Portland Artist Eric Wert – a scientific illustrator and still life painter

Eric Wert lives and works in Portland, Oregon. His background as a scientific illustrator is apparent in his incredible attention to detail. But the difference between sheer illustration and fine art is inspiration. Merely to depict something in great detail certainly takes skill but to transcend technical virtuosity one needs to have something to say or to be inspired. Take, for instance, a commissioned still life that included the elements for making traditional guacamole. Wert thought about the fieriness of Southwestern cuisine and conveying that visually. He asked the collector if he’d ever eaten something so spicy that he became delirious? The collector responded enthusiastically and Wert knew they were both on the same page. Wert isn’t just a master with the tools of his trade, he’s also a storyteller with something to say.

Bridgeliner: Contemporary art is a big umbrella that covers different types of art that deserve their own classification. What type of art do you make – how would you classify it?

Eric Wert: I mostly make still life paintings. Thank you for your interest in my work.

Bridgeliner: Talk about the importance of making mistakes in art – how some have horrified you and others have been a blessing.

Eric Wert: I’ve made lots of frustrating, painful, and expensive mistakes, thanks for asking. Mistakes and failures, large and small, are inevitable. Can’t think of any I would call a “blessing”, but learning to accept them and move forward with what you’ve learned is an important part of life, no doubt.

Bridgeliner: You go into such detail in your paintings. How long does it normally take you to complete one?

Eric Wert: Wish I had a cool surprising answer, but the paintings take as long as it looks like they take. Maybe a little longer. I’m working on a 6′ tall painting now which took several months to collect sources and design, and when finished will have taken around 6 months to paint.

Bridgeliner: What’s your favorite color to use and why? And is there a color you’d never use (and why)?

Eric Wert: This seems like a softball, but it’s all I can do to resist going into full professor mode. Color is such a complex phenomenon that occurs at the meeting of biology, psychology, physics and chemistry, not to mention art history. Please don’t get me started, I will bore you to tears…  blue, I like to use blue.

Bridgeliner: What themes do you pursue?

Eric Wert: In my mind my paintings are meditations on the fleeting nature of life, love, wealth, perception and understanding. In reality they may just be complicated paintings of flowers and vegetables. I can live with that.

Bridgeliner: What research do you do?

Eric Wert: My paintings are not of real spaces, but are like collages, painted from many different sources. The backgrounds and vases in the paintings are usually sourced from museum collections around the world, or from the homes of collectors who commission work. The flowers and vegetables come from a variety of gardens and markets in the area, or if possible I grow them myself. It can sometimes take years to find the right composition for a particular subject.

Bridgeliner: How has your art changed over time?

Eric Wert: I really hope it’s gotten better.

Bridgeliner: What is your dream project?

Eric Wert: I’ve had some large paintings in mind for some time, that I think of as lottery paintings… like maybe I could get to them after winning the lottery. They take so long that it’s hard to do them unless they are commissioned in advance. You need a lot of money saved up to survive long enough just to make the painting, before it’s ever even offered for sale.

Bridgeliner: What role does the artist have in society?

Eric Wert: I sit in a room and stare at the wall all day. Not much to offer on the topic of society.

Bridgeliner: What do you tell people when they say they don’t have a creative bone in their body?

Eric Wert: There’s the popular myth of the creative person pulling ideas out of the ether, and executing them with effortless inborn talent. In reality, every artist I know is involved in a constant grinding process of working, evaluating, and trying again. In my experience creativity is a glacially slow evolution and not some sudden euphoric release like you might see in the movies. Like any other skill, you decide you want it enough to put forth the effort required.

Bridgeliner: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given about your art? And the best piece of advice you would give?

Eric Wert: A professor whose work I admire, told me that no one can really teach you how to be an artist, you have to figure it out for yourself. Seems obvious now, but at the time it helped me take responsibility for the quality of my work, rather than waiting to find the right mentor to bestow some crucial wisdom. You can learn some technical basics from a classroom, or online, but it’s really up to you in the studio to decide what you want to do and how to do it.

Bridgeliner: How did you get into your first gallery? What was the experience like?

Eric Wert: A million years ago a gallery contacted me and some other artists because of our work in the Undergrad thesis show at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. We all had small solo shows in this lovely neighborhood gallery in Wicker Park, and I had some sales and got a good review and the cover of a regional art magazine. A great first experience, but a bit misleading, because nothing was ever that easy again.

Bridgeliner: Let’s talk about Portland. What has Portland meant to your art?

Eric Wert: What I love about Portland is how easy it is to leave the city. Not much of a drive from downtown, and you’re in the country. I grew up in rural forested Yamhill County and still spend time out there wandering around in the woods. I imagine that the lush complexity of the forest had an influence on my aesthetic.

The dark, grey and wet winters here are almost hypnotic.  It’s so easy to hibernate in the studio and get lost in a big project.

Bridgeliner: How has the Portland art community helped you?

Eric Wert: Years ago, I was an art teacher and my wife ran an art magazine, so we were more engaged in the art scene then. In recent years I’ve been basically entombed in my studio in Southeast, so it would be a stretch to call me part of any “community”.

Bridgeliner: What Portland artist do you admire?

Eric Wert: Lots of good artists live in Portland. Samantha Wall, AJ Fosik, Kate MacDowell, Mark Ryden and Marie Watt come to mind.

Bridgeliner: Who are the artists (from anywhere/anytime) that have inspired you the most?

Eric Wert: There are really too many to mention, but I wear my love of Dutch Golden Age painting on my sleeve.

Bridgeliner: You’re stuck on a deserted island. You can only grab one tool out of your art box. What was it? Why?

Eric Wert: On an island, with no bills or deadlines? I’d like to maybe just get some rest. I don’t have any surprising tools in the studio, mostly a few small cheap brushes.

Bridgeliner: What’s your favorite restaurant in Portland and why? What do you order?

Eric Wert: Pho Hung on Powell is where my wife and I get dinner if one of us has had a tough day. A great bowl of noodle soup can set a lot of things right.

Bridgeliner: Want to share a little more Portland faves with us? Favorite bar? Favorite brewery? Favorite shop? Favorite anything?

Eric Wert: My friends run a lovely shop on SE Division called Little Otsu, which sells beautiful cards and gifts carefully curated from all around the world.

Not many know that a giant in the jigsaw puzzle biz, Pomegranate is located in Portland. They have an amazing inventory of products based on artwork licensed from museum collections around the world.

I love the Bagdad theater on Hawthorne, and have lots of great memories over the years, of going there with my wife and son to get a burger and watch terrible movies.

When running errands I’ll go out of my way to get a hot dog at Franks-A-Lot on Burnside in the Whole foods parking lot.

Bridgeliner: Is there anything we’ve not asked you that you wish we had? (If so, don’t forget to add the answer!)

Eric Wert: Thanks again for your interest! My artwork is represented by Gallery Henoch in NYC and William Baczek Fine Arts in Northampton, Massachusetts. See more of my work on Instagram @werteric333.  Limited edition prints of my paintings are available at my website www.werteric.com.

By Bridgeliner Creative Studio
The Bridgeliner Creative Studio helps clients big and small engage locals, through campaigns that use creative marketing, storytelling, events, and activations to build community, conversation, and impact.