In the Artist’s Studio: Wolfgang Bloch
THE ART ALCHEMIST
“Your work is something you must get up and do every morning, so you better love it.” Local artist Wolfgang Bloch feels fortunate to have been raised by parents who lived by this rule and encouraged him to pursue what he loved from the time he was a young boy. A native of Guayaquil, Ecuador, Bloch moved to Southern California in ’82 to study marine biology in college. A series of events and a passion for playing with various art mediums ultimately led him to his truest calling as a painter.
Bloch’s subtle yet dramatic depictions of the ocean — richly layered to create something between representational and abstract — have been featured in magazines, galleries and museums around the world. His own book, “Wolfgang Bloch: The Colors of Coincidence” (Chronicle Books), holds a comprehensive collection of his work. Here, the artist takes a break in his West Bluff studio — he is preparing for the upcoming Wheels and Waves event in Biarritz, France, where as the featured surf artist he’ll exhibit 15 paintings — to give us a peek into his creative process.
Art history: I always loved to draw and paint, and was fascinated by mixing paints, even as a kid. My portraits would be of whatever was in front of me — my stuffed animals, a dog, my pet chicken.
Sea of dreams: My plan was to become a marine biologist. But I wasn’t very good at math, so my chemistry classes were difficult. I was taking art as an elective and my teacher said, “Hey, you’re pretty good at this.” That encouraged me to pursue a degree in Fine Art.
Degrees of separation: I wasn’t sure what to do with my Fine Art degree, so I decided to get one in Graphic Design. I had no idea what I would do with that either, but thought it would be easier to get a job as a graphic designer than as a painter. When the computer age came about, I began to feel really removed from my work — moving a mouse and staring at a screen, I didn’t feel connected any longer to what I was making. I became a freelance illustrator for sportswear companies, and then Paul [Naude, former president of Billabong] asked me to paint something large for his lobby. The scale of this project required me to leave my one-car garage studio and rent a larger space. Working in this environment motivated me to introduce myself to The Surf Gallery in Laguna Beach, which liked my work. Surfer magazine featured one of my pieces and rest is history.
Material world: I have a dumpster across the street from my studio and am always looking in there for ideas. I’ll find a piece of material that inspires me — wood, paper, metal, pieces of surfboard — and will build around it as I go. I don’t plan or paint from pictures or memory. It’s more of an intuitive and emotional state that guides me. I also like to paint on cardboard, or anything that has texture. Wood is great because you can burn or scrape it.
Untitled no.117, 2007. Oil on wood panel and reclaimed wood. 23 x 48 in.
Untitled no.993, 2014. Oil on fabric and reclaimed wood. 35 x 59 in.
Untitled no.1039, 2015. Oil on canvas and reclaimed wood. 80 x 72 in.
Outside the box: I don’t like colors as they come in the tube. I love to mix them and come up with my own unique colors that work with the material I am painting on. A painting is all about the colors and how they work together and with the “canvas.”
Untitled no.160, 2003. Oil on canvas. 72 x 84 in.
Untitled no.184, 2004. Mixed media. 10 x 16 in.
Iconic inspiration: Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Diebenkorn, Paul Klee — so many. I love artists who find ways to combine various mediums you’d never think of mixing. How they apply texture and go beyond what is expected or what we think of as “art.”
Art and soul: Art is a constant exploration, with each collection slowly evolving. If you put one of my pieces from 10 years ago next to one from today, you’d see the subject matter is similar, but the technique — colors, strokes — are different. As you grow up as a person, your work grows up with you. I’ve touched every single part (phase) of each piece; my work is who I am.
Nature’s imprint: Growing up in Ecuador influenced my artistic style a lot. I traveled a lot through South America, always wanting to go out in the jungle or up in the mountains or to a new surf spot along the coastline. From the time I was 5, I would often travel by car with my dad who was a salesman — his “co-pilot,” he would call me. Looking out the window all of those years stuck with me — the colors and smells and textures of the land.
Step into liquid: Surfing is especially a big influence on my paintings. When I was little, I would go to the beach and go camping with my parents. We didn’t have Boogie boards back then, so I would ride the driftwood and balsa wood I’d find floating in the water. I tried surfing when I was 12, and I was hooked. There’s something cleansing about going into the water — it’s like it washes everything away and I come back and I have a smile on my face.
Broceanography: At home, I like to surf at whichever beach is the least crowded, even though it’s not necessarily where the waves are the best. I don’t understand the whole competitiveness and fighting to catch a wave. I surf for a mellow, peaceful experience.
The moody blues: I love the Northern California coast. The ocean feels more alive and I am drawn to the moody colors. The North Shore of Kauai is one of my favorite places. The more wild and undeveloped a beach, the more I like it.
On the horizon: I would like to evolve into sculpture eventually. It’s neat how you can look at a piece from all of these different angles, and it looks completely different depending on where you are standing. I’d be interested to build abstract models with stone, wood and metal. I like mixing the natural with materials that are handmade.
Land over sea: Wheels and Waves is a group of bikers who are also surfers. This show they started five years ago has evolved into a major event with live music, art and a motorcycle show. They’ve invited me to be their featured surf artist this year; I will bring an historical evolution of my work, from late to current.
About town: I live a simple life. When I am not surfing or painting or spending time with my kids, I go for bike rides around town or to museums or for a hike in Crystal Cove State Park. I’ll often go in the late afternoon, just before the sun goes down, and will walk back in the dark. It’s so nice to have this great open space right here in my [backyard]. I love that everything is so accessible in Newport.
Visit wolfgangbloch.com to view more of Wolfgang Bloch’s work.