I first met Kristof Corvinus at the Sugar Art and Fashion Show at the Eiffel Society in New Orleans in 2013. We were assigned to display our art next to each other during the show and became fast friends. When you first meet Kristof, you’re immediately struck by how serious he takes his career as an artist.
Erin: What led you to be a professional artist as opposed to it just being something that you like to do?
Kristof: Wanting to make money doing something that I have a passion for instead of doing something that somebody else wants me to do. I loved it so much that I figured I could make a career out of it. Or at least try to.
Erin: Do you have a muse?
Kristof: I think my muse is death, or the mysteries surrounding it.
Erin: A lot of people aren’t comfortable with death.
Kristof: They are scared of it as part of the life cycle and see it as something that should be feared.
I’ve always been interested in morbidity and mortality. It’s just been kind of part of my DNA I guess. It is scary, but I think its all about what you do to get there. The fear of the unknown. “What if? Why am I here?” It gets pretty overwhelming.
There are countries that celebrate this idea. For example, Mexico has its Day of the Dead, which has roots in cultures of the Aztecs and Mayans. There is a violent aspect to that, and most modern thinking tries to take away the violence. But people who celebrate are more alive than people who don’t. I mean, this is the life you’ve got. Better live it up! Many cultures believe you come back too, not that I want to die anytime soon. If I could actually be immortal and supernatural, I probably would because I would never run out of things to do. Not for a long time!
Erin: How does your attitude towards death affect your choices you make for subjects of your paintings?
Kristof: I’m drawn to darker arts. If you look at it more literally, it just means not illuminated. Mystery. Some things should remain a mystery, because its kind of intriguing that way. I’m drawn to mysteries and horror movies and the iconic symbols, like skeletons and skulls, even though they scared me as a child. We’re all scared of them, yet drawn to them.
Erin: How has New Orleans effected your art?
Kristof: I’ve never been in a place this eclectic and welcoming in general. People who don’t understand it are scared of it. It’s a big soup of spirituality. Very Creole. All things here are amalgamated and they draw from each other.
New Orleans lets me explore the different sides of my personality. I paint dark things and fluffy cute things too. Its all about balance.
Erin: What brought you to New Orleans?
Kristof: I always wanted to come here. I first became conscious of it while watching the James Bond movie “Live and Let Die”. A spy is watching a funeral procession and someone kills him. The killers then put him in the coffin and the funeral dirge turns into celebratory music. Jazz music to celebrate death! I asked my father about it and he said it was normal for a funeral in New Orleans. That fascinated me.
And then, of course, there was Ann Rice, since she lived here for so long and based a lot of novels on this setting with her vampires. She painted such a rich tapestry, I knew I had to be here. For romantic reasons, but more than just that.
Erin: In what mediums do you work?
Kristof: Primarily acrylics because it is convenient. I started off in oils when I was younger and I still love oil. I need to get back to it. I’ve also gotten into watercolors pretty heavily. I also sculpt figurines with polymer clay.
Erin: Where did you learn to paint?
Kristof: I taught myself. Bob Ross shows on PBS. Also from copying and emulating other artists here and there.
Erin: Do you come from a family of artists?
Kristof: I was adopted so I don’t really know, but my adopted grandfather was a folk artist up in Ohio. He had that typical folk art style which was almost medieval. It had that very flat perspective, very attractive with simple colors. He gave me my first colored pencil set when I was maybe five or six.
Erin: What artists inspire you?
Kristof: That changes all of the time. I love Van Gogh, Picasso, Vermeer, Titian, Waterhouse, Kandinsky, Basquiat, and Frida Kahlo. A mixture of different artists. It depends on my mood at the time.
Erin: Describe your genre of art.
Kristof: I’m branded as a gothic pop surrealist. But I play with different styles to see if I can do them and practice my skill level.
Erin: Any formal art training?
Kristof: I guess my first formal training was at Art Institute, the one that advertises in magazines. You know, “Draw Skippy the Turtle” and it was to get into their art instruction schools. A correspondence class that I took when I was ten or eleven and then I went on to Art Institute of Atlanta to commercial art school. After that I went to another business school and took another commercial art class. I earned an associates degree in commercial arts from the Art Institute of Atlanta in the 1980s. But that’s as far as I got. I never went any higher. I never took any fine arts class.
Erin: How do you handle negative criticism, even when it hurts deep down in your soul?
Kristof: Recently I dealt with a complaint from someone who found something in my work offensive. I always strive to be empathetic with other perspectives, but this seemed like an excuse to complain more than genuine offense. Still even though there was a complaint, I figure I gave someone something more than a pretty picture to look at. That’s what art should be. That means that I am doing something right. I’m using my vision.
Sometimes I can even change someone’s perspective about life in general. I love talking about the deeper meanings of life. It opens up people in a way that they wouldn’t usually open up.
As for the technical aspects, let’s say for example a critic or other artist doesn’t like what I’ve done. I’ll take in everything and be as objective as possible. Maybe they see something that I didn’t see before. I see it as a way to improve myself.
Erin: If you had to pick one favorite piece from all of your work, what would it be and why?
Kristof: A piece that I did last year called “The Crimson Messenger”. It was sort of Pop Surrealism and the first part of my series “Femme Fatale”, of the feminine incarnation of death. I’m typically not good at working with negative space, but this got a big response from people that usually wouldn’t look at my art. I was pretty proud of myself because I’d pushed myself past prior comfort levels.
Also there’s my most recent one, “Anxious Stars”, an acrylic on wood panel. It was a quick piece. I did it to some music that was energetic and rebellious. A little more loose-based abstract. It got a lot of good reviews.
Erin: What’s the coolest art tip you’ve ever received?
Kristof: My mentor in Charleston, John Caroll Doyle, (a pretty prominent wildlife artist who also does iconic scenes) told me to draw anything and everything that I saw. He told me to just flex my wings and to keep on working even if it looks like crap.
Erin: How do you come up with prices for your art?
Kristof: I try to keep it above my costs. For example, shipping and materials are factored in. I just base it off of what I know I need and what it’s worth to me. If I’m attached to it, I will add a higher price. I admit it!
Erin: Where can people see more of your work?
Kristof: Online is the best place. My Facebook page and my website are titled “The Black Tulip Studio”. I also have some pieces hanging in Bar Mon Cher in the French Quarter.
Erin: What’s the most challenging part of being an artist?
Kristof: Learning how to be marketable without being too egotistical. Finding enjoyment and passion while also making money to live comfortably.