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Neo expression

Photos by Dan Bishop

November 2012

During the day Peter Kudlata designs beautiful landscapes as the owner of Flagstone Landscaping; at night he’s creating abstract paintings.

Growing up in a large family in Fox Point, Peter Kudlata quickly learned that he could earn extra cash by cutting grass in his neighborhood. So, even as an English major at St. Norbert College, he’d hitchhike home on weekends to keep up with a growing lawn care gig that helped pay for school.

Thirty-seven years later, Kudlata’s Cedarburg-based Flagstone Landscaping firm designs and builds exquisite outdoor environments. About seven years ago, Kudlata expanded his palette from the outside world to paint interior landscapes of emotion.

Both of those talents are evident in Kudlata’s sleek, contemporary home in Mequon, where soaring windows frame stunning garden views. Just in front of a quiet pond, a boxwood hedge surrounds plantings of stately allium in spring, replaced by spikes of blue salvia in summer.

Kudlata says he likes to use hedges in landscaping projects, because they bring definition and order to a space. But his abstract acrylic paintings are more explosive, in form, color and mood.

"You never know where your painting is going," he explains. "It’s always evolving."

Leaning against a wall in his loft studio is a large canvas he thought was done, with a thick, dark border and swipes of intense red punctuating the center. Now he sees that it needs something more. He’ll keep working until he’s satisfied.

Kudlata has always been interested in art and design, and he and his colleagues at Flagstone Landscaping still draw all of their plans by hand.

In the several years that he has been painting, Kudlata has finished more than 100 works of art, influenced by Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning and other abstract masters. Many of Kudlata’s works are displayed throughout his home, turning the spaces into showstopping galleries

His paintings, he says, are created primarily at the end of the day. He often paints to music, but just as often with a cable cooking channel or football game as background noise.

"Painting’s almost like a sport, it’s so physical," he says.

Most of Kudlata’s work is untitled, letting the viewer interpret its meaning. He has noticed that the paintings are like a journal of his state of mind at the time he was creating them, so they vary from deep swaths of darker hues to kaleidoscopes of bright colors dancing across the canvas.

"I always said I was just going to do it for myself," he says, but mentors like Milwaukee artists Terry Coffman, Claudette Lee and Pamela Anderson pushed him to reach for more.

Kudlata had a summer show at the Delafield Art Center, and his work was featured at Gallery 2622 in Wauwatosa. Some of his paintings are also on exhibit in a Chicago gallery.

Quite a few of Kudlata’s paintings reflect his passion for cycling, and several have been published in a book focused on bike art. Bikes, he says, are a great metaphor for living — the cyclist goes up, down, slow, fast, depending on how much effort is put into the ride. They also represent that first taste of pure freedom, when a grown-up "lets go of the seat for the very first time, and that starts your journey."


This story ran in the November2012 issue of: