Wednesday, March 18, 2009

April Artist: Colorful World

For many of us, the natural world refreshes, comforts, inspires and excites. Joel Wish finds all this and more in the out of doors, and uses nature as a springboard for vibrant impressionistic pastel works.

The Waunakee artist and psychologist—whose work is showcased March 27 through May 10 at Artisan Gallery in Paoli—took a moment to share insights into his inspirations and process.

How did you become an artist?

I have done art since I was a kid. From when I was just in elementary school my mom took me way across town to the Corcoran museum for art lessons. My parents were very supportive of my having private art lessons on and off through my elementary, junior and high school years. In college, I tried to double major but I was told it would have to be either art or psychology. I obviously went with the safe choice.

I am a psychologist in a hospital (UWHC), working primarily with kids. Working with medically ill people makes you appreciate the fragility of things. In short, it makes me grateful for what I have. The tough parts of working with medically ill people get absorbed in me somewhere deep below the surface and doing art just helps bring what’s stored in there out into the light with new meaning/perspective and appreciation—kind of like a cleansing.

How would you describe the style of your art?

My art is one percent knowing what I’m doing and ninety-nine percent struggling to create something that feels/looks right. For me, creative “flow” is the constant push/pull of trying to make something that looks or feels okay despite not knowing how I’m going to get there.

Why do you focus on the natural world?

I find drawing from nature easier than drawing the human figure. The incredible variety of color and form in nature allows one to be very creative while still “landing” a product that is “believable.” Whenever I try to capture a human image, I find I’m locked into getting the details “right.” There’s a narrower window in capturing what’s believable and acceptable in the human form. Getting details right for me is what I try to do at work but not for relaxation!

How did you come to your incredible use of color? And did your chosen medium play a role in this?

I work a lot of hours and I need a medium that is forgiving and quick—little setup time, able to come and go into it with ease, etc. Pastels are perfect, kind of like crayons are for kids. Just like kids can pull crayons out and whip up a painting almost anywhere, pastels allow me to walk into my studio, “paint” for five minutes or five hours and then go back to working at my desk. It’s a back-and-forth volley between work and art. As for the color, pastels are an easy medium for colorists; I really enjoy maximizing the color by making use of different colored surfaces. What lies under the surface of the painting often creates the vibrancy of the painting itself. There’s nothing like painting on dark surfaces to maximize the intense colors inherent in pastels.

What inspires you?

Nature—its forms, colors, contrasts. I love finding these things in the everyday world. Sometimes they’re right there in front of us, but so often overlooked.

What are the greatest challenges in making your art?

What to do with all the paintings I create! I must have about two hundred pieces lying around the house. I’m sure my wife would say the greatest challenge is finding a place to sit in our living room. The house is overrun with paintings. I believe in a few years I’ll probably paint only postcard-size artwork because I simply will have run out of space! I guess the other challenge is working in the very fragile medium of pastel. It creates dust, which is neither good for the lungs nor for trying to have it stay put on painted surface. The dust has some inherent need or tendency to shift. One of the greatest absurdities in my art life is taking a pastel painting and trying to surround it with a white matboard. Life seems awfully short to be grappling with keeping the matboard pure. I wish I could have fallen in love with some more stable art form!

When do you consider a work successful and how do you define that?

What I’ve created has to stand up against the internal critic and it has to stand up against that critic over time. Sometimes the internal critic doesn’t arrive on the scene until days, weeks or months after I thought the painting was complete. I might feel great about something I’ve painted one day, only to wake up the next morning or even weeks later and discover the piece isn’t okay. Maybe only fifty percent of the time does something feel successful from day one to the next day and over time.

What do you hope to share with viewers through your art?

Good question. I guess, however, I have chosen to depict nature, and if viewers can appreciate that through their own eyes, then we’ve made a connection that goes beyond words. Sharing that connection with others is what art is all about for me.

Images are by Joel Wish and courtesy of Artisan Gallery.

IN THE MAGAZINE: The April issue of Madison Magazine comes out tomorrow. Here’s some of the arts content you’ll find within the pages:
• An interview with acclaimed filmmaker Mary Sweeney, plus information on the upcoming Wisconsin Film Festival.
• A poem by Michael A. Walker.
• Our monthly Overtones section with picks on the can’t-miss performances, concerts and exhibits taking place in April.
• An extensive look at the expansion of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Unitarian Meeting House.
• A look at a special ceramics exhibition at the Dane County Airport in Neil Heinen and Nancy Christy’s Genuine Articles column.

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