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blue magazine (germany), mmxvII issue, 2017, cover and pages 68-77

 

fin magazine (japan), may issue, 2017, pages 174, 175

 

Studio Visit: Wolfgang Bloch

Words and Photography by Linnea Stephan

Wolfgang Bloch is a painter, surfer, father, and above all things; artist. Hailing from Ecuador, his images of abstracted seascapes are noble and vast. Bloch has spent the past few decades in his local So-Cal studio, where we met to talk about his painting process, it’s greater purpose, and why we could all be a little more grateful at the beach.

LS: Hi Wolfgang. Tell us some details about your background in design and painting.

Wolfgang Bloch: My initial passion is fine arts, and drawing as a kid turned into drawing for adulthood. I did a little bit of everything in school, and went to Art Center College for Design in Pasadena. It’s very structured and beautifully organized. I went and got a graphic design and package design degree, and felt like I was a more well-rounded artist. I went on to work for Gotcha Sportswear. Surfing has always been part of my life so it seemed like the right connection to work in that industry, but fine art was always my true passion. Being stuck in front of a computer brought a really strong sense of detachment and I still tried to do my sketching by hand. I was a dinosaur not wanting to participate, so I left to be a freelance artist. I was creating t-shirt artwork for surf companies but I was now outside of the corporate world. A few jobs were also out of the industry, like Indian Motorcycles who I designed a logo for as well as interiors and parts of the motorcycle and color palettes. I just don’t fit into the corporate world – I think a lot of artists can relate to that.

When did the transition from design to painting start to fully set in?

I was doing a lot of artwork for t-shirts but I was still fighting the whole computer thing. Paul Naude, who used to work at Gotcha, got the license to do Billabong. He approached me wanting a large piece for his new building. At this time I worked in this tiny little single car garage and all my pieces were small. Being asked to make larger works forced me to get out of there. I subleased a space in the canyon in Laguna with a flower shop that had a separate entrance. That first large painting was what pushed me in a new direction and I realized that if I could make a painting for Paul, maybe I could do that for others. I was painting and designing at the same time but slowly transitioning to paint. You get to a cliff and at some point you just have to trust your gut and dive in.

Would you cite surfing as an artistic medium in your life?

Surfing is an activity that I do. It’s more about being in the ocean, it’s about joy and fun. That joy and fun sneaks into my paintings as a wave peeling over the horizon, but that wave has so many other meanings aside from the literal meaning of surfer looking at a wave. I don’t see my work as being related to surfing, everyone else sees it the other way around. Maybe in the beginning, in really early work that was more about composition and design where the wave was more prominent, but now it’s definitely not about surfing at all.

What other artists are you looking at lately? Or musical artists that accompany you in the studio?

I’ve always admired Robert Rauschenberg’s work because of how timeless it is. Paul Klee is another German artist who used to mix crayons, oil paint, pencil. He would just play with all these various materials and make it work well. When you’re kind of stuck, it’s good to go out and see what other people have done or are doing. I also always listen to music while working, from opera to reggae music. I love the way piano sounds but I’m really picky about what type. It has to be a recording from a church, something where the tones reverberate and it’s not as clean. A crying piano. I listen to movie soundtracks because it’s such a different experience than a song that starts and ends, it’s a sound that comes in and out and doesn’t distract me.

What do you think that exploration does for a person?

I love to be in open spaces where it’s quiet and there’s nobody. It opens your eyes. Personal experiences; that’s everything, that’s life and art. Because of change in my personal life, it has almost boosted an open canvas to start and try new things and just do whatever I want. I’m really interested in figure drawing which I used to do all the time. I have all these things that I want to go into and it’s exciting.

You grew up in Ecuador. How has Ecuador changed since you were a child there?

The space is very different but the people are the same. It’s nice to know that some things don’t change. That’s the good part. Sadly, the city I grew up in has enormous problems with poverty and social issues and it’s so vast. If you were to try to help, where do you start? That struck me even as a child. My family wasn’t wealthy by any means but we had a nice house and my mom didn’t’ have to work. She drove a little Volkswagen and at the gas station kids would come up rushing up to clean the window for money. Those are my first memories of noticing the contrast of what we had verses what was hard in Ecuador.

How often do you get back to your roots there?

I haven’t gone in nearly six years but I need to go. I still have many friends that I keep in touch with who still live there. I keep going back to changes in my personal life, and my recent divorce, but, you live your life a certain way, thinking that everything is okay and really my art was in a rut and I was struggling to paint. I look back at the work I was making when my kids were born, the colors were vibrant and there was a true energy in that. It tapered away and was going flat for a while and now it seems to be regenerated. So next is going back to Ecuador.

What do you think water teaches people?

There’s something about the ocean. Running and jumping in as a kid, I still have that. You can watch people on the beach during the afternoon, families that are all running about and playing .When the sun sets everyone pulls out a camera and photographs it and then when it’s dark they go back to what they were doing. I think that people miss something by doing that. If you just sit and wait and listen and watch, the sky and the ocean are actually much more beautiful when the sun is down anyways. The colors change constantly, warm light turning into cool light. I don’t really understand what is is. It just fascinates me, the quiet and calm that is brought with that open vastness.

What is the best way to use your craft to get through something personal?

That question is both very important and very personal, and I just lived through that during my divorce. Luckily, I have very good friends and one is an artist who told me to go to my studio and just paint. It was very difficult. I remember coming in here and applying paint like I normally did. I did my whole routine, the routine that gets you away from the list of all the other daily things you are supposed to do. There was such a disconnect and what I was making looked child-like. For almost two months, I thought I had lost it and began to wonder, “Was she my muse? Was she everything? Now that I don’t have that, maybe I can’t paint?” But people reminded me that, yes, you can still paint. Charles Hespe from Hespe Gallery in San Francisco offered me an open show in May. It all started with a big painting with really wild strokes and I completed the pieces in about four hours. A friend of mine came to visit me and when he saw the painting, his face was everything. His eyes, his expression, he was just blown away. Then for ten days straight it all came out, almost like throwing up. I was just producing all this work. You can see the progression of all the emotional changes. If you’re going through some struggles, let it all come out. I try to be more aware of it every time, and then I noticed when I want more color. I never really used vibrant colors and I think I’m in a better place and that is indicative of it.

monster children, february 2015

architectural digest, july issue, 2014, pages 124, 125

 

blue magazine (japan), december issue, 2013, pages 70, 71

 

coastal living magazine, painting featured in jack johnson's music room. june issue, 2012, page 87

 

tide magazine (germany), "die elementlehre des wolfgang bloch", march/april issue, 2011, pages 70-77

 

poc magazine (england), "from subtle to sublime", no.02 issue, 2010, pages 64-69

 

riviera magazine, "good wood!", august issue, 2010, pages 18, 50, 52

 

glide magazine (japan), "wolfgang bloch", summer issue, 2010, pages 24-25

 

surfers path magazine, "wolfgang bloch: the colors of coincidence", feb-mar. issue, 2010, pages 84-91

"Artist and Surfer as best Buddies"

The exuberant three-gallery exhibition “Swell” is one of the Big Kahunas of the season’s group shows. Its requisite summertime theme is surfing, which runs wider and deeper than most, encompassing an array of visual material and several familiar characters, namely the American male as renegade and good buddy.

The show, which sprawls throughout the Chelsea spaces of Nyehaus, the Friedrich Petzel Gallery and Metro Pictures, spans more than half a century, from the 1950s to the present. In addition to scores of artworks it contains about two dozen surf boards, along with photographs, posters and other artifacts. Of the nearly 80 individuals whose efforts are represented here, fewer than 10 are women. This statistic reflects a significant lack of imagination, considering that a lot of the work here is merely vaguely oceanic. Nonetheless the show, which has been organized by Tim Nye of Nyehaus and Jacqueline Miro, an architect, urbanist and surfer, in concert with the staffs at Petzel and Metro Pictures, is ecumenical in other ways.

At the core of “Swell” is an excellent show that helpfully sets postwar Los Angeles art against a broader canvas of surfing, beachcombing and car and drug culture. But the key was surfing, with which art at that time shared both a rebel spirit and certain technologies borrowed from the airplane industry.

It adds both the Beat Generation assemblage of the 1950s and works by lesser-known artists to the more canonical history of the seductive high-gloss Finish Fetish sculptures and reliefs and the environmental “Light and Space” installation pieces that flourished in Los Angeles in the 1960s and ’70s. These last two movements were shown off this year in splendid isolation in “Primary Atmospheres,” a pristine show at Nyehaus and the David Zwirner Gallery; 7 of the 10 artists in that show are represented here, sometimes by the same work.

But “Swell” has more grit, broader margins, more mess. And it evokes more fully the lost innocence of the time before the art world got big and before surfing — the beautiful sport, if not game — became wildly popular and then turned professional. Unfortunately the show often loses its focus as approaches the present, adding recent works by some of the older artists and several more by younger ones — including a few from New York and Europe — that are only tangentially pertinent.

Each gallery’s presentation is different in terms of arrangement, clarity and ratio of older to newer work. A good place to start is Metro Pictures, where the past holds sway, and the historical progression is laid out in distinct segments. In the first space various forms of assemblage dominate, most forthrightly in George Herms’s 1973 “Scientific American,” a large grid of old shelves filled with all manner of detritus, including copies of the magazine for which it is named. It suggests a suite of boxes by a beachcombing Joseph Cornell.

On the opposite wall Ashley Bickerton (a serious surfer who forsook New York — and the Neo-Geo style for which he was known — for Bali in 1993) combines assemblage with his own version of finish fetish. The result is “Jack Blaylock” (2001), a hyper-real portrait of what appears to be an aging, drug-ravaged surfer rendered on a giant piece of gorgeously finished wood that is festooned with bits of driftwood and surf-tossed footwear. The Los Angeles painter Ed Moses offers a palm-treed and beaded folding screen from this year, while works from the 1960s show Tony Berlant using painted tin to more or less obliterate the lines separating collage, assemblage and quilting. Recent works by Fred Tomaselli, a Brooklyn artist who kayaks the waters of the New York region, build images from cut-up magazines, marijuana leaves and pills. Works from the ’60s by Wallace Berman and from the last decade by Robert Dean Stockwell and David Lloyd, another surfer-artist, contribute to the recycling effect, while Ed Ruscha chills everything out with a 1984 field of saffron vapors on which the words “Polynesian Sickness” float.

The overlap of art and surfing is most evident in the style and craft that permeates the second gallery at Metro, where one wall is lined with gleaming surfboards made over the last 50 years. The more austere are the work of well-known surfers who also excelled at the aerodynamic art of board shaping like Herbie Fletcher, Joel Tudor, Matt Kivlin and Donald Takayama.

The gaudier boards have been decorated by artists like Peter Alexander, Raymond Pettibon and Charles Arnoldi, although Jim Ganzer contributes a relatively sinister gray board that resembles a hammerhead shark. A 2004 board decorated by the street artist Barry McGee’s reminds us that surfing spawned a landlocked cousin, skateboarding.

Several Finish Fetish paintings, wall reliefs and sculptures from the 1960s and ’70s attest to the absorption of surf-board materials and techniques — cast fiberglass, resins, high-gloss finishes, and luminous monochromes — by art. Note the fabulous confluence of streamlined forms in various shades of red and egg-yolk yellow by DeWain Valentine, Billy Al Bengston, John McCracken and Craig Kauffman. Especially striking is a yellow surfboard from 2006, shaped by the surfer Mike Hynson with a cherry red fin in translucent resin provided by Mr. Tudor.

Things turn atmospheric in the third space at Metro, where various examples of ’60s-era Light and Space art include the glass boxes of Larry Bell, a wedge of cast polyester by Mr. Alexander, an odd canvas-on-canvas collage by Joe Goode and cast-resin reliefs and sculptures in shades of blue by Helen Pashgian, whose work was largely unknown until recently. She contributes a smoky blue sphere inset with clear polyester resin that conjures up the tube, or interior volume, of a giant wave. Recent photographs by Roe Ethridge and Catherine Opie capture real surfaces in action and on the beach.

In the upstairs space contemporary works by Mary Heilmann, Jay Batlle, Ned Evans, Blake Rayne and Thaddeus Strode harmonize one way or another with earlier pieces by Mr. McCracken, Mr. Goode and Sister Mary Corita.

At Petzel things tilt toward contemporary with appropriately watery or druggy paintings and drawings from the last decade by Bill Komoski, Jeff Lewis, Cameron Martin, Wolfgang Bloch and Robert Longo, and a 2009-10 chunk of black (oil-tinted?) ocean in cast polyester resin by Alex Weinstein. A late-’80s video by Gary Hill provides intermittent surf sounds.

Blasts from the past include an edge-to-edge drawing of waves from 1970 by Vija Celmins; a marvelous “painting” of grafted sticks from 1974 by Mr. Arnoldi that is the ultimate in driftwood elegance; surfing cartoons from the late ’60s by Robert Williams, Jim Evans and R. Crumb. A 2001 greenish flourish in painted ceramic by Ken Price, one of the more accomplished artist-surfers, evokes both a hand and a wave represents the Finish Fetish generation, as do a cluster of surfboards by Mr. Fletcher from around 1970. The three largest replicate the shapes boards used by Hawaiian kings: surfing was originally a royal sport. But the boards’ red, black and gold militaristic designs reflects the fact that G.I.’s stationed in the Pacific during World War II were among the first Americans to surf.

Mr. Bickerton is represented by a transitional non-Neo-Geo sculpture from 1993: a tall sinuous pedestal of Bali coral with a miniature tent on top. A series of color photographs by Rob Reynolds in the last two years pays tribute to the customized cars of Los Angeles in a dead-pan manner of Mr. Ruscha’s 1960s images of things L.A.

ny times, "artist and surfer as best buddies", july 23, 2010

 

artworks magazine, "the ocean in abstraction", spring issue, 2009, pages 78-84

 

riviera magazine, "artist of the year", february issue, 2009, page 91

 

blue magazine (japan), "wolfgang bloch", march issue, 2009, pages 36-41

 

malibu magazine, "ten by ten", summer issue, 2009, page 62

 

laguna beach magazine, "changing tides", summer issue, 2009, pages 46-49

 

surfer magazine, "for me this is heaven", december issue, 2008, pages 114-123

 

riviera interiors, "the new wave", fall issue, 2008, pages 38,40

 

surfers journal, "dark Renderings, a wolfgang bloch portfolio", volume 16, number 5, 2007, pages 86-93

 

modart magazine (europe), "wolfgang bloch", issue 06, 2005, pages 32-35

 

surfer magazine, "art and the photo: wolfgang bloch", dec. issue, 2004, pages 18, 19, 136-141

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