Still Searching: Gage Wente
Gage Wente is an art powerhouse. After leaving his Iowa roots and transplanting himself to Kansas City, Wente is making his way through the midwestern underground art scene. Wrapping up his latest exhibition "Still Searching" and his coffee table book titled "Pilgrimage" which takes viewers on a hallucinatory journey of dreamscapes, Wente is a train on an endless set of tracks.
Known for his physical and digital work, with a side of spoken word performance, he is now delving into new territory working with new techniques, sizes, and materials. The images featured here are part of his latest body of work which he describes as "4'x4' digital prints on vinyl tarp. The edits on them have a lot lighter touch than my previous work, and the source material is largely drawn from construction materials and architecture."
He has just released his new website which houses a compilation of his work in the past couple of years. I got the chance to have a conversation with him about his recent work, the process, inspiration, and his fears.
Check out the new website to see more of his work at www.GageWente.com
Describe your typical process for a physical piece?
I haven’t been working as much in the two-dimensional physical medium lately, but when I do it usually starts with a sketch on canvas, which I then take into Photoshop to edit and mock up colors. That’s probably the most unique part of my process – after that it’s just lots of tape, paint and spraypaint, mixers and pretty much whatever else looks appealing laying around my studio.
Well, most of my digital work has some element of photo-editing, so I have to start there. I keep a library of Creative Commons stuff I’ve collected, besides images given to me by Shamis McGillin, Tori Wheeler and ones that I personally take. In a way, just looking at that catalogue would give you a pretty strong sense of the concepts I’m working with at any given time. Once I’ve found a handful of visual ideas that match my concept, it goes like a combination of collage and painting. The editing process allows for a sort of expressionist or painterly approach while the ability to freely manipulate my composition at any time contributes design and aesthetic properties. I try to take advantage of both of those strengths, but often experiment with how large of a role either plays in the piece. The final piece is almost always the text, which is something I keep loosely in mind while creating the piece but don’t usually attempt to give form to until everything else is finished.
*What are your fears?
It’s easy to get apprehensive about how people will receive my work, just because Digital is such an unexplored genre, especially in the way I’m approaching it. Right now most of the stuff out there visually and conceptually focuses on the fact that it’s digital, sort of reflects the form. Whereas I’m trying to approach digital as more of a tool, and while I definitely keep mode in mind while working and considering the way I approach the concepts I’d like to deal with, I try to place it in somewhat of an art-historical context as a balance. It’s all about communication, and you’re already kind of jarring the viewer’s frame of reference by working in emerging genre. I think taking too many steps in too many new directions can get in the way of what you’re actually trying to communicate if you’re not delicate.
Is your art finite or ever-evolving?
I think it’s evolving. I’m a bit slow to explore form, but that’s an area I’m investing more time and interest in lately – the series featured here is actually my first run on vinyl tarp, which I’m really excited to explore the possibilities of. I’ve got so many ideas in mind – the test run process is killing me!
Do you ever go back to alter a piece or is it completely finished once you hit save or put the supplies away?
I don’t often go back to a piece, but part of that is due to a difference in process from most traditional practice. I have to be sure that a piece is finished when I send it to print, which I try to do within a few weeks of completing the piece, because otherwise I have to do a whole new run. And usually I’ve toiled over everything long enough before I put the text on, so I try to refrain by overworking anything by just putting it in my print folder and leaving it alone.
In the past year you’ve really developed a recognizable aesthetic. Do you find this limiting or liberating? Does your fashion reflect your work?
To a degree! Definitely the color palette. And I wear a lot of patterned vintage button-ups, floral stuff, with a few pared-down necklaces, all elements you see reflected in my work. And it’s all pretty bold in a kind of way where you can tell that it’s for me, you know, very individually stylized. In elementary school I was the first kid to dye his hair and I remember my mom warning me that I might get made fun of but I just didn’t care at all, so I guess I’ve always sort of been that way. I get a lot of rock-star impressions, which is pretty cool and funny – I think it’s the hair.
I know you’ve recently been reading up on pop artists with successful careers in the recent past like Keith Haring and Andy Warhol, what have you taken from their careers if anything at all?
These guys worked hard. I mean, they were just insanely productive. Andy had something to sell and nothing got in the way of that, and Keith was painting murals and working with kids all over the world while coping with AIDS. These guys had so much passion for what they did and were very extroverted about it, which is something I try to mirror. Digital definitely allows for that sort of devotion by allowing for one-sitting pieces, so that works really well.
Where do you want to take your art, or rather where do you hope your art can take you to?
It’s really all about effective communication for me, in learning, teaching, promoting the expansion of modes of thought, so wherever that goal takes me. I think there’s some exploration to be done, some transformation, some analysis, so it could really go any number of ways for me personally and I’m trying to stay open to whatever comes naturally. Barbara Kruger’s recent Belief+Doubt show is a great step in that direction – she really said a lot about how we interact with information in the age of the smart phone and social media, besides all of her relevant comments on consumerism and modern thought. The specificity of that exhibition in comparison to its power really illuminates how much is still to be said, though, which is exciting.
If you could pick any on superpower to have for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
I’ve thought about this a bunch, so this was super easy: control over time. No one thinks you’re a cheater if you pick it, but you can pretty much do everything any other super power can do! I mean, you control an entire dimension.