Artist Michael Wheelden is a dreamer. He has been dreaming about and drawing houses since he was seven years old, and he has made a lifelong career of his fascination.
An intriguing collection of 16 of Wheelden’s acrylic-on-canvas and wood paintings of houses, themed “Painted Desert,” will be on view until Feb. 25 in the semi-circular solitude of the art gallery at the Pacific Beach/Taylor Branch Library at 4275 Cass St.
Wheelden’s paintings are simple but bold. They feature close-up, straight-on or frontal views of single-story house fronts — most Spanish-style bedecked with Southern California desert plants and materials like cactus, palms, shrubs, rocks, boulders and gravel — all in fitting with Wheelden’s lifelong interest in the residential architecture common to this region’s oldest neighborhoods.
“I have lived here for over 35 years,” he said. “Sense of place is important in my work. I am interested in the meaning of things here and what my relationship to those things is.”
There is a great order, regularity and symmetry in Wheelden’s work, which he said is a reflection of the order and regularity with which he attempts to live his life.
The colors used by Wheelden for this series are muted and understated, using what he calls a “subdued palette.” They are characterized by the toned-down grays, beiges and yellows of arid lands, which are crisscrossed by many falling shadows and reflections as can be observed in the window glass of the dwellings.
Wheelden’s pared-down aesthetic, his “less is more” minimalistic perspective and clean, simple lines illuminate the structure or anatomy of his subject and create a peaceful and tranquil feeling of serenity. They appeal to those of us who like to contemplate houses built in the day when there was still enough space for lawns and gardens.
But perhaps the most unique and original thing about Wheelden’s paintings is the way the frame is incorporated into the artwork itself through the melding of panels of canvas with wood-framing strips, all of which are fitted together in a staggered manner to create a three-dimensional sculpture or architectural puzzle, which rarely takes on the standard rectangular or square shape we normally associate with paintings.
The clear lines and composition of Wheelden’s paintings transcend the ordinary and transport the mundane or ordinary to the level of the inspired.
“I strive to open up a whole new way of looking at and appreciating things,” Wheelden said.
Susan Harrison, who purchased one of Wheelden’s paintings from the show, said that after spending time alone in the gallery, she drove home and “Everything looked different to me. It reminded me of how differently the world looked after putting on my first pair of glasses.”
Some people feel Wheelden’s paintings are a metaphor which reflects on the inhabitants of his houses, the human condition and man’s relationship to his community and to nature — even though there are no people, animals or birds in any of his creations. Wheelden won’t comment on what exactly his paintings might be saying; only that they are a “snare” for the viewer’s attention “to make him think about what the paintings might mean for him personally.”
Mark Lugo, art curator for the San Diego Public Library System who organized the show in the Pacific Beach/Taylor Branch Library gallery — which Lugo calls the “flagship” for all the libraries’ galleries — said, “I am very impressed with the enthusiasm with which people have embraced this show. I see the role of our library art gallery as introducing high quality art to people who normally would not feel comfortable going to an art gallery.”
For more information, call (858) 581-9934, or visit www.pblibraryfriends.org.