Exhibit shows spiritual side of Southwest

By Jason Fierstein

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Rejecting conventional art forms and incorporating more psychological metaphors, artist John Wenger has transcended the boundaries of order and protocol with his Contemporary Southwest Images IX paintings (1991-1994). Wenger, who hails from Salem, Ore., received a bachelor of fine arts degree in painting from the University of Colorado, Boulder in 1970 and a master's degree from the University of Arizona in 1974.

In his latest exhibition, which opened Saturday, Oct. 8, at the Tucson Museum of Art, Wenger was on hand to share his inspirations and the conceptual ideas behind his most recent work.

Wenger's earlier paintings offered more objectivity and structure than his more contemporary pieces, which were also on display at the museum.

The exhibit promotes Wenger's new philosophical convictions through a variety of media. Asked of his inspirations, the artist replied that they are a fusion of psychological motifs with eco-conscious and sociopolitical messages. For example, Wenger's oil piece titled, "Syphon Head" (1993) is an abstract look at the Morenci, Arizona strip mines. Spooky grays, smokestacks and images of industrial exploitation of the environment grasp hold of the viewer.

These nebulous shapes and earthy, natu ral hues capture the viewer in a much different way than do the more contemporary additions to the collection, such as "Navigator Vessel Light" (1994), a compositionally well-planned oil painting that keeps the viewer's eyes and attention flowing in a smooth circular motion from one icon to the next. Rich, royal blues and brilliant yellow intrusions, combined with very surreal images of severed arms and hobby-crafted wooden boats implies a subtle delve into the artist's inner neural processes.

The true masterpiece and focal point of the Wenger exhibit is "Soul and Spirit Totem " (1992). Entwined in a pure forest green background, an angelic body composed of somber yellow floats over a monk-like figure meditating at the base of the painting. This piece left an active buzz with passers-by due to its unfinished qualities, purposefully incorporated to let the audience create its own interpretations of the art's meaning.

Wenger says of the purposefully unfinished qualities of "Soul and Spirit Totem" and his other works, "I want to alert people . the statements (I make in my work) are very cryptic."

Spiritualism and awe-inspiring beauty define the Wenger exhibit and these same qualities left many in attendance deeply and anxiously confounded, due to Wenger's newly adopted artistic forms.

In a recent interview with Joanne Stuhr, the curator of the Tucson Art Museum, Wenger stated that his paintings did not reflect any preconceived artistic formulas. "I believe that when you deal with fluids, you can play with them in static mathematical ways and nothing unpredictable or innovative will happen . What I'm talking about is a method of creating chaos through putting materials together with greater amplitude. You collide materials so a third possibility is offered which you couldn't ever have foreseen . Chaos is opportunity."

John Wenger's collection, titled "Lanterns," will be on exhibit through Dec. 4 at the Tucson Museum of Art downtown.

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