John Wentz has an incredible painterly style – full of swashy gesture and beautiful layered blocks of color. Hinting at some parts of an image with abstracted unfinished areas and nailing others with astute representation. He gives the viewer just enough, no overkill. When we first saw his Burroughs portrait (below) we halted dead in our tracks for a good long stare. An outstanding piece of work – William would have been quite proud! It’s nice to see a painter develop such a strong stroke to his works nowadays – there seems to be so much emphasis on tedious realism, at the expense of feeling movement and expression within the pigment. Even John’s graphite and charcoal drawings contain the free feel his paintings present.
Can you share a little of your background and process with us?
I was born and raised in Fremont, CA. Although I’ve traveled quite a bit, I could never leave the Bay Area completely. San Francisco was my home for many years during and after art school. I now live and work in Vallejo, CA. My studio is in my backyard so I have a really short commute to work. I paint every day for a minimum of 8 hours… most days are an average of 12. I prefer to work in oils…. not because of the slow drying time, but because of how the finished result looks. Nothing beats it. However, I do work in acrylics quite a bit and am experimenting with mixed-media. My process changes with each body of work and I hope to continue that method.
My favorite art memory from my childhood is …
Stumbling across Bob Ross on TV.
I was so amazed at what he could do with a palette knife. I knew the paintings were corny, but man…just a couple of ninja-like swings from that palette knife and there was a damned happy little fence.
My interest in art/painting started …
With my first comic book. It was Spiderman and I knew then that I wanted to be a comic book artist. Unfortunately, Spiderman was really hard to draw because of all the webs on his suit. I still have one of the drawings! (see above).
When I came across Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight” it came together better. Not that drawing Batman was easy, but his bold style and simplified outfit was easier to copy. I never became a comic book artist though.
I am often inspired and motivated by …
Music. I played music for a long time and am obsessed with it. Listening to music, reading about my favorite musicians… these keep me going. I’m always comparing music with a painting in my head.
I started off playing guitar. Then, I switched to bass because everybody wanted a bass player and there were ten million guitar players. After awhile, I realized that I loved bass anyhow. I haven’t played in a very long time though. I spent a long time playing in bands and touring here and there while at the same time doing art. At some point I felt like I had to choose, so I went with art.
Tom Waits is at the top of my list. But on any given day I’ll be listening to: Black Cobra, Pink Floyd, High on Fire, Behemoth, Ramones, Misfits, Tigerlillies and PJ Harvey. Man, there’s tons more!
If I could spend the day with any artist (dead or alive) it would be …
And we would … Probably just sit around and stare at each other because we couldn’t verbally communicate. I’d probably just gesture to ask if I could look through his drawings and watch him work. I think his drawings are among the best ever produced.
The tip or art technique (a specific tidbit of craft, advice or mechanical expertise) that has helped me the most is ….
Two things - The first is technical: value is the most important thing in painting. It’s always first because that’s what the human brain processes first…value then edges. That little tidbit has helped me in so many ways.
The second a quote from Chuck Close: “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
If I could own one piece of art, out of the world’s collections, it would be … Seriously?! There are far too many. However, if I had to pick something I’d say anything from Degas… preferably a drawing.
My current favorite piece of my own art is …
“The Ever Changing Spectrum of Light”, (below)
It’s just one of those paintings that came together from start to finish. That doesn’t happen often for me. I’m really striving to achieve some kind of emotive quality in my paintings. I feel like I achieved it with this piece, just a bit.
My ultimate project or fantasy is …
To just keep painting full-time. But I don’t want to get stuck on just one thing. My dream would be to have the freedom to experiment. There’s things I want to do in printmaking, different styles of painting, mixed media and photography. To just have the opportunity to keep creating.
What are you currently working on?
For my newest show “Spectra” (opening April 13th) at Modern Eden Gallery in San Francisco, I took a very different approach from what I’m used to. Almost all photo references for the paintings were put together from found photos I discovered on the internet. I spend hours looking at images, mostly vintage war, and am completely fascinated and enthralled at what we choose to capture and how it just seems to float nebulously in this grand ether we call the internet.
After collecting tons of images, I pull them into Photoshop and begin collaging. This part of the process is quite fun because you can create this interesting narratives that never existed before. You can change the meaning of the images by their interaction with one another and the new context you create. After I’m done with a collage, I draw it out and play with the composition, distort and exaggerate figures and refine and make adjustments. Then I do color studies to try and find a mood for each piece. After that, it’s on to the finished piece. I also don’t use conventional sizes and prefer to create my own rectangles. Because of this, I have to cut and make my own stretcher bars. I really like being involved in as many aspects of the process as I can. I also mix most of my own paints from pigments.
The last song I choose to listen to was …
“Jockey Full of Bourbon” by Tom Waits.
The last book I couldn’t put down was …
“After the End of Art” by Arthur Danto.
One of my favorite words is …
“Dude”. I use it way too much.
One of my favorite smells is …
I can’t live without …
Painting. Corny, but true.
It’s not hip, but I really love ….
to be square.
My favorite motto (or quote) is …
“As the spirit wanes the form appears.” – Charles Bukowski
Your painting style is gorgeous. What did you do to “get there”?
I try to change things with every body of work. With each passage, its linear, one painting leads to the next. With the “Spectra” series, I became very interested in abstract art. I’ve always been a fan, but only recently have I been really trying to study abstract paintings and understand what they were doing. I think that really affects the style of the paintings. I’m thinking how it would be represented “abstractly”. And with that, I think it’s not just in regards to the form, but the quality and approach to the paint itself. So I think about solid color vs broken color, transparent vs opaque, thick vs impasto and varieties of texture. I’m not an abstract painter by any means, so it’s really really hard for me. But, to get there…. I painted as much as I possibly could. Since June of 2012, I’ve been painting an average of 12 hours a day… with a few breaks here and there. I really think most development comes with doing vs thinking. One of my favorite sayings is “art is a verb”. Just do it and things will fall into place. Another thing that has helped in the last year is that I actually stopped looking at a lot of art. I mostly look at abstract. I can’t explain why it helped so much, but it did.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be?
Italy. No contest.
I don’t think I’d stay in one place. Italy is far too beautiful to remain stagnant. However, I could see myself having Rome as a home base. Then travel like a vagabond for some time, return and then paint. I’d like to live in something small. I don’t need a lot.
If you had to name a hero or heroine, an iconic famous person in your lifetime, who would that be and why?
The first that comes to mind would be Bill Hicks. Firstly, I admire how he kept to his craft as a standup comedian. Comedy was and is a stepping stone for so many to get into movies, your own talk show, etc. He had a message and knew that stand up was his vehicle. It wasn’t an easy road by any means, but he stuck to it. Secondly was his no compromise attitude. That gets harder and harder the older you get. He didn’t give a shit about the politics, the “right” and “wrong” way to do things and would never ever stoop down to things like product advertising and what not. And he was damned funny!
Spectra, Solo Exhibition
Concurrent with Deconstruct, (a group show curated by John)
Opening: Saturday, April 13th – On exhibit through May 4th, 2013
LINK: To John’s Website
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