For decades, Wes Hempel has been committed to reimagining the depiction of masculinity in contemporary art. By setting psychologically acute portraits of modern-day males against backgrounds appropriated from such disparate sources as Neoclassical history painting and Dutch Golden Age landscapes, the artist’s works forge provocative dialogues between the exigencies of the present and its endowments from the past.
Joining the symbolic incarnations and technical fluency of classical art with the eclectic borrowings of Postmodernism, Hempel’s paintings explore the divide between the ancient and modern, reason and passion, the august and the quotidian. Provoking a reconsideration of assumed narratives of masculinity and myth, sociocultural examinations are rendered in sensuously modeled flesh tones, gleaming marble surfaces, and the immersive calm of Arcadian landscape – proving as visually alluring as they are conceptually rigorous.
Hempel was born in El Monte, California, and received his BA in 1985 from California State University in Northridge. He then studied at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he received his MA in 1988. He has shown his work in both solo and group exhibitions across the country since 1987. Public and corporate collections, such as the Denver Art Museum and Microsoft Corporation, also contain his work. The artist’s painting Loophole is noted as the visual and conceptual nucleus of “Truth & Beauty: The Bach Project,” a 2010 ballet created by Ballet Austin artistic director Stephen Mills and featuring the music of J.S. Bach and Phillip Glass.
Since the mid-1990s, Hempel has frequently collaborated on paintings with Jack Balas, an artist who works in both painting and photography.