Whiskey Gulch is located twenty-five miles east of Lewistown, Montana. There are a few neighboring ranches and the ghost town of Gilt Edge on the other side of the mountain. Around the bend, up a gravel road, through three gated fields, following the creekbed, you will find a dog-leg wooded meadow, surrounded by BLM land, far removed from telephone, electricity and running water. That’s Whiskey Gulch.
In 1973 my friend Bonnie invited me to build a cabin on her property there. I started building in June with help from new and old friends. We felled trees, peeled logs, carried heavy creekbed rocks for the foundation. I scrounged doors and windows from the Lewistown dump and had the place closed in by December.
Montana Winters can be brutal – 30 below and blowing snow. They can also be sunny and silent.- electric blue shadows in the snow. I left in March of 74, returning to California, where I began my career as a public artist. I have returned to Whiskey Gulch periodically, over the years. I spent another couple of winters and several summers chopping wood, carrying water, painting and photographing. Nothing lasts forever. Eventually the snow took the roof and the cabin is now making its slow descent back to the ground. The porcupines and the pack rats have it all.
Influenced by the work of Muybridge and Jean Etienne Marey, these photographs are the result of an afternoon’s collaboration between myself and Muriel Maffre, former principal dancer with SF Ballet in 2011. The spontaneous sequential exposures were combined to record a trajectory of dance movements.
I combined some of these sequences with images I had taken at other locations to create visual narrative fictions. I am particularly interested in the medium’s ability to freeze time and capture myriad spatial viewpoints, walking that thin line that separates still photography from cinema.
I am not really a photographer; rather I am what is known, in some circles, as an AWUP (artist who uses photography). As an artist I use the photographic medium as an investigative tool. Sometimes the work serves as reference material for monumental painted installations; other times the work stands alone. Many of the images here are intended as large-scale panoramas, combined from numerous adjacent images. Multiple perspectives sometimes create digital photographic cubism. Prints of all works are available in a variety of sizes.
Street is a collection of photographic mosaics, presenting here a generally straightforward recording of painted commands – imperatives without exclamations. STOP BUMP SLOW. All these words begin the same way; letters applied to pavement using stencil and paint, or more recently, vinyl melted onto asphalt. The vagaries of time and gravity combine to decay them all in unique ways. The digital images seen here are made by combining multiple exposures using photo-stitching software to create the finished work.
The streets are paved with fresh asphalt and then the stencil is laid down, a thermoplastic traffic marking paint is rolled or sprayed on the roadbed all according to rigid DOT-MUTCD standards. Time passes. Abrasion, weather and stress all take their toll. Potholes! As years go by, city workers patch the holes, re-paint the letters, repeat the process. The wear continues. Intricate tar lines fill cracks in letters and streets. A yellow color gets overpainted white. A stencil is misaligned, leaves fall. Each of these letters was once 96″ high and puddle thick until entropy disconnected the paint molecules. Most of these street letters were discovered within walking distance of the studio, a few further reaches; Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco. O P S and T are the most common letters – I have yet to find a J Q or Z in the wild (There mist be a Quiet Zone somewhere). There is enough alphabet here to spell one important word – TRUTH.
The Judgement of Paris was painted in 2014 for Meridian High School of Bellingham WA for their newly constructed campus. John Wehrle was selected as the artist by the school’s art committee from a roster maintained by ARTSWA, the Washington state Arts Commission. Meridian’s mascot is the Trojan, and this presented a visual opportunity to revisit Homer’s Iliad. Meridian is a generational institution and we chose to retain the memory of the 1922 building, which had to be demolished for the new construction. The multi-painting installation also includes aerial views of the landscape seen through Pythagorean windows, Achilles heel, DNA clouds over nearby Mt. Baker, a Trojan horse and portraits of former students from previous eras.
McCarthy Bridge is a 16′ x 98′ acrylic painting done in situ at Chevron Technology Center at Richmond, CA over a ten month period from October 2013 to August 2014 (time off from December to April). The work is a history and future of transportation.
I myself consider these on-site paintings an extended performance, with a beginning middle and end, costume changes, props and a fourth wall. Starting with a gridded design script, the artwork is scaled, drawn and painted in front of a changing (generally appreciative) audience. In this case, the requirements included mandatory 6 a.m. safety meetings, hard hats, boots, vest and harness, lift certification, and lots of sunblock.
Rising Tide is a project originally envisioned for a 2011 residency at the de Young Museum. A 12 x 30’ painting, acrylic on polyester. The work was begun in November, enlisting the aid of museum interns and other skilled visiting artists.
Following the month long residency in Golden Gate Park, I was invited to continue the process in January 2012 at Richmond Art Center. The painting generated thoughtful dialogues with many visitors at both sites. That process was more interesting to me than the finished product. At present the still incomplete painting is rolled up and stored in my studio, awaiting its next possible venue.
Before the Gold rush everything east of Montgomery Street was bay and the whole financial district was mudflat. With the onset of melting icecaps, one begins to speculate on a future resembling the past. Probably we’ll still have our iPhones, which should make for some interesting juxtapositions. Nature is a powerful force and wants to reclaim its own. Weeds push through the sidewalk cracks, ivy crumbles walls, water rises. Time changes everything.
I am drawn to this landscape of transformation. As the artists of another time were recording the real and imagined ruins of the past, I am interested in the ruins of the future. It is not a question of how we can prevent the occurrence of climates changes (man made, for sure), but rather how we can adapt to them and survive. Here is one imagined scenario. No claims are made for factual accuracy. Remember it was artists who put wings on angels.
A painted installation from 2010 for Aylen Junior High school in Puyallup WA, funded by WSAC. The artwork consists of five painted panels, each approximately 6 x 8 foot rectangles. These separate painted images on thin polyester backing are affixed to wall surfaces above eye level on parallel facing walls so that from the southern direction portions of three images can be seen in recession, and from the northernmost viewpoint the other two images can be seen. Each individual image serves as an illusionistic painted window in which various painted objects are seen suspended in interior space, advancing/receding through another rectangular opening into a blue-clouded sky.
The items include Flying books with letters and symbols blown off the pages, chairs, leaves, bicycles, musical instruments, sports equipment, architectural fragments, and who knows what else. Some of these elements are taken from recognizable local sources; others have a universal feeling attached to them. Some of the same objects appear in more than one panel in different spatial orientations and size, creating the illusion of these objects moving through space and time. In the northernmost panel they seem to be traveling toward (or away from) Mt Rainier.
The work was painted in the studio on polyester non woven media and installed on site with the assistance of Rhonda Geenblat.
Painted in Situ at the Richmond Municipal Natatorium (The Plunge). Originally built in 1925, the historic Plunge was restored with funds raised by the community in 2010.
View this mural in-depth on YouTube: Plunge