Painter who splits his time between KC and Canada lands a $25,000 grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation

Insiders in Kansas City’s art world know and appreciate painter Don Kottmann’s work, and thanks to a major grant that he received recently, his work will surely be known more widely soon.

Kottmann splits his time between Kansas City and Calgary, Alberta, where he teaches at the Alberta College of Art Design. Last December, the Joan Mitchell Foundation awarded him a $25,000 Painters and Sculptors Grant. Mitchell, one of the 20th century’s leading practitioners of gestural abstract painting, established the foundation to support artists deserving greater recognition. The Painters and Sculptors Grant honors 25 artists annually, selected through anonymous nominations by prominent artists, curators and art educators.

Compared to the work of his fellow award winners, Kottmann’s art speaks most directly to advancing the genre of gestural abstraction that Mitchell championed.

Kottmann states that he works at a variety of tempos, starting with an intuitive burst of energy and then entering a more contemplative and cognitively driven period. In some cases, the painting may be finished at this point, but in others he re-enters his intuitive and active phase to energize the work further. He describes his process as a type of call-and-response, bringing improvisational music to mind.

In the 2013 acrylic on canvas work Atom Sun, a red, orange and yellow spherical shape inhabits the center of the composition, while drips of paint and curving and diagonal lines activate the corners. A base layer of pink spreads throughout, resulting from the artist’s preference to paint on raw, unprimed canvas so that the pigments become one with the canvas fibers, almost like watercolor absorbs into paper. Slightly more controlled squares and rectangles of red hover above the pink layer, while green, black and yellow lines dash back and forth. As a whole, the painting impresses through Kottmann’s outstanding ability to balance carefully placed layers and forms with dynamic and spontaneous-looking drips and zips.

Bruce Hartman, executive director of the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, has become a fan of Kottmann’s, and recognizes the impact that the Joan Mitchell award can have on the Kansas City art scene.

“(Kottmann’s) commanding paintings resonate with his love of gesture, color, and the unexpected,” Hartman said. “He joins other notable artists associated with Kansas City who have also received this prestigious award—Anne Lindberg, Eric Sall, and Caleb Taylor. It’s an extraordinary recognition of Kottmann’s achievement, as well as of Kansas City’s importance as a contemporary art center.”

An exhibition of Don Kottmann’s paintings opens October 2 at Todd Weiner Gallery, 115 W 18th St., and continues through October 31. For more information, call 816.984.8538 or visit

Above: Atom Sun (2012-2013), a 71″ x 80″ work in acrylic on canvas, was one of the paintings that Don Kottmann submitted to the Joan Mitchell Foundation as part of the awards process.

James Martin

James Martin is Public Art Administrator for the City of Kansas City, Missouri. Prior to working for KCMO, he wrote freelance for “KC Studio” and served as public art consultant for the cities of Gladstone, Missouri; Leawood, Merriam, and Olathe, Kansas, and for Overland Park Regional Medical Center. He has held curatorial positions with Truman Medical Centers, Sprint and The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and taught art history at UMKC, JCCC, Park University and Baldwin-Wallace College in Ohio. He holds a B.A. in art history from the University of Kansas and an M.A in art history from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

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