The Throw Artist
TOM ZATAR KAY TOSSES HIS FATE -- AND HIS PAINT --TO THE WINDS
Written by: Daniel Bush,
Kingston Times - Ulster Publishing
November 2, 2006
"I can throw paint on anything," said artist Tom Zatar Kay, "and I know what I'm doing." Throw painting is a wild, uninhibited, and spontaneous yet also controlled and carefully executed style of art. It is produced when the artist, using a sort of a brush-like tool, literally throws his paint onto the canvas. This unique method, said Kay, is similar but not identical to Jackson Pollock's famous drip painting style. The first time that Zatar Kay made a throw painting he was roughly 21 years old. After his first attempt, however, Kay abandoned the style completely and did not return to it for almost three decades. "Following Pollock," Kay's exhibition of multi colored throw paintings- all of them made with day-glo fluorescent paint- is winding down after a month long run at Lee Wind's Silent Space Gallery in Kingston and it represents Kay's triumphant resurrection as a genuine throw painter.
Tom Zatar Kay is 51 years old, has a pony tail and wears round, thick glasses. He is an unbelievably energetic and enthusiastic man and also extremely friendly, outgoing and one of the nicest people you'll meet. Besides being an artist, Kay is also a DJ, a licensed real estate broker, a published poet and a scientific inventor in the field of solar energy who holds two U.S. patents.
Kay was born in Great Neck, Long Island. At a very young age Kay developed a love of two things: art and science, specifically "everything solar," an interest that was inspired by an edition of Popular Science magazine, given to him at age 5 by his grandmother, which was devoted to solar energy. At age 16, Kay founded his first company, TK Solar Distributors. At 21, while enrolled at Hofstra New College, Kay was hired by Exxon Enterprise as a solar energy consultant, wrote a ground breaking report on solar technology, and was dubbed the "Solar Whiz Kid" by Smart Money magazine.
In the midst of all this, Kay's experiment with drip painting fascinated him- but, Kay admits, "I was afraid of it." Kay's fear of moving into the unconventional realm of abstract expressionism stayed with him after he dropped out of college to work fulltime for Exxon Enterprise. For more than 25 years afterwards, while continuing his work with solar energy, Kay made American folk art instead of delving into action painting, producing, (and these are his examples), a painting that depicted E.T. and an Elephant; another of a man, with the earth's globe for a head, protecting a nearby woman by fighting off a shark, and a painting of a chicken that is gored by a knife and fork- a vegetarian statement, Kay said.
"In a way my art is poetry," Kay said of his current work, sitting on a chair in the front room of the Silent Space Gallery, surrounded by his many vivid and multifaceted throw paintings. "You have to be who are, and this is what I am." Kay's complex and vibrant personality does indeed match his new style. After 30 years and many stylistic transformations as a professional artist, said Kay, "I'm coming into my own in my fifties. I have all the stuff I was struggling for- a job, a family. I have more freedom to let art take control."
Since then Kay has stopped making other kinds of art and has focused exclusively on what he calls action, or throw painting. The "Following Pollock" exhibition represents Kay's past two years of work and has 61 pieces, 39 of them original paintings and the rest prints. The gallery's three rooms are filled with Kay's works. The back room, which is the largest, displays paintings that all glow under a set of black lights.
One of the unusual qualities of Kay's paintings, due to the use of day-glo fluorescent paint, is their ability to transform; they can be displayed under natural white light or under black light. Their only nemesis is the sun, which neutralizes the paint's fluorescence. After exposure to sunlight, Kay's paintings lose their unique ability to glow in the dark. For that reason, the gallery's plate glass, shopping-size windows that look out onto Broadway are covered by heavy black curtains. A person visiting the exhibition, therefore, upon passing through the black curtains and into the brightly lit and colorful front room, knows nothing about the show save its name.
"My gut feeling is that Pollock was a tortured artist, and his art reflects his contempt and his ruin in the same breath." Kay said. "I can relate to that but I don't want to be a tortured artist- I want to be the future, I want to be day-glo."
Throughout his entire career Kay has only painted with day-glo fluorescent paint- a medium that did not exist in Pollock's day- but in the context of his throw painting the medium seems to take on even greater importance. If Pollock represents the past then Kay sees his day-glo as the embodiment of the future. In a video that was made of Kay throw painting, he does seem to personify the vision of a wacky, eclectic, super-fast-paced 21st century Pollock: wearing a bright pink hat, jeans, and a cut-off tie-dye shirt, music from George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars playing loudly in the background, Kay dips a shish kebab skewer into a tube of his day-glo paint and with lightening quick, continual whips of his arm throws streak after streak of paint onto the canvas. The canvas he paints on in the video is not tacked to the floor, but suspended from the ceiling, at about waist level. As Kay throws paint on it, he keeps it in a perpetual spinning motion. This represents another deviance from what Kay calls Pollock's "flat throw" style of dripping paint over a canvas that lies flat on the floor. When paint is applied to a spinning, rather than a stationary canvas, Kay said, a completely new and different effect is created.
The video does offers an interesting glimpse of the throw painting process itself, which is almost as important as the end product it produces. It is hard to determine, when you look at a finished piece, how many of the lines and dots of color are random and how many premeditated. Even Kay isn't quite sure. He said that about 20 percent of the paint strokes on any given painting are precisely where he wants them to be, that is, put exactly in their place with skill and purpose. The rest of the paint, he admitted, falls onto the canvas on a sort of semi-controlled, subconscious whim, what Kay calls a "psychic method."
Due to the style's dependence on a certain element of randomness, the following and obvious question arises, one that has haunted Pollock's genius and one that inevitably comes to mind with Kay's work: can anybody do it? This is Kay's answer: If anybody could do it, "why haven't many people done it? Because if they could, they would." Besides, the concept of throw painting "is going up against the conventional notion of what art is," and as Kay knows from experience, this can be a very daunting if not down right frightening proposition.
This isn't to say that you shouldn't try, said Kay- in fact, he encourages people to. "I would love to see everybody throwing paint," Kay said. But in order to be successful at it, according to Kay, a person needs to have two crucial talents: creative freedom, and artistic skill. Luckily for Kay, he possesses both in abundance. "I'm aware of what I'm doing as I'm doing it," said Kay. "Its not haphazard craziness, there's a purpose to it."
Kay said that during his month long exhibition, which ends this weekend, several people told him that they loved his work and that it would be great in a museum, but that it is too much for the home. "It's a lot for people to take, it's very bright and action filled. It's threatening to people to think about how throw painting was created and the action behind it," said Kay. "It still scares me," he said, and then smiles. "But I can throw paint all day."