Brana’s Art Talk: Keith Kattner

Photo by Fred J Devito


Dr. Keith Kattner returns to his first love, fine art, after many decades in a prestigious career as a neurosurgeon. After many years of lecturing, operating and teaching in a high-stakes, high-pressure field that saw many of his colleagues to an early grave, Dr. Kattner is happy to be starting his second career in a very challenging, albeit less pressured environment.

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I was happy to view his pieces at the recent DVF showing, curated by former DVF model Debbie Dickinson. I was instantly struck by a unique aesthetic that somehow mirrored his upbeat, frank and detail-oriented persona. Viewing all the figures in his paintings simply as objects, much similar to the detachment I presume necessary to skillfully operate on the human brain, Dr. Kattner illuminated a unique perspective in his detailed description of each of his pieces while we discussed the following and more:

How would you describe your art?

I would primarily describe my art as post modern/classical. I am proud to produce art that is constructed upon both memory and creativity. More recently I’ve approached the idea of entropy and how it applies to painting. As far as I know, I am the only artist yet to explore this scientific principle through his artwork.

Photos by Fred J. DeVito

How is your life as an artist?

I’ve basically lead an isolating existence after leaving medicine – mostly studying and painting. My only social interaction is at show openings. Pretty much opposite of the structured life of a surgeon.

How is your life different since leaving medicine?

As a surgeon, I interacted with hundreds of people on a daily level, attended meetings, performed surgeries, and continually multi-tasked. I was always on the run with no time to think about any other topic than medicine. I usually only socialized with my neurosurgery residents.

As an artist, my life is much simpler. I no longer have to be three places at once. I have time to study other topics of interest, such as art history and American history.

Keith Kattner with curator Debbie Dickinson and guests

What do you aim to get across with your artwork?

I want the images I create to be somewhat of an analogy but with many different interpretations. I hope everyone views my paintings with an open mind. I’m frequently asked if a painting has a particular meaning or if an object is a certain animal. My usual answer is that it can be anything you want it to be.

What made you decide to change directions?

I actually wanted to pursue an art career as a young man. I started painting when I was about ten. As life would have it, I ended up as a neurosurgeon, but I certainly never forgot my first love. Who does?

Since I had very little time to paint during my time as a surgeon, I collected pre-1945 American art. The collection is on long term loan to the Dixon museum in Memphis.

I planned far in advance to make the transition from physician to artist. I was in charge of a large neurosurgery program and it required a significant amount of reorganization, which took years to complete. After leaving medicine I felt numb for about 6 months and started moving around the country. I found new ideas with new environments.

Then I had to learn how to paint! That took about 6 hundred paintings over 7 years. The next step was to decide what to paint. I found it very hard to change my mindset from a realist to a classical artist. A classical artist does not fall into the mindset of reproducing nature as it exist and is much more interested in hidden structure and designs, color, form, line, space, and light reorganization. This was a struggle for me initially.

How has your career in medicine effected your artwork?

Medicine taught me a few things that I indeed have applied to my art. Most importantly, I learned the value of self education throughout my medical career.

Yes physicians are formally trained, but medicine is an ever evolving field and any doctor worth his weight in salt spends a large portion of his time dedicated to researching for his patients and continually educating himself. In this same way, I learned to be a self taught artist.

What’s next?

After achieving all of my artistic goals, I’m thinking about writing some books on the American colonies and the early American experience. In conclusion, I’ll continue to paint, study history, and surf the New England coast.

How do you take your coffee?

Very strong.

For more info on Dr. Kattner and his artwork please visit:

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