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Profile: Hans Wendt

by Jane Ledwell

Hans Wendt

Vegetable sexuality pervades the universe” is a theme that painter (and market gardener) Hans Wendt coyly suggests for his produce and productions. “You have to be coy” to live as an artist on PEI he begins to suggest, but then he isn’t sure that “coy” is the word he means. Maybe fecundly creative?

We talk among his recent watercolour paintings, on view at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery. The paintings feature oddly formed eggplants and tomatoes but also crumpled paper with scribbled lines on it, lumps of manipulated clay, an eery pincushion, a painterly brushstroke. “They are realistic paintings of abstract things,” Hans says. “Gestures realistically painted.”

The work connects, in an odd way, with Spacebaby Productions, multimedia arts-funk-dance events Hans spearheaded. “A lot of my creative output on PEI in the last fifteen years went into Spacebaby Productions,” says Hans. What’s more gestural than a dance party? But, like a realistic painting of an abstraction, creating an aesthetic event where anything can happen still takes minute organization and attention to detail: “They became a pretty big production,” Hans says. “There was a huge learning process, with so many different aspects to organize: stage, costume, music, props, graphic design.”

This production experience remains important in his painting: “The painting I’m doing now is very fine-tuned, very precise: it’s ‘well-produced,’” he says. But good production isn’t solitary for Hans. “It also has to do with the art community thing—so many people worked on those [Spacebaby] shows, and they were so non-material. Often, we worked our butts off for a loss.”

“These paintings are part of an ongoing body of work,” he says, “but this type of work really started when I was in f.Arts,” Friday Artists Round Town Somewhere salon, an arts collective active in Charlottetown eight years ago. “I had to move on from what I was doing, which was some awful process with rubber cement … I had tried psychedelic art and expressive painting, but I was hitting the wall with that—and I also wanted to challenge what people believe about art,” he says. Sharing ideas with other artists helped him find a new direction.

“A lot of people think art is just personal expression, and I’m not into just pure personal expression,” he says. “There’s often an argument that art is pure subjectivity,” he says, but Hans is guided by his art historian/curator brother Pan’s rejoinder: “Okay—so what is pure subjectivity?”

Hans points to a painting of a crumpled then flattened piece of paper with scribbled lines on it: “I’m walking a fine line in terms of how literal it is,” he says, pondering its balance of abstract idea and exacting execution. “If I make enough of an ordeal about it then I hope it’s okay.”

Hans says, “There are still a lot of things that are a little bit arbitrary, in the sense of what to paint. There’s all sorts of anti-composition in this show … I have 20 decent ideas—or maybe 10 good ideas and 10 bad ideas—for every one that I paint. It takes a long time to do a painting, so I have to be sure I’m willing to take 80 hours to paint it.”

Seeing the work on gallery walls is fulfilling: “The innate design of the art is for viewing, so it automatically looks better here, rather than where [these paintings] usually sit in my shop, mixed in with power tools and fluorescent lights and stuff.”

Here in the gallery, Hans notices bright and subtle tonalities that surprise him. “Most of the paintings are kind of stark,” he says. “The colour is often a bit of warm light and a bit of cold light on clay, and that’s kind of monochrome.”

Since he began his current works, Hans says, “I’ve had kids and travelled and had other jobs, but the paintings have been all the same series.” The abstractions and realities of painting and gardening, and of artistic family and community life, will keep Hans Wendt in produce and production for quite a while.

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