elisa_rolle (elisa_rolle) wrote,

Wes Hempel: Tied to the Past

Wes Hempel, born in El Monte, California, in 1953, he has a B.A. from California State University, Northridge (1985) and a M.A. from University of Colorado, Boulder (1988). He is the recipient of the Creative Fellowship in Painting Award, Colorado Council on the Arts, in 2002 and Creative Fellowship in Literature Award, Colorado Council on the Arts, in 1992. (thanks to clarelondon  for forwarding me to this artist)

2006; Study for HAPPY ENDING; oil on canvas; 26" x 24"

2007; Study for RESOLVE; oil on canvas; 24" x 20"

2006; LETTER FROM THE PAST; oil on canvas, 30" x 30"

A New Beginning, 2009, oil on canvas, 44 x 44"
A shirtless young man kneels in the midst of what appears to be an archeological dig. Architectural fragments lie on the ground along with rocks and tools and moved earth. On either side of the figure are excavation pits, though the clean symmetrical lines make them look oddly like graves. To the left of the figure stands an angel, turned away from the viewer, hands over his face. A tornado appears in the sky behind the figures, and above the tornado, in the clouds, we see a small tableau of figures: a man sitting on a cloud, flanked by winged cherubs. It's not clear what prayer is being offered by the kneeling youth, though in conjunction with the title, we might assume he desires a fresh start of some kind, a break with the past (represented by the recently excavated antiquities), forgiveness, perhaps, renewal. Other elements in the painting may hint that realizing such a change will not be easy. Is the angel standing beside the youth weeping? If so, are these tears of joy or dismay? The figure perched in the clouds-ostensibly a representative of heaven-looks down not at the praying youth, but rather off to the side. Is his expression one of concern? Compassion? Sadness? The tornado, literally a collision of opposing air masses, churns ominously in the background.

2005; TUNNEL OF LOVE; oil on canvas; 72" x 54"

2006; CALL; oil on canvas; 72" x 54"

TRIUMPH OVER EMPIRE - Study; oil on canvas, 30" x 30"

By combining art historical elements with contemporary figures, I attempt to create narrative paintings that function in a revisionist manner, commenting on contemporary culture. I have found that the ambiguity and sense of displacement arising from these juxtapostions can appeal to viewers in ways that I cannot have foreseen, and I find myself increasingly drawn to elements where the relationships are less clear. The non-verbal aspect of painting appeals to me, the idea of entering into an image without having words, at least initially, to explain what's going on.

1997; FATHERHOOD, oil/canvas; 72"x42"; Collection of Denver Art Museum

RESTORATION DILEMMA, 2002; oil/canvas; 30"x24"

"Most of the paintings in the 2009 exhibition continue my longstanding working method of combining art historical elements with contemporary figures. I chose the title "Tied to the Past" (from one of the pieces in the show), in part because the paintings are linked to the past both in their subject matter and their surface qualities. Even when they aren't quoting specific art historical references, the paintings have a traditional look, as if they were produced in another era. The figures, upon close inspection, however, reveal that these are indeed contemporary works.

I've actively cultivated this traditional look for a number of reasons. One of my ongoing projects (which I've written about at length elsewhere) is a re-visioning of what art history might have looked like had homosexuality not been vilified. A walk through any major museum will reveal paintings that depict or legitimate only certain kinds of experience. Despite the good intentions of critical theorists questioning the validity of the canon, paintings of the old masters on the walls of museums like the Met, the Louvre, Rijksmuseum still have a certain cache. They're revered not just for their technique but because they enshrine our collective past experience. Of course, it's a selected past that gets validated. Conspicuously absent to me as a gay man is my own story. By presenting contemporary males as objects of desire in familiar looking art historical settings, I'm able to imagine (and allow viewers to imagine) a past that includes rather than excludes gay experience-and ride the coattails, as it were, of art history's imprimatur. Several of the paintings in this show are working on that level (some rather playfully). For example, the piece titled Auction is an easily recognizable rendition of Jean-Leon Gerome's (1824-1904) painting Slave Auction (c.1884), except I've moved the setting outdoors. And where in the original a nude woman is offered for sale to the crowd, the auctioneer now offers a rope-bound male angel. Similarly, in the piece titled A Breakfast, I've taken the setting of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's (1839-1912) painting Silver Favourites (1903) and replaced the three beautiful maidens with four nude young men. The paintings Breather and Return of Spring (revisions of a Vermeer and Bouguereau, respectively) offer similar exchanges.

Recently, however, I've grown leery of my own use of art historical imagery. The project mentioned above still interests me, and yet the simple substitution of male for female accomplishes only a limited subversion of the original, and the connection to the past feels at times oppressive to me. Other works in the show may be speaking to that growing ambivalence." -- Wes Hempel, 2009


More Artists at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Art

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Tags: art

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