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.
“I don’t feel lonely when I’m around them,” he says. “But I love also listening to them. I always make sure I spend some time just seeing what they’re really doing. Especially outside, you know, when you’re alone with them. Because so many people including myself fill in a whole vocabulary for them that is ours and not theirs. I remember spending some time for the first time with Man Ray, my first dog. I didn’t talk that day. I just listened to what he was listening to, the whole aura of smells and sounds and sights and things that he was picking up on during that day. Most people who have dogs see them as their dogs: ‘Come on, boy,’ or ‘Fetch’ or pat, pat. But they’re really teeming with their own thoughts.”
Earlier this month, WW's exhibition "He took two pictures. One came out." opened at Marc Selwyn Fine Art in Los Angeles. (Read more about the exhibition here.) Read on for some of WW's thoughts on one of the works in the show, "In the dark a coat rack looks like a man."
In this work, as with many in the new show at Marc Selwyn Fine Art, words that are set photographically as type written text act not so much as caption, but as a key to unlock a parallel or sometimes opposing meaning.
The sentence has been deconstructed and reassembled as a set. By throwing too much light on the subject, the sentence is rendered senseless.
Fear not the dark, photographer.
During this period in Santa Monica (1971-2) my then-wife Gayle became a frequent though unenthusiastic model. I liked that lack of enthusiasm. It suited my low key, matter-of-fact lighting and set design.
Is there a work by WW you've always wondered about? Share it with us in the comments.
This fall I'm working on a video piece which will be projected as part of the Urban Video Project in Syracuse, NY. It will be without sound which is a challenge to me. Almost without exception, my video pieces have been been audio driven, seen here in a clip from The Hardly Boys, and Stomach Song.
In my early videos the hazy black and white of the cathode ray emission and magnetic audio reproduction were married in blessed union. Now the image, divorced from sound, must learn to live alone.
And so I am relying heavily on the hypnotic gaze of my new dog Flo to get the viewer's attention. What more I have yet to determine. Maybe that will be enough. These questions will hopefully be answered in the time consuming process of recording and editing.
Stay tuned over the next few weeks for clips of WW's new video work!
Who, or what, are the Hardly Boys?
The premise of the Hardly boys is that the dogs Crooky and Batty, not unlike Frank and Joe Hardy (the characters they parody), are amateur detectives sniffing out clues using their super dog powers to track down criminals. When these powers are called upon they lose their human elements, hands, uprightness, clothing and turn into dogs.
How do you do it?
I am frequently asked how I turn the people into dogs. Simple: First I remove their added clothing while the actors who provide the arms and hands from behind slip away. Then I carefully lift the people creatures off their specially made stools and set them on the ground. Voila. Dogs!
Still on the set of The Hardly Boys
The poor dogs. Have they ever been injured?
Do they like doing it?
How much do they get paid?
How much do the actors who act behind the dogs providing gestures with their arms and hands get paid?
One more question. What was the most difficult scene in The Hardly Boys?
Getting the two dogs to look in different directions in the scene where the psychotic nurse and evil caretaker return to the cabin where the boys (girls) have found the maps of the garnet mine.
Do you have a question for William Wegman about art, life, or photography? Or something else? Lunch, maybe? Leave your question in the comments, and if it's really good, or really easy, WW will answer on the blog.
Lately I have been concerned with lighting more than I have in the past. I am using less of it and printing on a high gloss paper. Balloons look especially good lit this way and printed on this special paper.
With that in mind I searched my prop room for materials and items that would lend themselves to this treatment. I found red glossy wrapping paper. This produced some fairly interesting shots using my most stationary model, Penny.
This is the way I work. I get an idea and I start working then I get another idea. I can be moody sometimes.