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 Wes Hempel  (1953 - )

About: Wes Hempel


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Lived/Active: Colorado/California      Known for: surreal-imaginative figure painting

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Wes Hempel
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Raised in southern California in what he describes as a "bleak and austere fundamendalist Christian upbringing, Wes Hempel does oil painting that reflects his retreat into an inner world of fantasy and imagination---insulated from prescribed dogma.  He lives in Berthoud, Colorado, about an hour north of Denver, and works out of a spare bedroom used for a studio.  Hempel spends much time on his paintings, usually completing about one a week, and drawing from what he calls a head full of encyclopedic images.  He plans his paintings in detail before starting, and feels he is finished "when a painting I produce matches what I have in my head" . . .(201)

However, Hempel, who now lives in El Monte, Colorado with his partner, Jack Balas, is not bitter about his childhood as he felt it led him to look at the world in a way unique from most people.  He graduated from El Monte High School and then went to LIFE Bible College, "the Lighthouse of Foursquare Gospelism."  He dropped out after three and a half years, feeling totally frustrated and unhappy and was disowned by his parents for leaving the institution and also for telling them he was homosexual.   He moved to Los Angeles and then, because LIFE Bible College was not accredited, he had to start over with his college education.  He earned his BA degree from California State University at Northridge.  Then he was accepted into the writing program of Colorado University, and earned a Master's Degree.

Meanwhile, he began making boxes similar to those of Joseph Cornell, and also started fashioning tableaux on small pieces of wood.  These projects led to his signature floating houses, "homeless homes unattached to the fields or the water above which they hover." (134)  Gradually he added figures into his paintings, many which are large scale.  His first big figurative painting combined Huckleberry Finn with Lady Jane Grey, a 'marriage of the historical and literary'.

Devon Jackson, "Personal Mythologies", Southwest Art, October 2005, pp. 132-135

Biography from LewAllen Galleries:
For decades, Wes Hempel has been committed to re-envisioning the depiction of masculinity in contemporary art. By setting psychologically acute portraits of modern-day males against backgrounds appropriated from such disparate sources as Neoclassical history painting and Dutch Golden Age landscapes, the artist’s works forge provocative dialogues between the exigencies of the present and its endowments from the past.

Joining the symbolic incarnations and technical fluency of classical art with the eclectic borrowings of Postmodernism, Hempel’s paintings explore the divide between the ancient and modern, reason and passion, the august and the quotidian. Provoking a reconsideration of assumed narratives of masculinity and myth, sociocultural examinations are rendered in sensuously modeled flesh tones, gleaming marble surfaces, and the immersive calm of Arcadian landscape – proving as visually alluring as they are conceptually rigorous.

Hempel was born in El Monte, California, and received his BA in 1985 from California State University in Northridge. He then studied at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he received his MA in 1988. He has shown his work in both solo and group exhibitions across the country since 1987. Public and corporate collections, such as the Denver Art Museum and Microsoft Corporation, also contain his work. The artist’s painting Loophole is noted as the visual and conceptual nucleus of “Truth & Beauty: The Bach Project,” a 2010 ballet created by Ballet Austin artistic director Stephen Mills and featuring the music of J.S. Bach and Phillip Glass.

Since the mid-1990s, Hempel has frequently collaborated on paintings with Jack Balas, an artist who works in both painting and photography.

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