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Arts & Life

Kemper ARTcast: Interview with the Artist Wilbur Niewald

courtesy of the artist
Self Portrait, 2010; oil on canvas, 32 x 23 inches.

Kansas City artist Wilbur Niewald has been associated with the Kansas City Art Institute for 76 years, and claims it has changed, “but not as much as you would imagine…it's always been like an oasis.”  In this Kemper ARTcast, Dr. Jacqueline Chanda, recently inducted President of the Kansas City Art Institute, asks Niewald about the changes in his painting over his career in conjunction with the Wilbur Niewald: The Studio Portrait, now on view at Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.

Though Niewald started painting from observation, he moved into abstraction in graduate school with the influence of a professor. Even though he experimented with abstract forms and reducing his palette, Niewald "could never leave the illusion of space in painting," and based his paintings on reality, whether they were abstract or not. He says, "painting an apple or painting a head are equally difficult. The difference is, that when you paint a portrait, the slightest nuance, little change, you can pick up right away." Decades of struggling with abstraction led him to question, "Why am I working indirectly? Why don't I just look outside, and paint what I see?"

Culled from private collections as well as from the artist's studio, Wilbur Niewald: The Studio Portrait includes 14 portraits spanning more than forty years of the artist's personal history and his studies of the passage of time. The exhibition is on view through June 17 at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, 4420 Warwick, Kansas City, Mo.

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