Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Walk-Thru with Welker

Story submitted by the Hui’s own Keri Meyer. Mahalo, Keri!

Problems must be solved but mysteries are to be enjoyed unsolved—and we will be happier if we regard the universe and existence itself as mysteries. - Alan Watts  

Last Saturday, 2012 Solo Artist Exhibition presenter Billy Welker offered a free artist chat and walk-through of his featured series: “Configuration.” During the talk, Billy discussed both his passion for painting and personal insights into his creative process.  As his first public exhibition, the room was filled with admiration as he took us all on a historical jaunt through his perspective from his beginning to the present-day body of work.

Billy grew up in Detroit, MI with his interest in art beginning in elementary school.  A visit to the local library led to immediate inspiration by books he discovered about Picasso. Although his parents’ generation were more farm-life-driven and had no interest in art, they continued to foster their son’s creativity.  He studied art at university and was engaged from the start, learning from experienced teachers, and was able to further his knowledge and curiosity for drawing & sculpture.  He continued additional arts classes after school, but eventually stopped doing art altogether; this was a time of pop art and he realized he did not understand it.

For the next 35 years, Billy was immersed in the world of construction, until seven years ago when he again started painting and drawing.  After taking a drawing and a painting class at the Hui, he was able to start over and admits he did not feel any pressure; he knew he should “just do it”.  Entering into and being accepted into many exhibitions over the last few years gave him confidence in his work. The opportunity then presented itself to submit a proposal for the Solo Artist Show at the Hui for 2012. 

“Am I ready?” He was nervous about applying for the Solo Artist Show; it is a big step for any artists to put themselves out there.  Billy creates for himself and realizes it is a lot of work, but his mantra at this stage in life is to keep things as simple as possible.  Comparing tools and materials to construction, painting is much simpler.  It is a joy for him to be able to do something where he can still use his hands and his mind.  The application process for the Hui Solo Artist application aided in reminding him that he knows the value of deadlines and commitment.

A recent August 2012 article in the Huffington Post explored the possibility of Vincent van Gogh being colorblind, one of Billy’s favorite artists. As he himself is red-green colorblind, he has simplified his own palette to just a few colors. He begins to talk about his process for the paintings that we are warmly surrounded by in the gallery space at the Hui.  Portraits of his family take stage on the main wall as you walk into the room.  He makes sure to note that the portrait of his son is missing, only because the painting is on tour with the Schaefer Portrait Challenge now on Oahu.

Billy enjoys doing portraits and paints mostly from photographs, as he claims that he is a “slow painter” and it would not be fair for his subject to sit for him for weeks on end.  Billy continues to work his paintings until he is satisfied. He understands that there is a starting point and the process follows. Many of his works will start off with an entirely different image than the painting will end up with.  These ever-changing “moments in time” are seen as layers upon layers of paint strokes and gorgeous details upon the ¼ inch plywood he works upon.

As he often sets aside his work for periods of time, this distance from his artwork gives him the opportunity to come back refreshed and with a new perspective.  The journey forward could include many more changes such as adding more paint, sanding down the painting, wiping off the oil paint, covering up the whole canvas while he continues to rework each one over time.  It is an adventure for him as he allows himself to play in each painting and have fun with the creative process.  There is no end and he does not feel like he has to ever be finished.

One can see a portion of this process with the painting “Blithe in Blue”, starting out as a monstera leaf and then that image ending up as part of the fire surrounding the blue image in the background.

A guest asks if he takes pictures as he is going along in his process.  Billy tells the crowd about how he will take pictures while painting and then holds the image up to a mirror.  By reviewing the image in the mirror he is able to see the painting from a new angle.  His mind is relaxed and he can always see something he had not seen before, then move forward again in his work.

There was a time that Billy painted on his handmade canvases, but realized that because of the time and work that went into making these, he was treating them too preciously.  He was not allowing himself the freedom to loosen up in his paintings. He then switched to the ¼ inch plywood panels and ended up enjoying the smooth surface he continues to work on today.

In attendance was Hui Board Member Tim Garcia who commented on how he is moved by Billy’s choice of color palette, his subject content and how he is able to let the well-balanced paintings speak for themselves, “blows my mind,” he said.

The harmony, mystery and ambiguity in Billy’s own work is what he loves; the whole story is not given and leaves room for viewer interpretation.  A believer that art & philosophy go together, Billy discusses how art in the 1900’s is representative of a particular situation- a portrait; a bible scene; a war scene or a historical event.  Eventually he comments on how Picasso and other artists started “abstracting things”.  Billy is a fan of Arthur Danto, an American art critic and philosopher. As modern art starts to meld with philosophy, modern art now becomes no longer a picture; “the painting was about the painting, not the person or event any longer”.  Billy compares this to the likes of Jackson “Pollack with his paint drippings” or Mark “Rothko transcending and meditative”. Another favorite reference is Romanian Constantin Brancusi and his Endless Tower Sculpture, acclaimed as one of the great works of 20th century art.

Billy comments that artists should be able to express some kind of experience that goes beyond the surface; an appreciation of an artists’ work can sometimes be a challenge without the background of what the artist is attempting.  However, the mere act of contemplating the artwork should be enough, there should not be the need to fully understand everything the artist is trying to convey, this is where the magic lies; life is like this. One of Billy’s favorite artists Pierre Bonnard says "It's not a matter of painting life, it's a matter of giving life to painting."

Welker & his work

Visit Billy Welker’s “Configuration” and Valerie Yong Ock Kim’s “Light Speed Matter, A still Place Waiting” at Hui No‘eau Visual Arts Center through September 21, 2012.  Gallery hours are Monday-Sunday from 10am to 4pm.

No comments:

Post a Comment