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Wilbur Niewald: Painting What He Sees

Artist Wilbur Niewald, professor emeritus of painting at the Kansas City Art Institute, draws and paints from direct observation – what he sees around him.

About half of the year, you'll find Niewald standing in front of a canvas outdoors, painting a stand of trees in Loose Park, or the freeway circling around buildings in the West Bottoms. Or, he'll be inside a studio, painting a cluster of apples and a pitcher, or his wife of more than 60 years and patient model, Gerry.

"I don't consider myself a portrait painter, or a landscape painter, or a still life painter," says Niewald. "All of it to me is one."

Niewald's studio at the Livestock Exchange Building in the West Bottoms is filled with canvases from early abstract works from the 1950s to works - a still life and a self portrait - still in progress.

In the early 1970s, Niewald began to move from abstraction to realism; he began to work directly.

"We came home (from Mexico)...I asked myself, 'Why am I painting indirectly? Why don't I just look out the window and paint what I see?' And it was one of the most liberating, freeing experiences of my life," says Niewald. "It opened up a whole new world." He says from that moment on he painted directly from nature: "nature as all that we see."

  • The exhibition Wilbur Niewald: The Studio Portrait - featuring 14 portraits, dating from 1971 to 2011 - runs through June 17, 2012 at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, 4420 Warwick Blvd., Kansas City, Mo.
  • A conversation with artist Wilbur Niewald and Chief Curator Barbara O'Brien takes place Friday, January 20, Kemper Museum, 6 pm.
  • A 1961 watercolor by Niewald is also included in Abstract - Kansas City, a group exhibition spanning 50 years of abstraction through April 1, 2012 at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, JCCC, 12345 College Blvd., Overland Park, Kan.
Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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