Interview with Artist Todd Kruse

I met Todd Kruse through work, many years ago. Until recently, I did not know that Kruse was a remarkably talented artist who might convert me into a fan of contemporary abstract art. I recently had the opportunity to ask him a few questions.

“What inspired you to start painting?”

“I would have to say that the seed was planted by my Grandpa Kruse,” Todd said. “When I was about 13 I had an assignment for a required art class to create a poster of some sort. I filled it up with as many little cartoon-like sketches as I could squeeze in. Each time he came over to our house he asked me to pull out that poster and wanted to see the progress and look at all the little drawings. I remember wanting to come up with new little sketches and trying to draw them really well so I could share them with my grandpa next time he visited.”

“Your grandpa sounds like a pretty special guy, to have taken such a keen interest in your drawings. Todd, I’ve noticed that some of your paintings are clearly an homage to well-known artists, like Kandinsky, but you improvise on their style and add your own original touches. Who are your favorite artists, and what is it that most appeals to you about their work?”


“Well, I’ve been observing a lot of contemporary art over the years in art books and when I can make it to a museum. Years ago, I’d say my favorites were Norman Rockwell and Edward Hopper. But now I really get excited about the art created by abstract expressionists like Willem De Koonig, Cy Twombly, Joan Mitchell, and Pierre Alechinsky. It’s the type of art that you hear people sometimes say any child could have done. But I see it as a very delicate balance between color, shapes, design, repetition (or lack thereof) and movement. I love looking at that kind of art. And it’s really not easy to do it well. Picasso said ‘It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.’”

“We tend to stifle our inner child as we ‘grow up,’ don’t we? What comes so naturally to children has to be relearned when we’re older. As you know, I was never a fan of abstract and modern art, but you’ve caused me to change my thinking. I’m still not too fond of Marcel Duchamps’ “Fountain” or Jo Baer’s “Brilliant Yellow #9,” but I do enjoy the vivid colors and playful motion in your work. What ever came of the experiments in coffee grounds and other…organics?”


Todd laughed and pointed to the picture above. “I’m definitely still experimenting. My stated goal has been to just create innovative art. I want to find a style that no one else has done. It’s fun to see how things mix and interact. So I did create some paintings where I used acrylic paint to “glue” down piles and valleys of used coffee grounds. Lately I’ve realized that the coffee is so acidic that it will probably eat through the canvas in about 10 years or so, but it looks kind of neat. I’m also experimenting with dog hair (cleaned up, that comes from our vacuum cleaner), and things like nylon strings. Whether anyone finds it attractive enough to hang on a wall is irrelevant to me at this point. Who knows where these experiments will take me. It’s fun just to dabble and I love to see these paintings evolve.”

“Dog hair? Reminds me of my experiments in making handmade paper out of dryer lint and paper crayon wrappers. You know, artists have used worse… I’m still intrigued with the coffee grounds. I think they’d go well on the walls of a coffee shop, or my kitchen.”  I love to tease Todd – he’s awfully approachable for an artist. I think that’s part of what makes his work accessible and interesting to me – I’m not afraid to ask about it, and he’s not offended when I treat his abstracts like Rorschach blots and make up playfully pretentious descriptive blurbs for them. “What do you think draws people to your work, Todd?” And, speaking of Rorschach blots: “Do people ever try to psychoanalyze artists the way they do writers?”

“Well, one thing I’ve learned is everyone is different. Art is in the eye of the beholder. I’ve done quite a few different styles and used different mediums over time so I get a whole range of comments and feedback. I’m often surprised at what pieces get the majority of feedback. Especially with abstract art, how much energy and time you put into it is irrelevant.”

“That must be humbling.”

“The most popular pieces can be the most spontaneous and quick pieces. I do not try to psychoanalyze the work of any artist. I think when reviewers write up all these details about what the artist was intending consciously or sub-consciously, it’s just their opinion and it’s probably bunk most of the time. I do like to understand generally who the artist was and what was going on with them at the time. For instance, some of the deepest, most emotional engravings were created in a time of grief by the artist Kathe Kollwitz. She was living through the two World Wars and lost a son in the 1st and a grandson in the 2nd. Her sorrow and anti-war statements are evident in her work.”

“Do you think that what the viewer sees in a painting has more to do with the viewer than with the artist?”

“If an artist can bring up a memory or create an emotion in the viewer, I think he or she has accomplished something special… so art is about the viewer.”

“When you show your work, do you mingle with the gallery’s visitors, or do you lurk and eavesdrop, hoping to hear what they really think of your paintings?”

“When I show art I love to talk with other artists to see what inspires them and learn about their techniques if they’re willing to share. If a guest wants to talk about my art I’ll certainly talk about it but I usually don’t initiate those conversations. I do like to just stand back and see what peoples reactions are initially.”

“What’s your next challenge, artistically? What do you hope to accomplish in the next few years?”

“What I want with my art in the near term is to keep chugging away at it and having fun. If I don’t evolve my art and keep having fun with it, then it’s hardly worth the time. I want to get better at art, especially abstracts, and hopefully one of these days show them in very selective galleries.”

“Well, I look forward to saying – again – ‘I knew him when…’ Meanwhile, I’m excited to see your work gaining more recognition and acclaim. I’m please if I can introduce a few new fans to your art, Todd.”

More Todd Kruse!

Always Wanted to Be an Art Critic?

Here’s a fun chance to judge an art competition featuring Todd Kruse’s work (Todd’s entry is #2! Click “Comments” on the Facebook post and type in the number that corresponds with your favorite.)

9 thoughts on “Interview with Artist Todd Kruse”

  1. Thanks Holly, that was a fun exercise. You made it easy by asking interesting questions.

  2. I love that he sees inspiration from a child’s perspective. Thank you for introducing me to this artist, love his work! His interview will remind me to appreciate my son’s art when he starts to paint and play 🙂

    1. Good morning, Aleta! I think that “playfulness,” coupled with Todd’s excitement over experimenting with different media and techniques, is what finally won me over to abstract art. I don’t like pretension. I think sometimes we can’t quite find a doorway to appreciate artists or writers when we find them to be cold, aloof, or unapproachable personally. I know that the work should stand on its own, at least in theory; however, with art and music – it sometimes feels like the work, or the artists, are judging US. (I know people who feel that way – and a few writers who ARE that way – when it comes to literature, as well, but being a writer, I’m less intimidated by words and books and authors.) In a sense, it’s all play. Which is not to say it’s not hard work – because it’s also communication with other people, and there’s a drive to reach some ideal we hold in our own heads, if nothing else. But I think it helps to remember that it is, at its root, still play.

    2. Thanks Aleta! My son had the croup once and was a very scary fast drive to the emergency room to learn what it was. I think it’s great that you’re documenting your son’s early life in a letter.

    1. Thanks Margit! You’re ADHD sounds fascinating. Have you read Malcolm Gladwell’s “David and Goliath”? It’s about challenges that can and have been turned around to become real strengths.

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