Many people collect antiques, but this week’s Dan’s Papers cover artist, John Whalley, also uses old objects for his still lifes. He’s been buying antiques at flea markets since he graduated from art school in 1976. A visit to his studio in Maine proves the point. Shelves hold thousands of items that will no doubt find their way into an artwork. Yet Whalley has another profession that’s close to his heart as well. He is helping to establish an orphanage in Brazil where he taught art. Such diverse projects have made his personal and professional journey indeed unique.
Do you mainly do still lifes, like the one on the cover of an antique tea can, and what draws you to them?
My artworks are mainly still lifes. I like the idea of old objects and their patina. I also like placing these objects with other objects in a piece. I use egg tempura as well, and that adds color and texture.
Any other formal quality that you have a penchant for?
Yes. I like to play with light.
You went to the Rhode Island School of Art and Design. How did that experience influence you in your art?
There was a nature laboratory there that I was drawn to. It was like a museum of natural history, too. There was also a teacher, Edna Lawrence, who was in her 80s, who taught me to draw. A professor from Yale also taught me about the medium of egg tempura.
After college, how did your art career proceed?
I got into illustration and drawing for book companies in Boston.
You said you loved old books and plan on doing some still lifes, placing objects on books. Maybe your past experience played a part in this.
Yes. We also had old books around the house when I was growing up. Books have stories, and objects have a story, too.
How about your experiences in Brazil?
I lived there for many years (also in El Salvador and Columbia). I helped establish an orphanage through someone I met in art school. A year and a half ago, we went back to Brazil, and we made a film, which is on YouTube, about our experience. A man from India also commissioned me to do a large mural recalling De Vinci’s “The Last Supper” when I was in Brazil several years ago. The kids at the orphanage re-created the scene for the painting. It’s now at the Museum of Biblical Art in Dallas, Texas.
What’s your future like?
I may go to Provence, France next year. We are also going to Brazil again this year, and I am taking a film camera with me. I never dreamed I would be involved with helping poor children in Brazil.
Look for Whalley’s work on his website, johnwhalley.com