The Lionheart Five: An Interview with Whit Conrad

The Lionheart Gallery
May 24, 2017 6:16PM

Five questions we ask every artist.

Whit Conrad in his studio, Photo Credit: Douglas Clement

1. Name one of your most defining moments as an artist.

WC: My mother was a painter and while I was in law school she called me up shortly before she died and begged me to take a drawing course. “If you learn how to draw, you will be happy for the rest of your life.” I did, and loved it. Working for a large law firm left no time for art, but the idea stayed with me. So many years later I enrolled in art school to learn how to paint, mainly with oils and from perception.

A second defining moment came when I was doing a brief residency at the Vermont Studio Center and realized that oils would not be practical. So I launched into painting with acrylic inks and acrylic paint from imagination and have largely continued down this road. With this medium I find I can work fast and let my imagination dominate.

Painting by Dolores Conrad, Photo Credit: Whit Conrad

Comanche Diptych, Whit Conrad

2. Do you collect anything?

WC: I collect just about anything: art, wine, fishing lures and bobbers, folk art, tastevins, West African masks, antiques, and much more.

I also collect photographs and images from newspapers and magazines, images that strike me as powerful or interesting. These can offer a pictorial idea that triggers an inquiry that can lead me on an adventure with paint and canvas. This image is the starting point, but also the companion, in my artistic journey. But imagination is the driving force so the final result little resembles the original pictorial idea.

Ice fishing lures, Photo Credit: Whit Conrad

3. I you could pick anyone—and we mean anyone—whom would you pick as a mentor?

WC: Picasso, whom I think was the greatest artist of the 20th century. There is a wonderful 1956 film by director Henri-George Clouzot, entitled “The Mystery of Picasso”, which shows Picasso making art. I have watched it many times and it is mesmerizing. It would be thrilling to spend time with him in his studio.

Guernica, Pablo Picasso, 1937, Oil on Canvas, 137" x 305"

4. What is the most indispensable item in your studio?

WC: My club chair, which I picked up at the Salvation Army while in art school. A teacher once told me that the time spent in a chair looking at the progress of a work is just as important as the time physically working on it. I spend a great deal of time in that chair thinking and looking or doing nothing. Sometimes my best ideas come when I am sitting there and I think I am thinking nothing at all.

Lady Luck, Whit Conrad

5. Tell us about one piece of art in this exhibition. You might describe your inspiration, your process, the title, what the work signifies to you…

WC: “All Jazzed Up”, is one my favorite paintings in the show. It is large and alive. I saw a photo of a piano player at jazz club and I started with that familiar scene. From there it took on a life of its own. Lots of hands flying about as the tempo increases. Mysterious personages appear, losing inhibition, seemingly infected by the music. I did no sketch or study for the painting but let the narratives develop on their own. The title of the show, “Playing What’s Not There” is clearly represented here, as the jazz club has become an improvised world.

All Jazzed Up, Whit Conrad

The Lionheart Gallery