Occupy Wall Street painting inspired by the artists visit to Zuccotti Park
Reprint from: Greenfield Recorder 01/26/2012, Page D01
Occupy Art; Abstract paintings reflect psychologist’s interests, profession
Story by Trish Crapo
Within a week of visiting Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, where the Occupy Wall Street movement began on Sept. 17, 2011, psychologist Michael Katz began to work on a painting. Katz had gone to the park partly to donate copies of his books to the protestors — he has edited and written several books on the topic of lucid, or conscious, dreaming — and partly just to see what was going on. Walking through the park was “a hearkening back for me,” Katz said. He was reminded of his college years, the late ’60s and early ’70s, an era “that was so political and so charged.”
The Occupy Wall Street movement seemed “the first time since then that young people, and not only young people, had so actively protested.”
As he wound his way through the park, Katz said he was struck by “a number of impressions of the scene there.” The park was surrounded by police and by “a number of Wall Street-type guys in suits walking past.
And then in the park you couldn’t have had more of a contrast. The park was divided into circular enclaves, where people presented their case.” At the center of one circle there might be an anarchist speaking, he said, in another, someone talking about corporate America, or women discussing feminist issues.
“So there were groups of people in circles,” Katz said, “And you’d wind your way along these paths. And, then, come upon more of these circle-knots of people.”
Back at his studio, Katz did not intend to create a record of his experience at Zuccotti Park, he said, but rather, he began to paint and saw almost immediately that the work was based on his impressions there. For Katz, working on an abstract painting “is a very intuitive and very quick process. I just make lines and I make relationships between them and between colors and objects very, very spontaneously.”
The final multi-media piece, titled “Occupy Wall Street,” has the look of a rough map or diagram. Circles are formed with paint can lids, sketched quickly with paint, or dabbed with gold. The work also incorporates newspaper clippings, sheets of plastic, white tissue paper and black tea strewn onto the paint.
The tension of potential violence that Katz felt is evident in the urgency of some of the strokes and in the dense layering of seemingly incongruent materials.
This painting is one in an exhibit of Katz’s abstract work now on view at Ursa Major Gallery, 1 Deerfield Ave., Shelburne Falls. The show continues until the end of January and includes an artist’s talk and Q&A session on Sunday, Jan. 29, from 4 to 6 p.m.
As a young man growing up near Asbury Park, N.J., Katz never thought he would be a painter. “I certainly was not much of an artoriented person in high school. In fact, I was an athlete. I was very oriented toward sports.” At that time his focus, like many teenagers, was on himself and his immediate world. All of that changed when he went off to Lafayette College in eastern Pennsylvania, Katz said. In college, he discovered yoga and meditation and participated in protests against the U.S.
military involvement in Vietnam and Cambodia. His perspective became less “micro-focused” and more outward, more political. Absolutely life-changing was a decision to take a semester abroad in Israel.
There, Katz became involved with the daughter of a prominent sculptor and spent time at her father’s studio in the seaside artists community of Tel Aviv-Yafo. It was within this richly creative environment that Katz came across some reproductions of Austrian painter Gustav Klimt’s work. Klimt’s best-known painting, perhaps, is “The Kiss,” which depicts a couple embraced within a lavish, gold-patterned quilt. The woman’s dress is also a riot of pattern: multi-colored ovals are clustered in groupings that resemble plantings of flowers seen from above.
Katz is enthusiastic as he recalls his encounter with Klimt’s work decades ago: “They were images of women in gowns and sparkles and all kinds of colors and I just spontaneously started to draw them. And I was absolutely astounded that I could render them with a little accuracy.”
Upon returning to Lafayette, Katz added a minor in art to his psychology degree. “And that was definitely the beginning. I continued to draw and to paint, just on a hobby basis.”
His degree in psychology led to grad school at SUNY/New Paltz and eventually to his first job as psychologist at a school for the deaf in New Jersey, where he enjoyed the work but felt isolated. He took a house in New Hope, Pa., another artist’s community, and began to do some abstract painting.
“I was doing relatively ambitious work there. I had hooked into the Princeton Arts Alliance and started to do some lithography as well. I was in my late 20s. I was doing good work; I was starting to show.”
A return to grad school, this time at NYU, pushed art to the back burner again, though he continued to take art classes through the Arts Student League, studying at times with instructors who were “quite classical.”
“The abstract stuff came very naturally to me,” Katz said. “The more realistic and figurative (a work is), the more time you have to put into it.” Working classically is “much more of a discipline and quite a bit more work,” he said. Over the years, he has moved back and forth between abstract and figurative work, at times painting “more impressionistically,” often landscapes or still lifes, and sometimes studying the works of Van Gogh or Monet by making copies. But for the past three years he has been working more abstractly, “in a more serious and a more focused way.”
Katz’s paintings are fed by, and reflect, his interests in music, yoga, dream work, dance and writing. The connection between his art and his working life as a psychologist “is not direct; it’s just there … My paintings are an amalgamation of who I am.”
As a psychologist, Katz is known for his dream workshops. “The goal is to become lucid in the dream state,” he said. “But secondarily, anyone who participates usually is able to remember more dreams and to become more conscious of what the dreams might mean.”
Katz leads workshops worldwide: this spring’s schedule will take him to Peru, Amsterdam and Paris and he plans to lead a trip to Tibet in July. He has also offered workshops locally: most recently at Amherst College, in connection with a course on “The Dream in Oriental Literature.” In that class, as in many of his workshops, participants acted out the dreams of some of their classmates, a process Katz describes as “lucid dream theater work.”
“Those dreams are very, very powerful dreams,” he said. “There are many dreams we all have every night that are ordinary. These (lucid dreams) are almost like creating mythology.”
Mythology is a word that comes to mind when looking at some of Katz’s paintings. “Eye of Ekajati,” is named for the enlightened protectress of Tibetan Tantric Buddhism whose “demeanor is wrathful but her actions are always compassionate,” according to Katz. “Walkabout” came about while researching the introduction to a book he was editing, “Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light” by Chogyal Namkhai Norbu. “I had in my mind the aboriginal Australians. Their reality is the dream world. They don’t really distinguish much between reality and the dream.”
“Walkabout” is a term that describes a rite of passage in which adolescent males follow the “songlines” or paths of their ancestors.
The painting “Walkabout” is an elegant composition on a silver ground. The eye tries to make two figures of the circles and lines, but they could just as easily represent sacred locations and the routes that connect them on a map. The sparse composition and prevalence of small dots are reminiscent of aboriginal Australian art, which often depicts these sacred journeys.
Katz lives in New York City but owns a home in Charlemont that he visits year-round with his wife, Merrill Rudin, a chiropractor, and their son, Jediah, now 12. “I bought this as raw land more than 20 or 25 years ago and I worked with local carpenters and we built the house together,” he said. “I did a lot of the work myself and I designed the house. Another creative project,” he laughs.
For more information contact: Lauri Marder, Ursa Major Gallery, 1 Deerfield Ave., Shelburne Falls, MA, 413-824-0502; email@example.com. The gallery is open Saturday, 10 a.m to 4 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m., and by appointment.
To see more of Katz’s artwork online visit: www.artslant.com/ny/main/search? msearchbox=michael+allan+katz To learn more about Katz’s lucid dream work, including his book, “Tibetan Dream Yoga: The Royal Road to Enlightenment,” visit: www.dreamyoga.net.
Trish Crapo is a writer and photographer who lives in Leyden and has a studio in Greenfield.
She is a guest artist in The War & Peace Project, a 750-piece collaborative collage project based on Tolstoy’s novel that will be exhibited in Tula, Russia this summer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Katz’s work is on view at Ursa Major Gallery, 1 Deerfield Ave., Shelburne Falls, through January. He will have an artist’s talk and Q&A session there Sunday, Jan. 29, from 4 to 6 p.m.