Burley Wisehart is one bad guy ... with a soft side.
He’s also a character made up by artist Gerald Wells, who has been creating large-scale, mixed-media pieces featuring Burley Wisehart since the 1980s. His work is currently on exhibit at Durango Arts Center.
“I wanted the guy to be mean, but I also wanted him to be gentle because you have to be both. So, Burley is the rough guy, and Wisehart is a nice person,” Wells said, adding that the character is autobiographical. “I am. One hundred percent. I’m the guy. But I use another name to tell the story, just like Sam Clemens used Mark Twain.”
Wells, a professor emeritus of art at Fort Lewis College, began teaching at FLC in 1970, the second instructor hired by Stanton Englehart. He also helped launch the Vail Fine Arts School in Vail.
He’s a pioneer when it comes to using computers to create art, having traveled to Santa Fe to take computer courses when Macs first came on the scene.
He credits his professors at Ole Miss for instilling in him a scientific approach to art.
“Basically, I had one heck of good teachers. And these were mostly from Europe. My teachers were mostly physicists, they were trained as physicists, but they also had an art background,” he said. “When I got up there, I couldn’t believe what they were doing. They were taking a physics approach to teaching art; they went to the core of the thing, to the basics and built up from there. These people were just pretty incredible; in fact, they changed my whole life. When I left, they said, ‘You know’ – now, this is in the early ’60s – they said, ‘One day, there’s going to be a machine that will come and it will change everything. And it will probably come from science, not the arts.”
And computers came at just the right time for Wells, who said that by 1968, creating art was starting to lose some of its thrill.
“I was through my second marriage, everything around looked kind of bleak ... and I said, ‘Hmmm ... I think I should have more fun when I paint, what could I do?’ Art was becoming exercise, and when it’s exercise, you shouldn’t do it anymore, it’s over,” he said.
Using computers in his art kick-started his work, and the rest is history. He incorporates drawing, painting and photography into what he creates digitally, which is evident in the mixed-media pieces currently on display. Wells has also started creating pieces using 3D printing.
And when walking into the DAC and seeing Wells’ work, chances are, you’ll see yourself, he said.
“I want to see them as the subject, you see, because they are the subject. I build things to make people react,” Wells said. “From my background in psychology, I pretty well know what people don’t like, and so I try to make that sometimes. It kind of trips up the mind. When you expect something and you get something else, it’s pretty weird. Paul Simon, the songwriter, said, ‘The secret to songwriting is giving people exactly what they don’t expect exactly when they expect it.’”