As an artist I have a lot of freedom. I can do whatever I want. No one can tell me what to do. It's all up to me.
But sometimes I can't figure out what to do. I have to look outside for inspiration. In my photo work, there are my dogs. They give me ideas and lead me in many directions.
Painting to me is a different world. The weight of history is immense and can be an awful burden. I majored in painting in college. But by the time I got to grad school, a hard edge, minimal style as was dominant in the art magazines. I turned to installation, performance and ultimately video and photo.
But by the mid 80's, I missed painting and dreamt of returning to it. But I was lost. I found myself asking the question, "What is a suitable subject for painting?"
Books, picture books, encyclopedias…all have been helpful when I go shopping for subjects to paint. As child my favorite encyclopedia was the Book of Knowledge (circa 1950).
When I returned to painting I thought it would be smart strategy to skip everything I learned in art school which lead me out of painting and go back to my childhood sources for inspiration. In high school the artists who painted the "Breck Girl" were my idea of great.
I began to use the history of painting on itself. A work of mine that stands out for me in this regard is a painting of tents. Tents are made of canvas...paintings are made on canvas. Midway through I noticed the painting resembled Cezanne's paintings of mountains.
The path of Modernism was no longer straight and narrow, and this seemed like a fruitful and heady direction for me. All I ever needed was an excuse to paint. And now I had one.
In a few years I began to use postcards in this way more and more, First on paper, and later on wooden panels where they can be glued to the surface. Today they dominate my work and I have too many cards to stop.
Recently I have found inspiration in the work of other artists represented in postcards. One of the artists who I always turn to is Picasso.
But even more useful to me currently is Kandinsky. Kandinsky inspired a lot of cartoonists. When a cartoonist wants to lampoon modern art Kandinsky-like imagery is solicited. In my postcard paintings Kandinsky has been there for me repeatedly. They are easy to capture and extend. I can lose myself in Kandinsky and by so doing find myself.
William Wegman: Artists Including Me is on view now at the San Jose Museum of Art.