November artist-in-residence John Wehrle has been creating really big art since 1975. He specializes in site-specific public artworks, and his projects include mural-size paintings for interior and exterior walls as well as elaborate architectural installations that integrate text, painting, ceramic tile, and relief sculpture. Wehrle is working in the Kimball Education Gallery through November 25.
Born and raised all over Texas, Wehrle holds a BA from Texas Tech and received his MFA from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. As a U.S. Army combat artist, Wehrle created a series of paintings dealing with the Vietnam War, which are part of the U.S. Army’s permanent collection and were prominently featured in the 2010 exhibition Art of the American Soldier at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
Wehrle conducts substantial research prior to the fabrication of each artwork, in which history, recognizable portraits, and local landmarks are metaphorically recombined into a new visual statement.
“I always liked painting and being outdoors and somehow managed to combine the two into a viable career,” Wehrle said. “Working in the studio can be a neurotic activity. When you are painting in public it is more of a performance, albeit a pretty slow one.”
The site of the installation becomes the stage, and as with any performance, Wehrle begins with a script that comes in the form of scale drawings, studies, and painted maquettes.
Wehrle comments that in such diverse environments, “The challenge is to see the function of the building with fresh eyes, to make something that makes the patron see the possibilities of a library or re-examine the quotidian space of a freeway underpass.”
For his residency at the de Young, Wehrle revisits an old theme: the evolving landscape of the city. "Before the Gold Rush, everything east of Montgomery Street was bay, and the whole financial district was a mudflat. With the onset of melting ice caps, one begins to speculate on a future resembling that past. Of course we’ll probably still have our iPhones, which will make for some interesting juxtapositions.”
Stop by the Kimball Education Gallery tonight and contribute to John Wehrle’s vision of a future San Francisco in his work Rising Tide: A Post-Cautionary Tale, a Work in Progress. John will be in the studio Wednesdays–Sundays, 1:00–5:00 p.m. and Fridays, 6:00–8:45 p.m. For more information about the Artist-in-Residence program, please click here.