because I'm not sure many of them really did anything for me besides take half my money and then do something stupid like not pay me timely, mess up my taxes, not invite me back ever even though I sold out the show, or spell my name wrong on the postcards! The art world is so weird.
For a time, CPop Gallery in Detroit was a wonderful place to show art -- people came to the openings no matter who was showing and everyone bought art. The gallery would pay for full color ads in magazines to get your name and your imagery out there. They gave me my first start and I showed there a lot until their business really took a nosedive, both personally and professionally. Most galleries, you wonder what they are really doing for you -- do they have clientele, are they going to advertise, will they get you some reviews? Most don't do any of that and I think that is rather unfortunate. I haven't sent out a portfolio in two and a half years. I no longer care to schmooze.
OMC: How old are you? Married? Kids? Pets? Other interests?
KHF: I am 28 years old, in a domestic partnership, and have two cats. I will never breed children, I am vegan, and I love football, but hate the Packers just like you all hate my Vikings.
OMC: Anything else?
KHF: Like I said, artists and the art world are filled with jealousy and bitterness. So if I sound bitter and jaded, it's probably the fact that I tried being an artist the normal way before I lucked out and was able to get it done for myself.
Kurt Halsey Frederiksen's Web site is kurthalsey.com.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.