Interpreting life

Art Werger’s masterful works at DVAC

Photo: Art Weger’s “Tidal Shift”, 2016, displayed as six individual images at DVAC, is stiched together here to illustrate its impact.

By Ehron Ostendorf

The Dayton Visual Arts Center (DVAC) put out a call for proposals and Art Werger answered. Ohio University professor and printmaker, Werger, has been making artwork since he was 12. With a sudden family tragedy as a child, art became somewhat of a therapy for Werger and he has been making art ever since. He started communicating with people through his art and says he became very serious about it, he would draw for about four to five hours a day as a child.

“My inspiration comes from observation,” says Werger. “A lot of it comes from my own photography.”

Werger observes everyday life and uses it in his work. Prints of people interacting in life, city landscapes, suburban landscapes, and more. He has a website that showcases much of his work (ArtWerger.com) and has had his work shown physically in multiple locations.

“Most of it has been shown at different venues, but this is the biggest showing I’ve had,” says Art Werger. “The main body I will be showing is a series I started fifteen years ago and it has been growing steadily since then. It’s now up to about 350 pieces. I’m really excited to see them all together for the first time.”

His work has been shown in The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Boston Public Library, the Brooklyn Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Trenton Museum in New Jersey, as well as other places around the world. And now his work has come to visit Dayton.

“The stories I tell are not meant to be exclusive to my experience,” says Werger. “It’s meant to be a shared experience. It’s about interactions and charged scenes. I work a lot in black and white because we are overwhelmed with color, movement, and advertising—everything is constantly trying to grab our attention.”

His artwork has a calming effect due to the black and white approach he employs. With modern media, so much can be jumping out to grab us and it can be exhausting. That’s why Werger’s work is a refreshing step back to just rest still and appreciate calmness.

“Black and white sort of speaks to a truth of reality in our minds still, collectively,” says Werger. “Even though color is everywhere now, and we equate that with historical black and white photography, which gives it more veracity. Not like the media we’re used to today; we’re so cynically aware that it’s manipulating us even if we’re allowing it to.”

Werger showcases intaglio prints as well as a 400-print installation. His etchings and mezzotints are drawn on copper and says that they’re unlike traditional drawings or paintings.

“Below the Surface is a breathtaking show,” says Eva Buttacavoli, DVAC Executive Director. “Printmaking is a true labor of love and this exhibition showcases Werger’s incredible commitment to his craft. The images are large, intense, and absolutely stunning.”

Print media is how Werger works and although they’re etchings and prints, they’re completely original in nature. These are not reproductions of anything else; some have been inspired by his New Jersey childhood. And since his childhood, etching has made a revival. Werger says he decided to make one a day, which was an unheard of pace when he started over 30 years ago.

“At this point, I’m claiming—and I think it’s accurate—that I’m the most prolific artist working in the medium of mezzotints, which may be the slowest medium,” says Werger. “It’s sort of an oxymoron of being prolific in the world’s slowest medium.”

Prints can take anywhere from a day to a year to make depending on what piece you’re working on.

“What I love is that people read into the work the way they want,” says Werger. “I try to use the images as triggers to connect; I don’t have specific things in mind like, ‘Well, this is what you need to take away from this.’”

Werger says that it’s about starting a dialogue with people and opening up room for a conversation about the piece: What you took from it, what it made you think, and what it made you feel.

“I really enjoy people’s life experience when they tell me they experienced something important in this and had reflection from it.”

He started a long-standing narrative of hundreds of tiny, framed images that are presented while the other work is panoramic—scenes of the beach and swimming. He says that it’s not as loaded with content, but it’s subtle, that’s a more recent series that started a few years ago. He bounces back and forth so he doesn’t get too bored with just one area.

“It helps me to switch from one intense thing to another,” says Werger. “I couldn’t just sustain one body of work, endlessly. I need to switch gears.”

Most creatives would have to agree with him. The tragedy of being proficient in a particular field is that it could become boring. Luckily, for Art Werger, he’s proficient with multiple mediums.

You can see his work at DVAC. The exhibition begins Oct. 6, 2017 and runs through Nov. 4, 2017.

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Ehron Ostendorf
Reach DCP freelance writer Ehron Ostendorf at EhronOstendorf@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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