Monday, March 23, 2009

Studio Visit with Marty Weishaar

interviewed by Phuong Pham. Phuong is a contributor to Locus Art Magazine.

I recently visited local painter and educator, Marty Weishaar, in his home studio in Hampden. Weishaar and his wife have turned their house into a mutual creative space, where he works on paintings not only within his studio room, but also in their dining room, around her musical equipment, and in their upstairs hallway.

So tell me a little about yourself and where you come from:

I grew up in upstate New York and graduated from Alfred University in with a BFA in Ceramics and sculpture, and then later went on to American University to get my MFA in painting. We have been living in Baltimore for 2 years.

How did you make the shift from ceramics to painting?

It was a gradual shift, like when you're in art school you try as many things as you can until something sticks. And actually, a lot of ceramicists who are fascinated with color do turn into painters.

Who are you looking at these days?

When I was doing more painting, I was, of course, thinking about Pollock and de Kooning and their use of texture and gesture, but was eventually turned off by all of that manliness, like it was just too macho for what I wanted to do. I'm really interested in Mary Heilman, another ceramicist-turned-painter who works with contemporary abstraction, and there's a whimsicalness to her work. I also like the work of Amy Sillman, who works with vignettes of abstract sailboats, and Laura Owens.

Could you talk about your process?

I start with these simple, almost graphic mountain ranges... I'm interested in creating fun and whimsical pieces, but it's more adult or serious fun.

I'm not trying to be ironic or cute with my work. I like to compartmentalize my different compositions; building up the surface allows me to not get stuck. The colors become something that you can feel and touch, even though they are flat.

I notice that you use a lot of nostalgic imagery and landscape-like placeholders in your work.

Yeah, I like to use things like electrical towers, houses, and silos in my mountain ranges. They refer to a certain playfulness that I was trying to resist for a long time because I didn't want it to be mistaken for being silly. I kept coming back to them, though, and using them as nostalgic abstraction. I think mark-making is both subconscious and conscious, and the more I build up a composition, the more I can take something that appears to be playful... but it's also a strange way of representing a personal story for me.

How did the rainbows start entering your paintings?

I think they're kind of funny as a symbol. like my interest in nostalgic objects, I was thinking about how the world changes when you're married. there are all of these "social cues" that you don't think about as being so pervasive until you have to start making adult decisions. They started as simply an interesting object for me to use as a straight white male out of grad school, but now I see them more in compositional terms; they harmonize a picture through line and color.

Why did you decide to come to Baltimore, rather than stay in DC or go elsewhere?

My wife had a job opportunity here, and my work was also going back to my influences of mountain ranges and rural life, so we came to Baltimore. I was really resistant to moving to New York, because there are fewer opportunities and more people competing for them... I wasn't interested in fighting tooth and nail just to make my work.

Do you think your interest in nostalgia has anything to do with the displacement that comes with moving from farm to city or city to city?

Sure, in a way. It's also connected to noticing change around you. When I lived in DC, I always thought it was so... politicized about nature, like it was too sculpted or simulated. Where I was in northwest DC, the gardens were uprooted and replaced every 4 months, which was never something I experienced in rural New York. It was so artificial, even when I lived in Rockville for a while, and I was pissed about that. I found myself remembering silos and thinking a lot about what they looked like. I missed that aspect in my daily life, and began recalling them in my work. Then I moved to Baltimore, where you don't really feel like there is a central, urban strip. Some parts of the city are really ugly, but it's still a landscape. We're all putting in our images and breaking things down to abstraction for different reasons.

Marty Weishaar works as public school art teacher and currently has paintings and drawings on exhibit at The Hexagon.

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