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Tom Wesselmann and I


Breakfast Table (inspired by Tom Wesselmann’s Still Life No. 60), 12″ x 16″, Oil on Canvas

Photo by Artworks Cincinnati.  Tom Wesselmann Still Life No. 60 Downtown Cincinnati Mural.  8th and Main

Photo by Artworks Cincinnati. Tom Wesselmann Still Life No. 60 Downtown Cincinnati Mural. 8th and Main

Over the summer I lived with Tom Wesselmann.  More accurately, I lived with the work and specter of the late Cincinnati pop-art icon Tom Wesselmann, through the execution of several projects including an enormous outdoor mural downtown with teaching artists and teen-apprentices.  It was easy to develop a personal connection with the late Cincinnati master, who shares my love of objects, painting, women, and was even an accomplished songwriter as well (a song of his appears in the soundtrack to Brokeback Mountain. movie only not the CD).

I also met his wife Claire, who was lovely. And during the mural project Wesselmann’s one-time studio assistant in New York, Kevin T. Kelly (who is also a well-known pop artist) was gracious enough to spend a little time with me and the apprentices.

Tonight, we were finally able to dedicate the mural, a project of non-profit Artworks, to the city of Cincinnati.  The mural was created in preparation for the Wesselmann retrospective at the Cincinnati Art Museum, which opens this weekend.  In addition to the dedication, as a way to have a more personal creative dialogue with Wesselmann’s body of work, Meredith Adamisin from Artworks and myself staged an tribute art exhibition, Wesselworks, that opened wednesday at Align Furniture Store across the street from the mural on Main.  The exhibition features works by apprentice artists, teaching staff who worked on the mural, as well as my piece seen here, Breakfast Table.

Finally, I will be involved in two events at the Cincinnati Art Museum in the next few months:  On November 15th I will lead a program for kids–Art in the Making: Pop Painting–at the Cincinnati Art Museum.  On January 18th I will lead another program called Creative Encounters, for adults of all ages which is also one-part workshop one-part museum tour.  So, it is safe to say that I have developed something of a relationship with Wesselmann.

Still Life #60, 1973

Tom Wesselmann’s Still Life No. 60

The source image for the mural, Wesselmann’s Still Life No. 60 came into my life precisely as I had begun a new series of photographic still life’s and was considering the vast array of possible meanings that relationships between objects in a picture plane can create.  I had also just serendipitously begun arranging items in stage-like compositions as well.  So it was with great pleasure that I took on the mural project, created a painting in response, and continue to be engaged with Wesselmann’s work.

Options - 8.5" x 14" - Archival Digital Print

Options – 8.5″ x 14″ – Archival Digital Print

Although my recent photographs are borderline, my tribute painting is decidedly not pop-art.  But Wesselmann and I have some similar formal interests including clarity of line and form, a love of high contrast and bold color on muted fields, etc.

For this tribute painting, I essentially took Wesselmann’s Still Life No. 60 and flipped it on its head.  Instead of larger-than-life I worked small.  Instead of flat I worked with naturalistic angles and lighting.  I did, however, retain Wesselmann’s selection of objects, or at least five of six of the objects: the nail polish, sunglasses, lipstick, matchbook, and ring.  But instead of the necklace beads I have included grapes.  This is partly an inside joke–in the early summer I mistakenly identified the beads as grapes and presented the work to apprentices artists that way–but partly a reference to the Dutch Golden Age breakfast table paintings I have been looking at lately as well.  My painting also references another American master from yet another generation, painter of beautiful trompe l’oeil still life’s William Harnett.  These are my three muses lately.  I have some other paintings in my studio that are more “for me” and feature the kinds of weird objects that have been appearing in my photos lately.  But this one’s for Tom Wesselmann.  May your match continue to smolder!

Nov. 15, 1-3 p.m.:Cincinnati Art Museum – Art in the Making: Pop Painting, for kids ages 6-12 and a parent. Reservations required. $10 per pair members, $20 nonmembers ($3/$6 for each additional person).

Jan. 18, 1 p.m.:Cincinnati Art Museum – Creative Encounters visits the Great American Nudes series, then creates figure drawing inspired by the exhibition. Reservations required. $10. $5 members and college students.

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Tom Wesselmann Artworks Mural Dedication

A great team!

A great team of apprentices!

This is what we did over the summer.  The mural is on six story wall at 8th and Main Street in Cincinnati, OH, a reproduction of Tom Wesselmann’s Still Life #60.  Wednesday, we finally dedicate the beast to the City of Cincinnati!

The mural is a summer project of Artworks, a Cincinnati non-profit that “empowers and inspires the creative community to transform our everyday environments through employment, apprenticeships, education, community partnerships, and civic engagement”. I was the project manager for this mural, one mural in an annual series of Cincinnati Masters.  I worked alongside Cincinnati-based artists and teaching assistants Nicole Trimble and Joshua Mindlin, and ten area teen apprentices.

The image we painted is a reproduction of a grouping of six canvases, a sculptural painting which will be featured prominently in the retrospective of Wesselmann’s work opening at the Cincinnati Art Museum in the fall.  In addition to the mural, we created our own works which respond to and pay homage to Wesselmann’s art.  These works will be shown tonight at a companion event, Wessel Works, at Align Furniture just across the street from the site of the new mural.

An honest day's work

An honest day’s work

The mural is on the wall of Sophia’s Deli at 8th and Main St., in the middle of downtown, Cincinnati.  The dedication will be at 4pm:

Cincinnati Master Tom Wesselmann Mural – Still Life No. 60
Dedication and Party Wednesday October 29 4pm
Sophia’s Deli
811 Main St,
Cincinnati, OH 45202

The art exhibition Wessel Works, featuring responses and tributes to the work of Wesselmann by myself, Nicole and Josh and the apprentices will be up for the next couple weeks, beginning at 5pm tomorrow at:

Wessel Works Art Exhibition Wednesday October 29 5pm
Algin Retro Furniture
800 Main St,
Cincinnati, Ohio 45202

I am so proud of the team I worked with and so pleased to have again been selected to work with Artworks on a large scale public art project working with youth apprentices.  Especially grateful for the support from Arnold’s restaurant, Sophia’s Deli, Kort Peter’s and everyone else who donated money, food, space and emotional support and encouragement to make this happen.

Stop by and see our mural.  And our art!

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Mural Progress, Kentucky Natural History



A floating reference

A floating reference

We are making good progress on the Artworks mural in Covington, KY!  The mural is a celebration of Kentucky’s rich natural history.  My thesis work at the University of Cincinnati was largely about the connections between art, the natural world and the human hand.  This mural project has been a great opportunity to continue those interests in a more straightforward way.

Artworks summer programs are thankfully designed not only to employ teens but to provide opportunities for enrichment.  To prepare for the project and get everyone interested in the subjects of our mural I organized several field trips.

First, we made a trip to the beautifully redesigned Mary Ann Mongan Covington Library just across the street from the mural site at 502 Scott Blvd.  I organized something of a scavenger hunt/learning rampage, encouraging the apprentices to explore a variety of topics including: the challenges of public art (as illustrated by the popular story of Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc), the life cycles and roles of viceroy butterflies and honeybees, and the mastodon bones unearthed at Big Bone Lick State Park in the beginning years of America.  Also, what is a Dunkleosteus?  I have always been interested in synthesizing a lot of information and making connections between seemingly disparate topics.

A couple days after the library trip we went to the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal to visit the natural history museum.  We paid particularly close attention to the ice age exhibit, which is simply fantastic.  Our mural includes a mastodon skeleton, an early American symbol of power and mystery and one of my favorite creatures!  I also included a Brachiopod, the Kentucky state fossil.  These fossils are millions of years old, from a time this area was covered in ocean.  They should be a familiar sight, if you have ever looked closely at a river rock.

Since then it has been many days of sweating in the sun and drawing, painting, and having fun.  I met the most amazing group of teenagers.  It is kind of sad wrapping this project up these next couple weeks.  Stay tuned for photos of the final result!

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Downtown Covington KY Mural Live Web Feed

Artworks Covington Mural Apprentices

Top to bottom left to right: Apprentices Alexandra Weibel, Scott Sanker, Teaching Artist Jasmine Akers, Apprentices Previn Beal, A.J. Newberry, and Evelynn Meyer.

I am now the project manager and lead artist of an even larger, more visible Artworks summer mural project!  Artworks is a Cincinnati non-profit that “empowers and inspires the creative community to transform our everyday environments through employment, apprenticeships, education, community partnerships, and civic engagement,” although they are mostly known for their murals.  This summer, my mural is one of about ten being painted in the Cincinnati area.

After a long saga involving an uncooperative Dayton Kentucky City Council, we have moved upstream.  I am now working in the Artworks Signcity of Covington, Kentucky, with fellow Cincinnati teaching artist Jasmine Akers and now seven apprentices, amazing young artists from the Cincinnati area Evelynn Meyer
, Scott Sanker
, William Moore
, AJ Newberry, Previn Beal
, Alexandra Weibel
, and Marvin Gay Lee Jr.  We are painting 11 panels on two sides of the Kerry Toyota Collision center at 24 E 5th St, Covington, KY 41011.  Marc Camardo and staff have been amazing.  If their willingness to help a rag tag group of artists is any indication of their commitment to customer service, I would say this must be the best collision repair center in the world.  Additionally, this is the cleanest building I have ever seen, which is a miracle when I consider how many greasy cars come in and out of their every year.

When we aren’t baking in the sun on Scott Blvd. between 4th and 5th Street, we are in our studio space, generously donated by the Covington Artisan’s Enterprise Center.  Cate Yellig and Natalie Bowers were instrumental in saving this project and bringing it to Covington.  So many people fought so hard to keep this boat afloat.  While the last month or so has admittedly been frustrating with so many stops and starts, the fact that we have begun an even bigger and better mural project in such a positive environment is a testament to the power of art.  That may seem dramatic, but if you could see what I have seen–people crying, yelling, laughing–all about the possibility of painting, you would recognize.  Plato knew it.  City Councils know it.  Art is power and a simple image can be transformative.

Covington Artworks Swagger

Covington Artworks Swagger

Unfortunately this block in Covington still has many vacant store fronts and unsavory happenings.  However, Covington is going through a renaissance and the mural is perfectly positioned and timed to make a meaningful contribution.  Our site is just up the street from the historic Roebling bridge, across the street from a newly remodeled Kenton County Public Library, and less than a block from the Gateway Community and Technical College.  When we are finished with the mural the entire block will look much different.  Our goal is to give the people of the neighborhood something positive, something colorful, something that will inspire young people to dream and wonder.

To see the mural unfold check this live feed!  The folks across the street at the PPS group were excited about this project and graciously offered to film it, feed it, and time lapse it later.  Check out this link to see the wall live, right now:  We are working near the camera right now (autoposting this blog!).  We will wave to you Monday through Friday at exactly noon.  Our work day is 9am-2pm.

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