An Interview With Peter J Ketchum


Peter Ketchum's bright, witty art examines societal assumptions and "the longevity of intolerance." Through found photographs, advertisements, letters and diaries, he examines stereotypes that were once accepted without question, and he makes us wonder what we accept now without examination.  The humor and cheerful colors of his work are weighted with layers of meaning, and with a sort of melancholy at the thought of the passing of time; the things that change, and the things that don't.

ARTSPAN: How and when did you determine that you were a “professional artist?”

PJK: I was 13 and one of the cooks at my boarding school asked me to paint an eagle on his new leather motorcycle jacket. I charged him 10 dollars. Several months later he in his leather jacket departed this life on the Bulkeley Bridge in Hartford. 

ARTSPAN: What was the first piece of work that you sold and how did it come about? Luck? A helping hand? Hard work promoting yourself? 

PJK: “Skating on the Kennebec” at the Skowhegan State Fair (red ribbon) to my Aunt for 25 bucks. Nothing to do with luck or hard work. 


ARTSPAN: How has the Internet impacted your career? 

PJK: Tremendously. It has opened my market globally through sales on Ebay and various web sites, but not Facebook, which I find more useful for promoting shows and not sales. Without the Internet, George Clooney would not have found me and made a purchase. (His assistant said she started with Google looking for Connecticut artists and that led to my web page on Artspan). 

ARTSPAN: Have you ever had a “day job” to support your artistic career ­ and if so, what was your worst/best non-creative job? 

PJK: Yes, I had a grown up job in publishing (ended up as Editor in Chief and Executive producer) and left the very day I was vested. Dabbling in real estate gave me a degree of freedom from the world of work. 35 percent of my life is supported by art (various royalty arrangements, sales of pictures and commissions.) My worst non-creative job was picking beans at 2 cents a pound. 

ARTSPAN: How do you balance the business side of your career, such as promoting your work, with the creative side? 

PJK: With difficulty. It is very, very, very hard. I spend an inordinate amount of time sucking up to people I can't stand. Also too much time posting stuff on Instagram. BUT I am tremendously disciplined and I make the time for work. That is an absolute. If you don't do the work, where is the joy– and the product to sell? 


ARTSPAN: What is the most effective marketing tool/method that you are using? 

PJK: All things web, and gallery shows. Be willing to hang wherever a blank wall is offered! Network with other artists. I curate shows in New York, which keeps me in touch with younger artists and new currents in art. I found several of the artists I have show from a regional search on Artspan. 

And don't overlook newspapers. Send them press releases and images to use. I find a good, old fashioned in-an-envelope letter far more effective than just another email. And don't mail it to a peon. Deal with the Big Cheese. 

ARTSPAN: Has there been a low point, a true debacle, in your career, and how did you deal with it? 

PJK: Yes, my first professional solo show got a so-so review in the Times. “No telling WHAT this artist is up to,” Vivienne Raynor (R.I.P. by the way), wrote in the Sunday Times. I went into the woods and cried and then went back to the house and ate a pint of rum raisin ice cream. 

ARTSPAN: Has there been a high point in your career and how did it affect your work afterwards? 

PJK: Several. First when the Director of the Guggenheim Museum picked five of my works for a show in North Adams, Mass. It is amazing what the imprimatur of a member of the art establish can do for your career. It's still the same work, but someone “important” has said it is okay to like it. 

The second high was a good review in the New York Times when they finally came to their senses and “got” what I was up to. 


ARTSPAN: What is the favorite piece of work that you've sold either on the Internet or directly impacted by your use of the Internet? 

PJK: I got a commission from the family of a Broadway and Films major composer (new show opening on Broadway soon…) to do a family portrait. It was fun to work on and led to other sales. 

ARTSPAN: If you had one piece of advice to give to emerging artists seeking to become professionals, what would it be? 

PJK: Work your ass off and don't count on anyone in the art establishment. It is a ruthless, elitist, demeaning, arrogant, humorless group of over-educated salespeople. Sleep with Mary Boone, I say! In two recent reviews by different reviewers in the paper of record, one reviewer wrote that the artist was, “tall and lanky and devilishly handsome.” About another artist and another show: “with his long curly blond locks…” What in HELL does an artist's looks have to do with the art????? 

BUT, having said that, if you are lucky and keep at it someone will come along who loves your work and truly understands it and buys or promotes it because they love it and for no other reason. That is the real kick, the propulsion past all the other shit.

For more information on Peter J. Ketchum or to view his work, please visit his website at

Ketchum's work will be on display at the Satellite Art Show in New York City from Oct 3-6.