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Breaking Bad with Jesse Wiedel

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Jesse Wiedel is twisted, like "Breaking Bad" twisted. His new exhibit of paintings titled, This Magic Moment recently opened at the Art Queen in downtown Joshua Tree. Wiedel's oeuvre celebrates a wonderfully weird naïve assortment of trailer trash, methamphetamine addicts, lot lizards, country music hacks, red necks, outlaw bikers, Vikings, mythical Graboids1 and Russian oligarchs as subject for his colorful but somewhat brutal paintings.

I caught up with Wiedel, a resident of Eureka to talk about his new body of work while he was installing his show at Art Queen.

<em>A Friendly World</em>. Oil on canvas, 2011. Pictured is Art Queen proprietor, Shari Elf.
A Friendly World. Oil on canvas, 2011. Pictured is Art Queen proprietor, Shari Elf.  

Would you describe yourself as the Jesse Pinkman of the artworld?
I may be closer in age range to Walter White, unfortunately, but I'll take that as a compliment.

Explain your symbology?
I try to make paintings that are somewhat fantastical, but also illustrate those very real things that everybody sees in life that are so strange, grotesque, funny, or horrifying that they are almost unbelievable. I use images from biker party photos, religious tracts, comic illustrations, hippy burnouts, psychedelic drug and sci-fi imagery. The idea is to provoke an uneasy feeling that reality is not too far off from this painted fiction.

What's with the fascination with Putin? Russia? Who's Mark? 
Mark is Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad. He and Vladimir Putin both have been photographed shirtless on horseback. They are both macho posturing patriotic individuals in their respective countries. When I put them together shirtless, they looked humble, naked and vulnerable, and it was like there was finally a glowing harmony between the two nations in these paintings. 

<em>Mark and Vlad enter the Forbidden Zone</em>. Oil on wood, 2012.
Mark and Vlad enter the Forbidden Zone. Oil on wood, 2012.

What are your musical inspirations? And who is Conway Twitty? Please elaborate.
I listen to a lot of country music because the content of the songs is so sad, degenerate and pathetic. Especially the country gospel songs, they seem to focus on the dark pitfalls of life in order to scare you into being saved. It is manipulative but also very vivid imagery. One of my favorite lyrics is by Stonewall Jackson in the song "Jesus Took the Outlaw Out of Me:" I once worked for the devil you know I played in his band / I helped promote his heartache with a guitar in my hand / I laid down with his women took his pills and drank his booze /Reached the top of his kingdom then Jesus I found you. You could interpret that song as if the singer had to go through hell to realize his need for Jesus, or that he found Jesus in Hell.

I made the Conway Twitty painting for my local record store friends, who wanted a picture of Conway as God. I exchanged the painting in trade for records. Conway Twitty and Porter Wagoner have the most amazing hair. 

Also, when working in the studio I listen to a lot of heavy doom music, like Earth, Abruptum, Burzum and Sunn O))). That music helps me concentrate on the primal task of smearing goop on the rectangle, and to focus on the darker content of the paintings. 

Do you have really awful nightmares? 
I used to have really bad nightmares about drowning in a tidal wave. I had nightmares about bigfoot as a kid. My third grade teacher had a husband who was a bigfoot tracker.  He came to our classroom one day and told us stories about his bigfoot sightings and gave us all copies of his book. It gave me nightmares for years. There's a town I go to in my dreams that's a lot like the places in my paintings. It's like one of those triangular shaped city blocks, where you would pass by it normally, because it's kind of wedged in to a corner facing away from the main street. But it has a lot of creepy bars and diners and cavernous musty record stores. The places are usually empty except for maybe an old lady. 

What's up with Humboldt and Eureka? 
It's where I live.  It's on the far northwest corner of California. Humboldt County has two identities. One is that of the majestic forests and pristine rocky beaches nestled together with quiet communities of environmentally friendly, crystal-worshipping college educated do-gooders. The other, darker side is that of the crusty edges of the main drag through town, with grey beaten-down strip malls, gas stations and dive bars populated by tweekers, smokers on bikes, amputees and mentally disturbed individuals. This is the identity I choose to focus on in my paintings.

<em>Lords of Myrtletowne</em>. Oil on canvas, 2011.
Lords of Myrtletowne. Oil on canvas, 2011.

Jesse Wiedel runs from May 25th - June 30th, 2012 at Art Queen.

Art Queen Gallery
61855 Highway 62,
Joshua Tree, CA 92252
Open weekends 1 to 6 pm.

1Graboids or Mongolian death worms (olgoi-khorkhoi) are legendary bright red subterranean sandworms up to two to five feet long purported to exist in the Gobi desert. The 1990 cult science fiction film, Tremors with Kevin Bacon and Reba McEntire featured Graboids on 'roids terrorizing its sorry cast lost somewhere in the Nevada desert. Mongolian death worms allegedly kill their unsuspecting victims through electrical shot or from spewing forth toxic acid wash. Or could it be a really bad case of desert meth mouth? I don't know--you decide.

The 1926 On the Trail of Ancient Man authored by American explorer and naturalist, Roy Chapman Andrews was one of the first westerners to share observations of these creatures. His text cites this description by Mongolian Prime Minister Damdinbazar who first described the creatures in 1922: "It is shaped like a sausage about two feet long, has no head nor leg and it is so poisonous that merely to touch it means instant death. It lives in the most desolate parts of the Gobi Desert.

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Top image: Integratron. Oil on canvas, 2010.

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