Saturday, December 6, 2008

George Wentz - A lifetime becoming a child again

By Donna Rae Wisor
Originally published in Metropolitan Beaumont magazine Jul/Aug 2005

Artist George Wentz, Beaumont, 62 once walked 40 miles round trip between San Jose and Palo Alto, CA, to see a Pablo Picasso exhibition. His artist ‘legs’ still carry him quite naturally after a half-century of painting and writing--only now from a wheelchair in South Park in a home his father built.

Among his first patrons were Sol and Merriam Rogers of Beaumont, who collected his work for more than 35 years beginning in the late ‘60’s. The Rogers bequeathed many of those pieces to family, including their daughter Joelle.

“My mother, Miriam, started collecting George’s work years ago and it always appealed to me both in text and in its sensitivity. George is one of the few artists whose work I have held on to. I find his work hopeful and meaningful,” said Joelle Rogers in a telephone conversation from her home in Houston in 2005.

His paintings can now be found in the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, the Sinatra estate, John Denver estate and the Liza Minnelli collection and untold hundreds of homes in Southeast Texas.

The pre-1970 graduating classes at Lamar went through a program with
a decidedly commercial art emphasis. Wentz rejected this.

“I enjoyed and absorbed everything I learned at Lamar. Then I spent a long time unlearning it.” said Wentz.

Wentz was one of three artists in the country accepted in 1979 to Villa Montalvo in Saratoga, CA, now called the Montalvo Arts Center, and was once the home of Senator James D. Phelan whose legendary hospitality made Villa Montalvo a magnet for the artists, writers and actors of his time, including Jack London, Ethel Barrymore, Mary
Pickford, Douglass Fairbanks, and Edwin Markham.

“I was able to spend a summer in a huge studio, in beautiful surroundings with the peace
and quiet I needed to really paint,” said Wentz.

And really paint he did.

Many recognize his expressionistic flower paintings, gestural lines and exquisite use of European color. His French and Cajun-French roots speak clearly through his European use of color. Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” come to mind. The effect of numerous tubes of acrylic on one canvas creates a ‘plastic’ or sculpture-like quality. His vibrant brush strokes recognize the art of Van Gogh yet maintain a definitive
Wentz thumbprint. He has a diversity of styles, ‘gestural’ painting being the most recent, as seen in Grouch Marx Parade, 2007. He calls himself, “for lack of a better term,” an abstract expressionist. Many would say he is colorful both
in his art and his nature.

"He has one of the sweetest natures I have ever known. I don't remember a time that I have ever seen him with
anything other than a smile on his face,” said Michael Matthews, a dealer and the organizer of the upcoming Wentz benefit on Saturday, Dec. 13 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Insisting that a childlike quality is the key to great art and invention, Wentz says he used to keep a little cloth cap in the glove compartment of his Buick back when he was able to drive.

“I have had that cap since I was a very young child. My Grandfather liked to call it my ‘opossum cap’ because he was always going to teach me how to shoot opossum. I love Beaumont. Life here was like something right out of a Horton Foote play,” he said.

Those whom Wentz loved best were his family and his parents Ray and
Annie Laurie Wentz. He cared for his mother for three months before she
died of cancer in 1991.

“She said I was going to be one of the best writers in the country, but I am a painter first,” he said.

After Annie Laurie died, Wentz took care of his father, Ray Wentz, who
died in 1999 at the age of 94.

“I got to know him so well then. I had to reach deep inside myself through that time,” he said.

Wentz believes he might have inherited an aptitude for the arts from a long line of artists in his family including his cousin from New Orleans; Marce Lacouture who recently released a CD called “La Joie Cadienne” and his cousin Jo Ellen Johnson an artist from Galveston. His late Aunt Mamie Hafler- Graham was well-known in the early days of the Beaumont Community Players. He also inherited diabetes and a psychosis causing him three nervous breakdowns. A victim of a violent attack that occurred in Beaumont several years ago, Wentz says he never quite recovered from that.

“Congestive heart failure and diabetes nearly got the best of me this year. But all of the wonderful friends I have here give me the will to paint, and that is my life,” said Wentz.

Wentz has had several 'brushes' with death. But each time, with an
ecstasy of will, he manages to ward off the grim reaper. These experiences "cancelled everything but truth," he said.

Wentz recovered with a new twist in his brush stroke, reinventing his style and surprising himself. He has recently returned to pen and ink drawings.

These simply constructed drawings reveal the inherent quality in all of his works---joy and playfulness.

Wentz has plans for more reinvention and painting.

“I want to get back to nature. I want to be the kid I was— when I’m 95,” he said.

For more information about the George Wentz Benefit, call the tattered suitcase at 832-4500

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