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John Lamb, Published April 30 2012

Fargo artist creates 'Spit Art' (with video)

FARGO – For many people, seeing spit marked on the ground evokes disgust or indifference.

For Chad Kartenson it was a sign of inspiration.

The Fargo man recalls taking a smoke break and spitting. He looked at the shape created and was moved to grab his sketch pad and draw the form. Kartenson liked the randomness of the contour and knew he wanted to use it in his art.

The result is something he calls “Spit Art,” which is also the title of his solo show opening Thursday night at DK Custom Framing @ Gallery 14 in downtown Fargo.

Unlike that landmark goober he hawked between puffs, Kartenson doesn’t splatter the canvas in spittle. Instead, he blows a watered-down acrylic paint across a surface to create an unplanned and unpredictable mark.

“I really don’t know how it’s going to turn out at all. It’s totally random,” the artist says. “It just basically comes to life. When I do spit art I try to do as least amount of control as possible.”

He starts with the exterior tube of an old Bic pen and dribbles paint on the canvas or surface; usually around a spherical form, from as small as candle holder, or as big as a plate or cardboard pizza flat.

Kartenson then blows the paint around the circumference, using the tube to blow lines out from the circle across the surface.

He calls this first layer “my exoskeleton.”

After the paint dries, he’ll go over areas with a detail brush to bring out contrast or brush on pastel dust to add depth and shading to the shape. His final step is drawing in fine lines with felt-tip pens to make the shapes pop off the surface.

“I just go to town and how it turns out is how it turns out,” he says.

The effect adds an illustrative touch to the works.

While the pictures are entirely abstract, the crisp, linear organic shapes bring to mind microscopic images of insects – or alien life forms.

While Kartenson is a fan of surrealists like Salvador Dali, he’s hesitant to say that his style is influenced by any artists. He claims others have told him to avoid formal art lessons for fear of compromising his own style.

“And I think that was very wise,” Kartenson says.

Aside from freeing his creativity, Kartenson’s artistic process also provides some therapeutic relief.

“It’s a release from my epilepsy. Art is very therapeutic,” he says. “This style of painting really quiets my mind. It leaves me in a different state. When I’m inking, it’s like time doesn’t exist anymore.”

While Kartenson insists the pieces are completely random, there is some planning in the structural composition of his art.

“Usually I like to have three circles because it seems to balance the piece out a lot better,” he explains. “I like to have the main focus on the left side. I feel when someone looks at a piece, they read it like a book.”

He acknowledges the “Steampunk” comics as an inspiration and some of his art seem to hint at rivets or screws in the forms, making them more mechanical than organic.

“I haven’t seen anything like it in this area,” says Denise Knudson, owner of DK Custom Framing @ Gallery 14.

She met Kartenson when he brought works into her downtown shop. Knudson liked his style and invited him to show three pieces as part of a group Halloween exhibit.

Knudson says the randomness of Kartenson’s spit art reminds her of Jackson Pollock’s work. While Kartenson doesn’t compare himself to the abstract expressionist master, he sees at least one similarity.

“Sometimes I have spent four or five hours just staring at a blank canvas, wondering what will come out. I know that’s something Jackson Pollock and I have in common,” he says. “We pull out a blank canvas and just stare at it until we’re ready.”

Now Kartenson is ready to move beyond the spit art he started six years ago. Despite the name of the show, only about a third of the 15 or so pieces were created through the spit art process. The others are more traditional forms of painting, though still spontaneous with more controlled lines and shapes. He’s even setting aside acrylics for oil paints, to “bring more of my imagination onto the canvas,” he says.

“He started with spit art and grew into these more controlled pieces,” Knudson says.

“With every piece I finish, I come up with something new, a new style I can work with on my next piece,” Kartenson says. “I learn something new and it excites me.”

If you go

What: Reception for “Spit Art” by Chad Kartenson

When: 6 p.m., Thursday

Where: DK Custom Framing @ Gallery 14, 14 Roberts St., Fargo

Info: This event is free. (701) 239-0063


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533