Artist Snapshot: Kamilla Talbot

Exploring the mind and habits of an artist in twenty-five questions

Artist Snapshot: Kamilla Talbot
Kamilla Talbot making a watercolor while sailing in Denmark

At what age did you decide to become an artist?
It’s hard to pinpoint an age. Although I always made art, I didn’t think of myself as an artist until I was in my late twenties. I got my BFA from RISD, but it was only after I went back to school for painting at the New York Studio School that I called myself a painter. I grew up around lots of art, and with painters in my family, so although being a painter seemed like a legitimate profession, it also took me a while to find my way within that legacy.

How did your parents react when you told them you wanted to be an artist?
They were not surprised and have always been supportive. My mother’s brother, as well as her father, and two of her grandparents were professional painters. In terms of supporting myself, my first degree was in graphic design, and I started to teach painting soon after I left the New York Studio School. 

Who are your favorite artists?
Bonnard, van Gogh, Matisse, Frank Auerbach, and so many more. These come to mind because of their commitment to painting the landscape perceptually, and I’ve honed my own painting goals by looking at their work. 

Who is your favorite artist whose work is unlike your own?  
Recently, I saw a show of small Richard Chamberlain sculptures that I loved. Each is like a flower or bird – not in their depiction but in their presence – fluid and beautiful, and yet they are abstract and made out of very unnatural materials. 

Art book you cannot live without?
A monograph of the Icelandic painter Jóhannes Kjarval. His respect for the monumentality of the landscape comes through, even in reproductions. He also dwells on the micro, and paints the smallest wildflowers and cracks in crumbling rocks.  

What is the quality you most admire in an artist?
Authenticity. Patti Smith, in her advice to the young, said: “Build a good name, eventually that name will be its own currency.” 

Do you keep a sketchbook?
No, I’ve never consistently kept a sketchbook. I tear sheets of watercolor paper in different proportions and tend to paint from life or work things out with a brush and watercolor. 

What’s your favorite museum in all the world?
For both personal and aesthetic reasons, it’s the Johannes Larsen Museum in Denmark. He was my great-grandfather, and I’ve spent time there every summer, in the artist’s-home-turned-museum, with his naturalistic paintings and in the garden and landscape that served as his subjects.

What’s your go-to NY museum?
The Met. I love wandering and ending up in front of something I didn’t seek out — really looking at one or two artworks that hold my attention on that day. 

What’s the best exhibition you have ever attended?
Van Gogh: The Drawings at the Met. Drawing after drawing, I basked in his mark-making, the obvious intensity of his search, and the sheer beauty of those works on paper. 

If you were not an artist, what would you be?
Hmm. Maybe a therapist?

What is one thing you didn’t learn in art school that you wish you had?
Any lesson not learned in art school is probably due to me not being ready to hear it then. I think about Jake Berthot, upon seeing some invented landscapes I was doing in my studio, telling me about fly fishing with his uncle. I didn’t know what he was talking about when he said: sometimes it’s just a tiny tweak to the fly that catches the fish. I needed to spend years painting before I could understand something about the magic of painting and fully trust in the process. 

What work of art have you looked at most and why?
Monet’s Water Lilies at MoMA. There is enough there to keep me engaged in the air and light and my own scale in relation to it. There is invention and abstraction in his direct marks when looked at, up close. There is peace and beauty to lift my mood, without being sentimental.

What is your secret visual pleasure outside of art?
Watching my vegetable garden grow. My husband and I are fixing up a farmhouse and barn in the Catskills, and gardening has become a part of my life in a way that I didn’t expect. The growth pattern of plants has entered into my work recently. 

Do you listen to music in your studio?
Yes, or the radio or podcasts. Instead of taking me away from the work, I find it helps me to focus. Maybe this is because of our overstimulated lives and is related to the fact that I have difficulty quietly meditating. When I’m working in the landscape, the sounds of nature keep me alert to my environment.

What is the last gallery that you visited?
Charles Burchfield at DC Moore

Who is an underrated artist people should be looking at?
The German painter Markus Lüpertz is well known in Europe but not often seen here. I’m always eager to see his shows at Michael Werner Gallery.

What art materials can you not live without?
My squirrel-hair brush and watercolors.

Do you paint/sculpt/create art every day?
No, but most days I do. I usually have three full days a week in the studio, and some more scattered hours.

What is the longest time you went without creating art?
Maybe two weeks. 

What do you do when you are feeling uninspired? 
Switch from oil paint to watercolor, or make a painting of my own painting. 

What are the questions that drive your work?
How can I make a poetic, metaphoric painting that speaks to our common humanity and our relationship to nature? 

What is the most important quality in an artist?
A willingness to not know the answers and to trust one’s intuition. 

What is something you haven’t yet achieved in art?
Although on one hand I would like to support myself fully with my painting, I know I would miss teaching. The community and inspiration I get from my students, as well as having a structure to my weeks, helps me focus when I’m in the studio. 

What is the best thing about art in the era of social media?
Social media is a great tool for connection with other artists and spreading the word about shows and opportunities. But it’s no replacement for seeing art in person. The time that it takes to really look is antithetical to the quick swiping we do on our devices. So I’d say the best thing about art is when it’s not on social media. 


KAMILLA TALBOT is an instructor at the Art Students League of New York.

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