Sometimes you’re just lucky. I sent Menno Krant an email out of the blue last week, and we set up a time to talk on the phone. I realized when I started talking to him that it was a rare event for him to (1) talk to someone making inquiries about his art, and (2) talk on the phone. I understood his dilemma. I would be happy if I could use a pay phone up the street if it meant I didn’t have to answer my own phone at home, but alas, phone booths are disappearing fast. (A friend of mine says they are all in Tofino, BC now.)
Menno has an incredible story. About 20 years ago, when he was in his early 40s, Menno was homeless, and lived in his car for a year. Time dragged and he started to doodle while he sat in the car in the dark. Later he started painting with anything on hand, and on any discarded material he could find, like cereal boxes and cigarette packages. He thinks he must have always been creative, but never had the opportunity to express himself artistically. His life turned on a dime (two weeks, actually) when a friend of his took a couple of his paintings to sell at a flea market. Gallerist Joy Moos saw them, bought a few, and took them to outsider art shows. The next thing he knew, his work was in high demand and many exhibits followed.
Menno stays away from the commerce of the art world. He doesn’t like to go to his own exhibits, he doesn’t like publicity, and he doesn’t like most art dealers. There are very few pictures of him on the Internet. His neighbours don’t know he is an artist. Other artists don’t like him, he says, because they struggled for years to “make it” and he arrived on the scene without paying his dues. He doesn’t care. Whatever. He wants to be left alone to paint.
What is his life like? He paints all day, every day. His choice of materials is still random (to me). He uses whatever paint is at hand, and whatever recycled materials are around. The day we spoke he had been busy painting cigarette boxes before I called. Painting is vital to him. It’s self-nurturing.
Menno tries to stay out of the public eye. His website was created and is maintained by a friend. He has no interest in its existence. He just wants to paint. He doesn’t want money for his paintings because he doesn’t want his lifestyle to change. He is doing exactly what he wants to do, which is to paint. He hates it when people ask him what his paintings are “about”. He just wants to paint. Painting for him is playing and experimenting and through that process, he grows artistically. If it isn’t clear already – he just wants to paint. Every day. He has thousands of paintings in his home.
In addition to talking about the artistic process, we shared a few amusing stories. I told him about other outsider artists that I had met, and he told me about the day a busload of senior citizens turned up unannounced on his doorstep to see his art. (He left and went out for coffee.) We agreed that we had both learned a lot. Menno about other outsider artists. Me about him, and what it’s like to have a compulsion to paint.
Who is Menno Krant? A guy who wants to paint.