Sunday, July 20, 2003

Painter's beefy work still gets attention

By Chuck Martin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The artist who made a name for himself painting vivid portraits of thick steaks, pink ham and heaping pans of rosy ground beef is hard at work researching his next project - which will also feature meat in the raw.

John Wolfer, an assistant professor of art at the University of Cincinnati-Raymond Walters College, hosted a show at the Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center in Covington Feb. 28-April 4 titled Lean & Tasty! It was the first time meat art earned top billing at the Carnegie.

Curious about meat

"Tons of people came in really curious," says Bill Seitz, Carnegie gallery director, who is not ruling out another meat art show. "And many who came weren't typical gallery patrons. They'd walk in and ask: Where are the meat paintings?"

Although many expressed interest in buying his art, Wolfer sold only two paintings - one of hams and another of "city chicken." Still, the soft spoken 30 year-old says his first public art show since college was a wonderful experience. Except for perhaps a minor confrontation on opening night at the gallery with a man who tried to pin him down on his animal rights' stance.

"He just kept pushing me to take a position," says Wolfer, who is not a vegetarian but doesn't eat meat often. "I wouldn't do it."

Seitz says he received nothing but positive comments during the art show.

Wolfer was first exposed to raw meat while working with his father, Don, at his Delhi butcher shop. He discovered his knack for depicting chops, steaks and sausages two years ago, while painting his father at work in the butcher shop. He took photos of the meat and began painting them. A well-marbled porterhouse steak was his first completed meat still-life.

Influenced by Bruegel

Among his influences, Wolfer counts Rembrandt, Chaim Soutine and California pop artist Wayne Thiebaud, who gained recognition for painting pies, cakes and other food in the 1960s. His next round of paintings will be based on the works of 16th-century Flemish artist Peter Bruegel.

"He did quirky peasants wandering around landscapes carrying birds, like they were returning from a hunt," Wolfer says. "I want to do the same thing, except they'll be carrying meat."

He is researching landscapes in Greater Cincinnati now, and hopes to have completed another body of work within a year.

"In my paintings, I'll be the one wandering around the landscapes," Wolfer says. "And I'll be carrying big cuts of meat, like a side of beef."

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Get to it!