John Wentz : Artist You Should Know
The “Artist You Should Know” series highlights local artists before they exhibit their work somewhere awesome, it’s our way of supporting the creative community and helping to keep San Francisco a strange and wonderful place. Meet the painter John Wentz.
I came across John Wentz’s work at San Francisco’s largest Art Fair this April. An event partnered by the De Young and the Legion of Honor, the artMRKT was complete with a ‘VIP’ section curated by The Battery SF. So the event took itself quite seriously, art dealers from all over the world mounted fine art on white walls while clutching price tags in black ink.
When I came across Hashimoto Contemporary it stood out quite clearly among the large New York and European galleries on display. It was distinctly both urban and San Franciscan, it’s artists had a combination of grit and beauty that reflected the bay area without corny landmarks or buildings you typically find on postcards. Pieces by Bay Area Graffiti Artist ‘Gats‘, portraiture by Joel Daniel Phillips and an art instillation by Brett Amory all had the look of the SF streets and the touch of a fine artist.
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John Wentz caught my eye because his paintings had interesting depth. They had the grace of portrature from the 1800s mixed with contemporary techniques and color, all with a theme that seemed to hint at the fragility of man.
‘Imprints’ 30 X 20, Oil on Canvas, 2015
Where ya from ? What do you do?
Born and raised in the Bay Area. I’m originally from Fremont, but I’ve lived almost everywhere you can in the Bay Area..for awhile in a car. (Laughs) I’m a full-time painter/artist.
What was your first job in the city?
My first job in SF was at Racke Studio. We did faux finishing and murals. That was a great job that really taught you how to work quickly and efficiently. Lots of really talented people there. I learned so much from them.
Any funny/memorable story’s from art school (Academy of Art University)?
I think the most memorable thing was the top notch students. Many of the people I went to school with went on to be really great artists. Some I had classes with and some I didn’t, but those couple of years turned out the likes of Kim Cogan, Kevin Moore, Brett Amory, David Choong Lee, Adam Forfang and many more. It was a friendly competitive environment. Those were some serious painters.
How do your paintings incorporate both new and old styles simultaneously? When I saw your latest paintings hanging at the Art Mrkt, I thought, ‘well there’s a kind of contemporary play on romanticism, these portraits are dope.’
Thanks, man! That’s good insight. Honestly, it wasn’t intentional. More than likely it has to do with where I went to school. It was a very technical curriculum rooted somewhat in 19th century realism. That may just be ingrained at this point. I got back into portraits after a bit of a hiatus just out of curiosity. I ran into these Egyptian portraits on vases. They were hundreds, if not thousands, of years old, but looked almost as if they could have been painted in the 19th century. That led me into looking at figurative work throughout many many centuries and I was just so curious as to why it is something that has lasted this long. So, I just began to explore it. Maybe it was just a mix of those two things.
How would you describe the style used in your painting (in the work for this upcoming show?)
That’s a tough one. Fractured? Personally, I see them as abstract paintings. At least, that’s my approach. I can’t really nail a description of any “style” because my concern was process. I just let the end product happen without preconceived notions.
What does the gas mask symbolize to you?
At the time it was sort of a shorthand for death. More than anything, I loved the way it “depersonalized” the wearer. They became more of an archetype as opposed to an individual. Identities get stripped away and there is something very fascinating about that…especially in war time.
Who is your favorite portrait artist?
I’m not sure if I have a favorite. At the moment though I really love the work of Jenny Morgan.
How much do your paintings cost and can Broke-asses get affordable prints of it? If not where can they be stolen?
My pieces are pretty affordable. I’m going to have a wide range for this show, but I don’t have a set list yet. They’ll be available through Hashimoto Contemporary. I’m hoping to get some prints done this summer, so there will be many options!
Did you have a chance to check out the parking lot art fair or the stARTup fair? What do you think about unrepresented artists throwing events?
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to check it out. I think it’s fucking great! Many moons ago, I played a lot of music and did a lot of touring. Those experiences really translate into my ethics and ethos with art. We used to tour using “Book your own fuckin’ life.” I’m really down with DIY. It’s only recently that I’ve gotten representation. I’ve been doing this myself for a long time.
Favorite Museum in the city?
Favorite FREE thing to do?
Listen to music. Nothing better than putting on the headphones and zoning out.
Where is the SF art scene going and should people just move to Oakland already?
It’s going away. (laughs) Honestly, I have no idea and I don’t think anyone else does either. It’s in a heavy state of flux for sure and it’ll settle down at some point. I think we just have to accept impermanence and keep doing what we’re doing. But no, don’t move to Oakland. It’s getting expensive enough as is. (laughs)
What can people expect from your upcoming show at Hashimoto Contemporary?
Man, I’m just so excited to be working with them right now. Some of my favorite artists right now are showing there so it’s just such an honor for me. Great artists, great people…I’ve been wanting this for awhile.
You can expect a lot of work and a bit of variety. I’ve been into doing a variety of scales so I have pieces ranging from 8”x8” to a life sized figure painting. I also did a bunch of experimenting with mixed media so I have works on paper, sketchbook, wood panel and canvas. I really just wanted to have fun and experiment.
What coming up for you this summer fall?
This summer will be the Hashimoto Contemporary group show right after my solo. There’s such an insane line up for it! Then I have a big commission from the Hyatt Regency in SF. More group shows throughout the summer and I’m currently booking for Fall. Outside of that, just keep painting and having fun.
Checkout John’s Solo Show Opening reception
June 6th, 6pm – 10pm @ Hashimoto Contemporary
On view: June 6th – June 27th, 2015
Cover Photo Taken by: Heidi Yount