Man in paint studio

Lou Kaplan at his studio in Snowmass, Colo.

It’s never too late to start a new career. Just ask Lou Kaplan ’54. Twenty-eight years after graduating from HLS, Kaplan put down his briefcase and picked up a paintbrush. He’s been fulfilling a lifelong desire ever since.

A fine arts major in college, he had always regretted leaving the art world behind. Following law school, Kaplan worked in the Washington, D.C., area, as a law clerk at the U.S Court of Appeals, an attorney for the Civil Aeronautics Board, and an assistant U.S. attorney. In 1982 he retired from his position as general counsel and executive vice president of a psychiatric hospital, and decided to “take a shot at becoming a painter.”

According to Kaplan, the first five years were the hardest part of the transition. “You really missed the office and the congeniality of working with all the lawyers and the notion of getting to the office with your daily agenda made for you. When you get to a studio, there is no committee.”

Yet the life of an artist and that of a lawyer are not completely dissimilar, he says.

“Like the practice of law, making art is rigorous,” said Kaplan. “They both involve being willing to . . . work pretty hard, and being willing to deal with a lot of details that aren’t necessarily very dramatic or exciting. You’ve got to go in there and work on it, and occasionally exciting things happen.”

As he delved into his new pursuit full-time, he studied at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, D.C., the Fortman Institute of Art in Florence, Italy, and Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass, Colo. In 1985 Kaplan began work in his own studio in Washington, D.C., and he has since had 11 solo shows.

Preferring to work on large canvases resting on cardboard boxes, Kaplan paints with such objects as squeegees, brooms, rags, and large brushes using gestural brush stokes, intense colors, and rapidly rendered lines. “I have always been interested in process and how art is made and how the materials you use affect the end result,” he said. “The materials become an extension of yourself–you are putting your energies on materials, which impact the canvas.”

Kaplan’s paintings are influenced by his surroundings. In Washington he paints abstractly, capturing the energy of city life. In Tuscany, he is so taken by the landscape that he paints it like he sees it. In Colorado, the vastness of the mountains, hardly disturbed by human activity, fuels his work. He also produces figurative works, painting in both realistic and “individualized expressionistic styles.”

A few years ago Kaplan devised a process he calls “torn paintings” to keep his work fresh. After quickly creating some paintings on canvas he ripped them into pieces. The torn pieces were then thrown onto a new canvas covered with a thick layer of acrylic paint. He then painted on the images that were formed. “Unlike in law, you have to give up the goal to achieve it,” explained Kaplan. “If you are just doing art and enjoying the process, you might make some things that are worthwhile.” As Kaplan prepares for his next exhibition, he is exploring the use of Japanese rice paper over canvas and hopes this time to “do the Tuscan landscape not as I see it but as I feel it.”

Kaplan is glad that he followed his passion for art and hopes that “in this day and age when we are living a little bit longer,” other graduates might also consider pursuing their longtime interests as a second career. “It can be as satisfying as the world you came from,” he said.