Figurative Knife Painter
If you were to ever meet Charles Hessemer you would assume him to be just a gray-haired retiree living in Florida. You would be curious about what he did during his eight decades, and quite likely would be amazed to hear. It is quickly observed that he is a serious man, but about what?
Ask him if he graduated from college, and he will say, no, I graduated from the American Academy of Art in Chicago. Press him further to learn that he studied to become both a fine artist and an advertising art director. And did he succeed in those dual careers? He will say yes to both. Citing some of the trail of National Accounts and advertising campaigns, he might admit to you that he was acknowledged as a man whose ideas were too far ahead of his time. That he should pack his tyoewriter and go to New York where his ideas would be appreciated.
You might learn that during his career with several national advertising agencies, he developed his art and writing gifts to become Executive Art Director and Creative Director. He was a member of a three-man think tank named Group 11, one of the first of its kind.
When you ask him how he had any time left for painting, he will answer, "I create time for painting, I do it by saving time, instead of wasting it."
Ask him how old he was when he decided to become an artist, and he will tell you very late. Just turned 18, and graduating from basic training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, he and five other reqruits were sent to the Department of the Navy in Washington DC on special duty. Each man was assigned to a desk. His was empty, except for a lonely book in the bottom drawer. The book was entitled "How to Draw the Figure." This was not dumb luck. He will tell you the book was waiting for him. An act of Divine Providence. The book was a quided missile landing in his hands. Within the week, Hessemer was enrolled in the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the art department of George Washington University, and he had finally found himself.
Three years later, he returned to his home in Jackson, Michigan, a town with no future, for itself or for anyone with talent who chose to stay there. There he continued his pursuit of a career by enrolling in the Famous Artists correspondents course published in Westport, Connecticut. Entering multiple categories in the Jackson County Fair, he was awarded blue ribbons on every entry, and an invitation to visit the judge was attached to a painting.
This was where he got his start. The Judge told him "you have what it takes, get your butt out of this town, you don't belong here, enroll in the American Academy of Art in Chicago."
He will tell you how he walked in for his first day of school to the intoxicating smell of turpentine. He knew he had finally found his home and his future.
Ask him why he paints with a palette knife and he will say " I learned it can do things a brush cannot."
He does not use his knife for superficial effects, as do the many Meditteranean resort painters, or the painters who use the palette knive on a brush painting just for superficial knive effects, or those who paint just to sell, and amazingly, do sell.
He has been likened to Emily Dickinson, The Moth of Amherst, who is considered to be one of the most important poets in American history. Dickinson wrote her poems in solitude, rarely seen in public. She wrote Eighteen hundred poems, but fewer than a dozen were published in her lifetime.
Hessemer is remarkably like The Moth of Amherst. Too busy working to have time to market his name, nor time for exhibits or art magazine visibility. Occasionally visiting sidewalk art shows to see who is doing what, but has never bothered to enter one himself.
One afternoon in painting class his instructor paused next to him and said, go get the book "The Art Spirit" by Robert Henri. Henri was the greatest Americn teacher of painting and one of the founders of the Ashcan School of Art Movement.
Hessemer still refers to Robert Henri's book of written critiques of student's works which were made in front of the class. The inspirational words of Henri have been his Holy Grail to this very day.
Just as did Vincent van Gogh inspire Hessemer through his naivety as a painter, it was his purpose in life, with such honesty and endless desire to share which only Vincent could see. There will be but one Vincent van Gogh. It is with that honesty and spirit that Hessemer paints with his knife.
Ask him why he paints with a palette knife and he will say " I discovered that a palette knife can do things a brush cannot do."
Hessemer leaves no doubt that he is committed to a lifetime of work to produce a lasting and worthy mark in the history of art. You wil believe him when he say's "My last painting will be my best."
Please do preview each photo which interests you and you will witness the deep strokes and edges from the knife. No bristle brush can dupicate that. No acrylic substrate undertexture can duplicate that. No brush can paint a single strand of a woman's hair. And, no brush can, in a single stroke, blend three or more colors together for amazing visual spontaneous happenings. Look for these things to appreciate why Hessemer chose to devote his entire fine art lifetime to the perpetual learning to paint with a palette knife.
Enjoy the Colors of Hessemer.
"Life is a stairway that never ends,
but the artist must never stop climbing."