‘I’ve always been into art,” says Kevin Specht, “but mostly as a spectator.”
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post during his visit to Tel Aviv, Specht recounted his transformation from a part-time painter into a full-time artist whose work is currently the subject of a solo exhibition at Tel Aviv’s Nassima Landau Foundation.
The quiet, unassuming Minneapolis native credits his lifelong interest in art to his parents, who took him to visit art museums from a young age. “I was very into Renaissance artists like Titian and Da Vinci,” he recalls.An art autodidact, Specht did not study art in school, earning a college degree in business at Flagler College in Florida. He moved to Denver 10 years ago. He had a regular full-time job outside the art world until shortly before the pandemic arrived, in early 2020. “I’ve had jobs in restaurants,” Specht recounts. “My last job was in sales. I was selling kitchen appliances, refrigerators, microwave ovens, things like that.” Two years ago, Specht quit his job and took up art full time.
Once he left behind the grind of the daily commute to work, Specht had to establish a daily working routine. “I had a job in sales and was used to having a strict schedule every day,” he says. “To go from that schedule to having nothing set up that I had to do, I realized that I had to establish a routine for myself and have a daily plan scheduled.”
Specht set up a daily routine that helps him get organized. He takes a long walk each morning before returning home – “it’s almost like I am going to work,” he chuckles – and paints in his home studio until lunch. Later, Specht continues working in two-hour increments until the evening. Specht has accumulated a library of hundreds of photographs and still photos from films that he uses to create his art. “Anything that catches my eye that I find interesting,” he adds.
“Specht’s solo exhibition at Nassima Landau entitled Strangers, encompasses themes of alienation within crowds of people living their daily lives. “The images depict faceless masses of people trudging to and from work, with an air of seeming resignation and perhaps even despair. Specht recalls his nine-to-five sales jobs when the thoughts going through his mind each morning were, “Gotta go to work and make it through this crowd of people.” At that time, he says, he would experience anxiety about the possibility that people might want to start a conversation with him.
Looking back on those years, he says wistfully, “I realized how much those little routines have mattered to me. At the time, maybe I hated them, but now I cherish them and miss them and realize that they are important to your psychological health. I’ve always lived in a city and find comfort in being around the other people, even if I don’t know them.”
STRANGERS’ ENCOMPASSES THEMES OF ALIENATION WITHIN CROWDS OF PEOPLE LIVING THEIR DAILY LIVES
Specht adds that leaving his steady job and going into art as a full-time occupation coupled with the pandemic contributed to his sense of isolation and loneliness. “Having not been really around people lately,” he says, “I am losing my ability to communicate and relate to other people.” These comments notwithstanding, Specht seems quite capable of conveying his thoughts and feelings to others.
Specht credits his recent success in making art his livelihood to Steeve Nassima, founder of the Nassima Landau Foundation, and Suzanne Landau, the foundation’s artistic director. “Until I met Steeve and Suzanne,” says Specht, “I had been selling everything myself through Instagram, and it took a while to establish what the prices should be.” The pair found Specht on Instagram and are now handling the sales of his paintings.
Specht’s paintings were shown in 2021 at the Nassima Landau Foundation as part of a group exhibition. This year’s solo exhibition at the foundation is the first-ever solo show of his art. He attended the opening at the foundation last week and enjoyed the whirlwind opening and the feelings of having his work appreciated and purchased by visitors. This is Specht’s first visit to Israel, he says that he “loved being here, and took a ton of pictures,” which will give him more ideas for his projects when he returns to work at his Denver studio.
He is philosophical about work and the meaning of his artwork. “Before I had started selling paintings, I wondered, ‘Why am I making this art if no one is buying it? If I am going to make a painting and it will go into my basement, what is the point of doing it?’ If people hadn’t started buying my art, I would have gone back to work, to at least keep my mental health and have some sort of purpose.” Specht agrees that there is intrinsic value in working and notes that having a job and being around people can give one a sense of purpose and improve mental health.From selling appliances to becoming a full-time artist, life’s commute has changed quite a bit for Kevin Specht.
Kevin Specht/Strangers is showing at the Nassima Landau Foundation, 55 Ahad Ha’am Str, Tel Aviv through March 3.
This article was written in cooperation with the Nassima Landau Foundation.