Fruit Of The Viner.
Does a picture really paint a thousand words? Does it speak in volumes the same way a string of letters looped together can? If only a handful of modern artists are capable, Jonathan Weiner AKA Viner, is most certainly one of them.
Contrary to most of his fellow painters, Viner sites his early childhood as being ‘fairly normal’. His apprehensive move into adolescence brought with it the usual feelings of awkwardness and displacement. ‘I wanted to be a kid forever, but my body had other plans,’ he regrets. He attended high school in northern Washington DC where he unsurprisingly failed to fit in. While other students headed to sport practice or the ‘mall’ after school, Viner rushed home to TV, his collection of classical, blues and metal music and his drawings. ‘At first I drew cartoons, then I moved on to drawing monsters and weird battle scenes, which led to an interest in surrealism and an obsession with the Baroque masters, especially Rembrandt and Carravaggio.’
‘I wanted to be a kid forever, but my body had other plans,’ regrets Viner.
Perhaps as hesitantly as he had moved into adolescence, Viner moved to college. ‘I was terrified of moving … of change in general,’ he admits. ‘Going to RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) was a major turning point for me.’ Viner’s Transit Series, which focuses on transition as well as transit, gives careful insight into his feelings toward dramatic change and the idea of ‘being caught exposed between two points.’
The concept of conflict and human struggle has always been an intimate reality for Viner. His grandparents survived the Holocaust; his father was a draft dodger during the Vietnam War and he, a New Yorker with bitter memories of that infamous day in September. “I awoke on 9/11 to see a giant pillar of smoke dwarfing NYC,” he remembers. “I was still in bed, in my underwear, wondering if that burning smell was an airborne killing agent.’
“I awoke on 9/11 to see a giant pillar of smoke dwarfing NYC,” he remembers. “I was still in bed, in my underwear, wondering if that burning smell was an airborne killing agent.’
Viner admits that as a Jew and an American issues of conflict seem all the more potent. ‘Maybe I’ve been programmed by violence on TV and in film.’ The truth of it may be much more general than that of religion or race – in fact, it may be a case of human nature. ‘Whether or not we are conscious of it, we all see and experience conflict every day. That’s life.’
Viner’s understanding of human struggle and our simultaneous affection and affliction toward it makes for paintings that ring true, even if an image seems at first too obscure to dissect. His Resisting a Force Unseen, swings from digestible to indigestible and back again; all the while provoking a sense of closeness and understanding for the man with the outstretched hand. Another of Viner’s insights is dipicted in Knuckles Fights His Inner Demons. The painting captures Knuckles, dukes up, facing a mirror. It is no small feat to realise that we are our own most formidable opponent.
‘The struggle to exist is at the core of all things. It’s not negative or positive. It’s just a fact,’ he remarks bluntly. ‘I try to recognize that and gain insight and inspiration from it.’ This struggle exists on many levels. We war with expectation, responsibility, ego and above all fear. It is fear, and all it’s faces (some friendly and unassuming, others more palpable) that sends humans into a frenzy.
Contrary to what we learn as children, there isn’t always a good and bad – a right and wrong. In fact, the aggressor/victim relationship is almost symbiotic. ‘To me the most fascinating aspect of conflict is the ambiguity of the fight,’ adds Viner.
‘About two years ago I was attacked from by three thugs and mugged while carrying a painting home from the gallery. They took my bag, but not the painting. It was unpleasant to say the least, but I feel strengthened by the experience. It’s around this time that I really began to appreciate the nuances of power. Who is more powerful, the muggers, or the man who has what the muggers want? I created a painting in response to this called The Fluidity of Power. It sold for much, much more than whatever my muggers got from pawning my ipod.’
The images themselves are as striking as the themes they convey. Viner cleverly chooses the viewer’s perspective – most notably in his recent series, The Attacker’s Move. His palate is simultaneously stark and brilliant. Each piece looks painstakingly considered. Viner says this is not always the case, in fact the less he deliberates, the better he draws. ‘I try not to sketch with a specific idea in mind. Eventually, I’ll flip through the drawings and I’ll focus in on the ones that jump at me...then I’ll start on the painting.’
‘I prefer to work in marathon sessions, usually on at least two paintings at once,’ explains Viner. ‘There’s an obsessive, binging quality to working this way, which may not be emotionally or physically healthy, but it’s just how I do it.’ While there may be chaos in the creation of each piece, nothing appears incidental, which makes his work all the more satisfying to the viewer – though not always to Viner himself. ‘I’m often unhappy at the end of a painting, which actually motivates me to quickly start another. Swinging between satisfaction and dissatisfaction is a vital part the creative process.’
‘There’s an obsessive, binging quality to working this way, which may not be emotionally or physically healthy, but it’s just how I do it.’
One project Viner is pleased with is the launch of his book, Tranquil Aftermath. ‘This is my first book, and it has been an incredibly pleasant and enlightening experience for me.’ His recent solo exhibition, The Attacker’s Move marks a new stage in Viner’s evolution as both an individual and artist. His piece, Full Quiver, proves Viner to be a master of light and composition – not just colour and theme.
‘All too often I become emotionally unstable just before and after a show, but I’m getter better at it as time goes on,’ he confesses. Like a mother stooping into depression after her children fly the coop, Viner also feels a little abandoned after a show. ‘Painting consumes me for the weeks before the show, and then my work is suddenly gone.’
But luckily for us, more works are set to spring up in their place. Currently Viner is finishing up works for several group shows in LA. ‘After that I’m going to spend much of 2007 creating new work for a major solo exhibit at Jonathan LeVine Gallery in February of 2008,’ he reveals. There hopes for a second book somewhere in the near future too. Also, look out for Henry Joost’s short documentary on Viner and his exhibition, The Attacker’s Move.
When asked if he believes a picture to truly paint a thousand words, Viner wisely answers, ‘I suppose it can be either true or false, depending on the viewer. I’m reminded of a quote from The Waste Books, by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg: “A book is a mirror: if an ape looks in it, an apostle is unlikely to look out”. The same can be said for painting.’ To see more Viner visit go our our Viner Gallery or vist his website.