Since 1998, Bryce Widom has been creating the chalkboard art at Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery, as well as its sister restaurants, Southern Sun and Vine Street Pub. Given the directive to "do something with the seasons," Widom created an artistic vision -- a world of nature, magic, myth and sexuality -- that now plays into the collective image of the restaurants.
Lately, the Boulder-based artists has also been continuing his monumental 1,000 Views of God project (pieces of which are showing at Smith-Klein Art Gallery in Boulder). Widom initially held himself to strict size and medium parameters, but has since broken out from the rigidity of those self-imposed rules. "Adaptation is a healthy part of the process," he explains. Widom took some time to talk about both projects and the link between the two.
Explain a bit about your project, 1,000 Views of God.
One of the big reasons for doing the project was simply to bring more of my spiritual practice into my artwork. Rather than having two practices, fusing them. I really aspired to form a container, because of being inspired so much by the Japanese artist who did the 36 Views of Mount Fuji. I also found a black-and-white 1,000 views of Mount Fuji. I found it online, and it was incredible to me how unique each image was. But, the thread that ties them together is what compelled me to keep looking. So every page I turned I was like, "Where's Mount Fuji in this one?"
So I thought of 1,000 Views of God, even though there wouldn't be a concrete image. Instead there would be a concrete intention. And that's what pulls me back in every single time I'm painting. I'm painting to a larger practice -- the spiritual practice.
In another interview you said that you thought constraints, or containers, are generative -- How does constraint-based art actually create the possibility for more freedom?
It's interesting because if you saw the paintings in the gallery you would have no idea that they were a part of 1,000 Views of God, unless you turn it over it says "View 62 of 1,000 Views of God." But my guess is that the people who are buying paintings through the gallery don't know that the painting is a smaller piece of a large project.
I kind of like that because I didn't want that title to push anyone from experiencing the painting on their own terms. God is not only in this imagery or only in this type of experience. It's something that is wide open. That's something that is exciting to me -- they are purchasing these paintings with no idea that it is part of this project.
Why do you use chalk and oil sticks? In both cases you are using something in which the medium is contained directly in your hand -- both have similar forms. Does your choice effect your art?
Chalk, and artist's pastels, which is actually the primary tool I use on the pub chalkboards, forgoes the extra tool, and puts the color right in my fingertips. So there's an immediacy to it. Also, I only carry a limited number of colors with me -- so again, it goes back to that theme of limiting structures sometimes leads to deeper creativity.
When I paint, I only use a handful of colors, eight, mainly. Again, a limiting structure. But, I then have access to an infinite spectrum of mixes and blends, so the chalks or pastels pull me back into a solid structure or container. And, I've been working with chalks or pastels since my first Mountain Sun chalkboards, back in the late 1990s. I started using oil sticks maybe five or six years ago. And, I started using brushes again just over a year ago. So it's a tool that I know, more intimately than any other. I've faced more challenges, and worked through more challenges, with chalks and pastels than any other tool.
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For sure. What those allow me to do is to step into another aspect of my work that's not as overtly expressed or easy to engage with. Maybe at some point they will fuse more, but those chalkboards are usually more illustrative and graphic and there are usually going to be some beautiful woman or a warrior's image of a man. So it addresses themes of exploring sense of duty, sensuality, erotica, and how that relates to my own experience of sexuality and what I find nourishing and fulfilling in that sense.
I would hate to give up either the 1,000 Views of God or the more graphic or grittier experience that conveys in the chalkboard work. They are both really key for me as an artist, as a person, and as a human being.