Night and the Emerging Self: in Conversation with Fred Pohlman

Next up in the gallery: Fred Pohlman! His show, Night and the Emerging Self, will be in the Kaaterskill Fine Arts & Crafts Gallery from August 13th to September 25th. I had the opportunity to sit down with him and ask some unexpected questions – read on to find out how he handled that.


From where do you draw inspiration?


“Trial of Job”


Experience as in…

Experience is just what happens. For example you read the book of Job, and you have a dream that says, “you will know the trials of Job.” The next thing you know you’ve got a painting that you can’t stand, so you put it down and leave it for two years. All of a sudden you pick it up, add something, and it’s the trial of Job! Then you wind up writing a song and you realize it’s also about the trial of Job. I have the painting and the song – but where do they come from? You read the book of Job, and it had more magnetism than you thought. It starts to invade your dreams, your artwork, everything.  

I have this painting, “The Road to Kandahar” – where is it coming from? Then I realize it must be from my fascination with scheherazade and The Arabian Nights. You produce something out of it, it just comes out of your hand by accident. All of this stuff comes from the love of something.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up mostly in New York City; in lower Harlem and the Upper East Side. I spent my summers out in the country, in Pattenburg, New Jersey. I lived in a home for kids for a few years, too.

Who is your favorite painter?

My favorite painters are Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.

Do you have a favorite painting by either of them?

Do I have a favorite painting? Well.

Hard question, right?

It’s impossible. Depends on my mood. But I love Braque and I love Picasso; in fact I love all of the cubists. If I say I love Diego Rivera most people will think oh, he did murals. No. He was a cubist as well. Metzinger, Rivera, all of them, beautiful. And all of them were in this one school of thought. What I really liked about Braque and Picasso is that they used to paint together, and they didn’t even put their signatures on the paintings. They said it didn’t matter who paints it, we’re following these certain rules, it’s the same.



“The Road to Kandahar”


(Click here to listen to the first song of Fred’s musical, Scheherazade and the Magic Ring, which relates to the above painting)

Where do you paint?

Right now I paint mostly in México. Most of my paintings are there.

What’s your least favorite book?

My least favorite book? God. Well ninety percent of the books I buy I put them down, because they start repeating themselves. The publishers tell authors they have to have two hundred pages. Listen, if you have a sixty page idea, you have a sixty page idea. If you’ve got a short story the editor should say, “you’ve got a great short story there.” They shouldn’t fill it up with eighty percent fluff. I don’t know if I could tell you my least favorite, though.

I could tell you that my least favorite is “Ethan Frome” by Edith Wharton.

Why’s that?

It aggravates me to no end. I’m the kind of person that doesn’t like when people do stupid things in movies or stories, or any kind of story. I guess I’m empathetic to the point where it’s just painful to me when the characters make obviously bad choices. Wharton is a great writer, but everything that happens in “Ethan Frome” is just painful.

I know what you mean by that. I’ll be reading and think to myself, why are they going there?

Exactly! You could have made so many other decisions. You did the absolute worst thing you could’ve done, and I understand that’s the point, but that’s not a nice point.

I think the answer to my least favorite book would just be books; when they’re building up on some idea or premise that they knew from the beginning wasn’t going to fly. They knew from the beginning but they sort of all talked themselves into doing this thing. I have all these books in my house and it’s the same thing. After a certain number of pages they get lost in this kind of flowery rhetoric. No one wants to read that – though maybe no one wants to hear what I’m saying!

Can you think of a specific title that would be an example of what you’re talking about?

I have this book that started out great, called “The Liar’s Tale,” by Jeremy Campbell. It’s about deception, how people deceive each other, and how it’s common and rampant everywhere. The thing is he’s really got a great thing going at first, but then he starts going off on tangents. So the book is up there on the shelf. A lot of things get you excited – the first chapter is great, there’s a lot of promise, and then it just falls short. There’s so much of that out there. But I’m interested in books like the “Tao Te Ching” [a Chinese Taoist Classic], I’m reading that now. Things like that. I’m also fascinated with the Arabian Nights, books on Sufism, stuff like that.

What is the hardest part of painting?





Painting is the hardest part of painting?

Well, to try to paint something. I don’t do that. It’s a very difficult thing to do. My approach is to let the thing happen, and then things happen that are beautiful. You learn about painting from allowing these things to happen, and then asking, how did I do that? But the hard thing about painting in the classical sense is sitting down and saying, “I’m going to paint a landscape.” Why would I want to paint a landscape? I might want to paint a landscape because I might want to understand how to arrange values, and intensities, and understand lighting, and the sun – but why should I want to paint a landscape when I can take a photo, or look at a photo, and we’ve got so many great landscape painters. I don’t think I’d benefit too much from it. I could see some value in taking up portrait painting, which is very difficult, but only so much value.

The hard thing about painting is having the patience to get past all the bad ones. When you start out and do a hundred paintings, you have three good ones and ninety seven that you have to throw in the trash. Then when you get better, you have ninety seven good ones and three that just won’t work.

I think that may be the hard part about a lot of different things though. People get discouraged when they don’t pick things up in a certain amount of time. For example, the program we do with the school over the summer brought a ringmaster in, and he was teaching the students things like juggling. He was telling me how he isn’t just teaching people how to juggle; he’s teaching them that sometimes things are hard, but that’s okay. It’s okay to struggle with something and not get it right away.

Exactly, that’s okay. There’s a lot to be said for mastering various techniques, and there’s a time for doing that. Learning to do something is a very difficult time, because you want to just do it. Say you did want to do a landscape; that’s the time for learning the techniques. But then there’s the time for just taking the canvas, and knocking it around, and moving the brush, and suddenly you say, “Oh my God, it’s _____.” And then you leave it alone.

Because that’s what really wants to come out.



Fred has agreed to be a temporary guest blogger for the Catskill Mountain Foundation! Keep an eye out for his posts; he’ll be elaborating on what we talked about here, and…well, we have no idea what else. It’s up to him.



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