1xRUN Thru Interview
Icons Series by John Wentz
1xRun: Tell us a little bit about these paintings, were they part of a recent theme?
John Wentz: Yeah, they started as part of a themed group show at Gauntlet Gallery in San Francisco back in November 2013. The theme was music and musicians, pretty wide open so I wanted to use it as a chance to break away from what I had been doing at the time. I hadn’t done any portraits in awhile, but I didn’t want to just do the standard portrait on canvas thing. I’ve collected vinyl for years and it just so happened that a friend unloaded a bunch of records on me with the stipulation that not all were good, but I could have the gems in the collection if I took everything. So I was stuck with some bad classical, “Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass Band” and stuff like that. One thing lead to another and next thing I know, I am painting portraits on vinyl.
1xRUN: What materials were used to create these original paintings?
John Wentz: Oil paint and vinyl records…not much else.
1xRun: When were each of these pieces created?
John Wentz: I started them in November of 2013. I’m not sure about each individual piece because I’ve been doing a few a month since.
1xRun: Anything immediate you would like us to highlight?
John Wentz: Yeah, the most common question I get is “are they painted on their own record?” The answer is “no way!” The reason being is that these musicians, for me, are on the highest pedestal. I couldn’t dream of painting on what they have created. Unless, of course, I was given an extremely scratched copy of “London Calling” or something.
1xRun: Tell us how the idea and execution came about?
John Wentz: Music has been a very important component in my life and in many ways the musicians I love have been more of an artistic influence on me than visual artists. I just thought it would be fun to go through my record collection and paint all of my musical heroes. But at the same time these images, the references; stand on their own as visual art. The posters I hung on my wall as a kid meant just as much to me then as something like the Mona Lisa would mean to me now.
These are also kind of an homage to album artwork in general. The first album I bought was actual vinyl. Aside from having that huge (by today’s standards) piece of vinyl, you also had the artwork and, at times, lyrics. These were like extra little gifts and some bands got very creative with it. Some album art was legitimate art in and of itself. Not just credits and the gratuitous band photo. I still have all four KISS records that each have a piece of the poster that fits together like a puzzle! CDs were ok, but that was only like ¼ the size so the artwork was puny by comparison. And vinyl just sounds better!
1xRun: How long did these pieces take from start to finish?
John Wentz: I’d say two or three days. Prepping the record takes a whole day. The actual painting could take a day or two.
1xRun: Any struggles or obstacles you dealt with in finishing these pieces?
John Wentz: Yeah, there are always struggles. It was really nerve-wracking painting such well-known faces because the smallest mistake and they look like somebody else.
1xRun: What is unique about these compared to some of your other work?
John Wentz: First and most obvious is the choice of substrate. I am pretty much a straightforward canvas or panel kind of painter. Vinyl was very different for me and I wound up really enjoying it. It doesn’t absorb any of the oil so the paint moves differently. I also really enjoyed painting on a circle. I’ve never done that before and might try to incorporate that into future work.
1xRun: Why should people buy one of these prints?
John Wentz: To hang above their record collection!
1xRun: Describe this series in one gut reaction word.
John Wentz: \m/
1xRun: Do you want to touch on some reasons why you picked the icons that you did ?
John Wentz: The easiest answer is that they are among my favorite musicians of all time. My favorite era of music is the mid to late 70’s and the birth of punk…the whole Bromley Contingent group and the like. But I think the common thread is that all of these musicians could be considered “punk” in the broader sense. These artists really changed the face of music with their originality, attitude and passion. Johnny Cash was just a badass mofo. Classic songwriter with an original voice who goes from popping pills to playing for convicts. Iggy Pop is just a staple for any music fan. The Stooges were raw, in your face and unapologetic. Hendrix just goes without words. What would the world be like today of Hendrix was never born? He changed music, the guitar and had the respect of musicians like Miles Davis. I got my start with vinyl by stealing my Dad’s records and hiding in my room with headphones hunched over the record player with sleeve in hand.
I remember stealing my Dad’s copy of “Are You Experienced” when I was a kid and it scared the crap out of me! I had never heard sounds like that. Bob Marley…again, just a pioneer. I had always loved his music, but he was more than that. I mean the guy was literally a prophet for many. Bowie is just an all around phenomenal musician. Again, I stole my Dad’s copy of Ziggy Stardust and I was just mesmerized by that image of Bowie as Ziggy. It blew my mind…it was like looking at an alien and it freaked me out in a way similar to Hendrix. Debbie Harry, Siouxsie & Joe Strummer all fall into that era of the birth of punk. All three pioneered in their own way and went on to find their own voices. They wouldn’t allow themselves to be confined to a genre or ideology. Pussy Riot is just about as badass and punk as it gets. Especially Nadehda Tolokonnikova. The video of her in court is fantastic. Fearless, not backing down…it’s inspiring.
1xRun: Were these drawn from specific reference photos or more of a combination?
John Wentz: It was different for each. Some are specific and some are two or more combined.
1xRun: What are some of the reasons you chose the era for each icon?
Debbie Harry: Again that late 70’s attitude. This was really a turning point for Blondie and I think when most people think of Blondie, this is the era and the image of Debbie Harry that comes to mind.
Bob Marley: This is Bob at his peak. As an artist, he has grown into his own, he’s confident and it’s before the tragedy that he will face.
David Bowie: “Aladdin Sane” is just a phenomenal record and, for me personally, I find him the most interesting in this era. That may be, in part, due to me finding my Dad’s Bowie collection and see those pics of Bowie as Ziggy. I didn’t know what in the hell I was looking at and it both mesmerized and frightened me.
Iggy Pop: Iggy has always had a fantastic face. In younger Iggy you can see that look of wanting to take over the world. In older, more recent Iggy, it’s as if his face is a book in braille. I can’t imagine the stories it could tell! His expression is almost like a mugshot, but there is a certain passivity behind it.
Jimi Hendrix: Here is Hendrix at the beginning of his career. You can see the hunger in his eyes and he knows what a badass he is. The more you think about it, the more mind blowing he was. Here comes this kid who has done time in the military, he is immensely immersed in blues and he comes out with this music that just….beyond words. If I had one wish it would be able to go back in time with my mind erased of all music I heard to the release of “Are You Experienced?” I can’t even imagine what it was like to hear that record at that time.
Joe Strummer: This is a really interesting era to me because it was the decline of The Clash and him figuring out what to do next. I feel like you can see that passion and attitude he had in the early days in this period. He wanted to keep going, to find a spark again…and he never lost it. Up until his death he was living up to his music and lyrics.
Johnny Cash: I love this era of Cash. He’s no longer a young man, but he’s not old either. He’s just been through hell and lived and he wears it on his face. He looks like a man on a mission and I love the sense of urgency in his eyes.
Lou Reed: Lou came about because of his passing. We’ve been losing so many greats and it feels like, and is I suppose, a closing of an era. I first discovered Lou Reed with The Velvet Underground & Nico. I can’t remember how old I was, but I was really young and I thought that they just looked really cool. I didn’t even listen to the record for a bit, I was just mesmerized by the artwork and how they looked like they really just didn’t give a fuck. So, I had built up in my head that they sounded like some kind of early punk band or something…I just didn’t expect to hear what I heard when I finally put it on. I was really blown away that this band had songs like “Sunday Morning” then “Heroin” and then “Venus in Furs”. The music was out of this world, but the lyrics were like something out of a book of poetry; like they really stood on their own. It was kind of like when you discover Leonard Cohen…it was like really street poetry, stories from the street and the gritty underbelly of life. And you could hear in his voice that he wasn’t one of those writers that sit back, observe and then write from that point of view. You could tell he really lived what he wrote, those words were from the heart and experience. He was definitely one of those artists that, if he had not lived or become a musician, rock n’ roll would not be what we know today.
Pussy Riot/Nadezhda Tolokonnikova: Of course there isn’t much here as far as an era is concerned, but I think they are definitely icons and in more than just music. They are punk icons, political icons, feminist icons, etc. I especially love the image because it is essentially faceless. Pussy Riot isn’t about one person, it’s an idea. But behind this hand cut mask you see these beautiful and incredibly pissed off eyes. They are determined, passionate and not going to take any shit. I donated the money from the sale of this painting to the Pussy Riot’s legal defense fund.
I feel like I have to say that these are just my opinions and I’m not stating anything as gospel. I understand that music lovers get passionate and I’m sure many people will disagree with some of what I have said.
1xRun: What are your plans for 2015? Any big shows or events coming up that you’d like to talk about?
John Wentz: Yes, quite a few things I’m excited about. I am currently working for my solo show at Hashimoto Contemporary in San Francisco in June. I am really stoked to be working with them and have been wanting to for some time. I have some group shows in between that and have been working with a couple of bands doing artwork for album covers and such. That’s really something I want to get into more.