"Art is more of a lifestyle than a career. It's a way of being."
That sums up and defines local artist Craig Kaufman's view of art and its role in his life. It's a personal maxim extending beyond the palette and brush into the classroom where he teaches students at Curtin Middle School as well as Pennsylvania College of Technology, and previously at Lycoming College.
"Teaching is the sharing of information and knowledge as well as being able to evaluate whether your students are obtaining that information and knowledge," Kaufman said. "I've been teaching my entire adult life and I don't know if I could go less than full force in transmitting my experiences as a visual artist to the students. There are many different levels to art. I impart that to my students."
Craig Kaufman is seen with two of his paintings on display at the Grey Art Gallery, 140 W. Fourth St., a part of the “Sublime Grey”?show, which also features Luana Cleveland and Spencer Gregory.
Recently, one of those students decided to give back to a professor who taught him a deeper understanding of both the importance of art and the process that creates it. That former student is the Grey Art Gallery's Casey Gleghorn.
Kaufman's works are showcased this month, along with the art of his wife, Luana Cleveland, and longtime friend Spencer Gregory, as featured artists of the Grey Art Gallery's November show, "Sublime Grey at the Grey." His current work consists of layered images on birch plywood.
"The birch pieces are oil on canvas cut patterns adhered to the wood in a non-representational style," Kaufman said. "In non-representational art, the viewer may have a few ideas as to what is depicted, but can't really say for sure because there are many possibilities. I hope people who come and see these pieces experience something they haven't seen before - gathering their own impressions and judgments about the work."
Gregory will have oil painting on plywood. His works are non-representational as well. Cleveland's work in the show will feature exotic animal portraits in pastel and watercolor.
Kaufman believes that art should evoke diverse emotions and hit the viewer in subtle yet visceral ways.
"With my pieces like 'Roots and Rocks' or 'Heat Break,' I'm trying to offer up a feeling that the person receives when they see the work - a feeling that they wouldn't receive in any other way," Kaufman said.
"By looking at the work, it's about the individual and his or her questions in life - what they're bringing to the work. What is it about? Why would someone paint this way? What do I think about it when I see it? How is this going to influence my life? Why do I enjoy it? - those kind of questions."
Kaufman made art growing up but he didn't see it as his calling.
"My elementary school teachers supported it, so I enjoyed doing it," he said. "I always enjoyed it. I took art lessons outside of public school, but I was interested in what was going on there. I had some support through Dr. June Baskin and Joan Collins who was the art teacher at the time. They kind of supported me all the way through elementary school so I had an interest in it. But I didn't know I was going to do art until I got out of high school."
After graduation, Kaufman initially followed a slightly different, more commercial career path.
"I attended the New York Academy of the Arts where I majored in illustration," Kaufman said. "Then I designed and painted billboards for what was, at that time, called Penn York Advertising. I decided to go back to Kutztown because I was painting more and more [and] enjoying it more. So there I had a wonderful painting teacher (acclaimed Japanese artist Maya Shock) who encouraged me to push further with my art."
Around that time, he met Gregory.
"We both liked art and we've been making it ever since," Kaufman said.
That collegiate camaraderie and lasting friendship gives Gregory special insight into his friend's work.
"I think you can see in Craig's art, rather than evolution, though there has been that, you can see a thread that runs through all of it," said Gregory. "You can see that distinctness in everything I've ever seen of his. It's a look his art has - a sense of color for example - that gives a definite fingerprint to his work."
Over the years, Kaufman has worked in collage, wood carving and box art, acrylics and now the Grey Art Gallery pieces find the artist working with oil on canvas and birch plywood. He sees his art path as a continuum influenced by a diverse set of factors.
"I think one painting grows on another and at the same time I am interested in what other artists are doing and trying to figure out how that applies to questions in life," Kaufman said. "As an artist I am very influenced by everything-from television to pictures I see to and also colors I see in nature. I think my biggest influence has been other artists and the work they have done because I perceive the time period they are in and what they had to say about that particular time period."
In Kaufman's opinion, although this is a prodigious time period to be producing art in Williamsport, the area has potential for even greater notoriety.
"The local art scene has grown a huge amount over the past five years and it has great potential for more growth," Kaufman said. "It's not a place where people would fly in to see art, and this area has that potential because of beautiful Victorian houses, great historical background and the fact that it's a river city. But it will take a real vision to gather up collectors to get them here to look at and purchase things, enjoying works of art. It takes advertising, I believe, to attract these kinds of crowds."
Cleveland, who was the first executive director of the Arts Council added, "Word of mouth is important too. Casey's had collectors from Florida and other parts of the country make purchases. They will tell their friends, then it can become a destination. Also, they have a dynamic vision for their gallery, which is a good thing."
With two artists living under the same roof, you'd wonder if sometimes Kaufman seeks input from Cleveland, a renowned artist in her own right, when he's working on a piece.
"Well, Craig always wants an opinion so one time I gave him my thoughts," Cleveland said. "He changed his entire painting. He never liked it again because in his mind it wasn't his painting. So we give each other space and keep our opinions to ourselves."
"I think one of the most dangerous things we could do is give judgments about the work because we each know from experience that it's a big process," Kaufman said. "One moves to the next and so forth."
"When it's done you're allowed to say you like it," said Cleveland in a humorous tone.
During his four-decade painting career, Kaufman has had solo shows in New York City, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, State College, Jim Thorpe, Erie, Loretto and Williamsport, as well as Elmira, N.Y. His art is in the collections of Kutztown University, Pennsylvania College of Technology, Mercyhurst College and the Museum of the Southern Alleghenies, as well as numerous private collections.
"In many ways, the act of painting is very magical because you're creating something that hasn't been made before," Kaufman said. "Every single stroke, every change of a color, everything pertains to the whole. So it becomes this piece of magic where the artwork speaks to you. You're asking questions of it. Every stroke informs the information that it has to give you. The making of artwork takes your life and occupies all your life."
"It's very exciting to make art," he said. "It's what I do, an extension of who I am."
The show runs through Nov. 26 and will be on display at Grey Art Gallery, 140 W. Fourth St.
For more information on the artist, visit his Facebook page. For more information on the show, check out www.greygalleryart.com or the gallery's Facebook page.