Meth Mouth: The Art of Jesse Wiedel
Jesse Wiedel paints Americana. That’s not to say his subjects are your run of the mill placated Protestants ornamented in shrouds of patriotic exceptionalism like the works of Norman Rockwell or Charles Wysocki. Nor are Wiedel’s creations Warholistic imitations screaming for attention like spoiled hipsters measuring their self-worth on the spectrum of irony. On his canvas you won’t find the emblematic replications of postmodernism, which too often masquerade throughout the contemporary art scene as original thoughts; such work lacks the sense of humor necessary to retain authenticity. Wiedel’s Americana is fantastic yet self-effacing. He captures scenes that could very well be real despite their eerie nature. By doing so Weidel sidesteps the neurosis of modernism and the narcissism of postmodernism.
In Wiedel’s landscapes Walmart has won and there is nothing to do about it except get fucked up. For many, such is the spangled reality of rural America. From sea to shining sea methamphetamines, redneck aesthetics and tooth decay run amauck. The lines between fact and fiction are blurred. After several generations of economic depravity and an unrelenting belief in the American Dream, Wiedel’s subjects have externalized their misguided sense of entitlement and failure. Some simply lack the education to calculate the odds stacked against them. Most just don’t give a damn. They find hope in Lotto tickets and Hot Pockets. They get in fights with strangers for something to talk about with the next victim of their madness. These downtrodden derelicts dwell in doorways of forsaken hotels or on the outskirts of logging communities since abandoned by the industry that once thrived. They burn meth with women who long ago traded their youth for cheekbones like the Crypt Keeper, children who will never outgrow the amusement of the hoop and stick, and the un-ironic love of Looney Tunes t-shirts. They fear God and taxes in the mining towns where mountaintops are being depleted like eight balls in front of Charlie Sheen. They peer into a magnification of the desert sun through the bottom of Old English bottles in a unrelenting search for another drop of memory loss and bereavement. They do this as Jesse Wiedel paints, alone, in the sanctuary of his studio.
Wiedel lives in Eureka, California. He’s influenced by many contemporary artists as well as past masters such as Ottis Dix, but nothing quite moves him like Jehovah’s Witness pamphlets and the antics of Eureka locals.
“The other day, in old town Eureka, I stumbled upon these two tweakers fighting.” Recalls Wiedel. “It went on for a while. They were just in the street flailing about. I mean, it was kinda funny.”
One reason Wiedel loves painting is that it allots him time to listen to music. “Right now I’ve really been into doomy sludgy stuff like Earth, Boris, and Electric Wizard. However, I always return to old country like Porter Wagoner and Merle Haggard.
Music has always been a part of Weidel’s life. During his teens and art school days he played in several punk bands. “Playing in bands was a lot of fun.” He says. “You get to go to all these crummy bars and watch drunk people. It kind of rubs off on you.” In 1997, due to the demands of employment, as well as being a husband and a father, Wiedel chose to quit playing shows and spend what little free time he had on his art. After nearly fifteen years, however, he’s recently started playing music again. His band is called The Tweeners.
“I’m really enjoying the experience. It’s fun to collaborate. Making art is kind of isolated. No one sees the process, or the end result for that matter, unless you put it online or hang it in a gallery. When you’re in art school you get used to having someone constantly looking over your shoulder. But when working alone most artists don’t want people to see their work before it’s complete.”
Despite his resurgence into the music scene Wiedel still finds his most creative moments while music is a backdrop to his painting. “I grew up in Redding, California, and have always had a fascination with the desert. Around here (pointing out the window of his Nor Cal abode) there are too many trees. It’s so enclosed.”
Wiedel pauses for a moment, as if he’s trying to wrestle with the fact that the redwoods are supposed to be inspiring. He then turns and looks at his painting “Viking Fjords.” Changing the subject, “This painting was inspired by my friend Reese.” chuckles Wiedel. “He had this bottle of vodka called ‘Fjords,’ It reminded me of this place near Ukiah. So I drove out there and took some pictures. I posed myself in the photos, which I do for a lot of my paintings. I then tried to incorporate vodka, vikings, and of course, some fjords. The woman in the foreground was a regular performer in San Francisco during the 80’s who called herself the Space Lady.”
As he smiled from behind his dark framed glasses, for a moment I almost forgot that we were in his studio. It became clear that no matter what lives outside the studio doors, or what dwells inside the artist’s mind, in his studio — Wiedel’s free. It’s behind these walls where he roams the open plains humming along with Merl Haggard and capturing the eternally restless with each swath of his brush.
Jesse Wiedel is currently exhibiting at Art Queen Gallery in Joshua Tree, California, through May of 2011.
One of Wiedel’s Meth Mouth series can be seen in the last ten seconds of this amazing video by Argentinean Band Babasonicos:
His website can be found at: JesseWiedel.com