My Canadian elementary school guidance counselor used to say ad nauseam: "Happiness is like peanut butter and jelly. You can't spread it around without getting some on yourself."
Decades later — and no one dare ask exactly how many — the somewhat corny adage is still imprinted in my memory alongside his heavy, amicable colloquialisms typical of Canucks. Think "eh" and "out and about," plus the many other vernacular clichés associated with the true north, strong and free.
I couldn't help remember him when I spent time getting to know Houston-based, contemporary fine artist Taft McWhorter. No visit to his home in Copper Lakes or his workspace in Winter Street Studios is complete without talking about creative pursuits and "arting" all over yourself. In fact, he prefers it that way.
"When guests come over, whether it's just to visit or to watch me work, I'd like for them to make art — whatever that means for them," McWhorter says. "There are no mistakes, just fun with colors, textures and lines — and good conversation."
With the door open, McWhorter works inside the garage of his two-story, red-brick home in a suburban Northwest Houston cul-de-sac, a peaceful residential area lined with mature trees. In his rugged, makeshift atelier, there's hardly room for vehicles as the space is brimming with clean, in-progress and completed acrylic-on-canvas paintings. Colorful streaks all over the concrete and caked onto the drywall convey the type of activities that regularly take place here.
"We are blending my creative soul with someone else's creative soul who may not be utilizing creativity on a regular basis."
A small refrigerator is filled with water and beer and a stainless garbage container holds cans, cigarettes and cigars . . . Have I stumbled on a pop up neighborhood watering hole?
On a quintessential fall afternoon, many curious passersby looked on to see what's happening, some even stopped in to say hello. Using watercolors, a spray bottle and thin paintbrushes, I entertain myself playing with how hues mingle and spread in free form liquid. Yes, I am easily amused.
Although I was there to observe McWhorter's creative process, the experience was akin to what dudes would otherwise do while watching football over wings, guacamole and a six pack (not that I would know). Except with art supplies, I'm thinking.
Double Entendre is McWhorter's latest series of paintings. Otherwise a literary device that layers irony or humor atop of unembellished, straight-forward syntax, this artist's Double Entendres begin by implying that there are diverse forces at work in his visual realm. Yet beyond the surface, Double Entendre is a collaborative aesthetic approach that draws its tenor from significant text — the lyrics of a song, religious hymns, a personal letter, poetry or literary prose — provided by the art collector, and encourages his clients to delve into artistic creativity in ways they usually do not.
"We are blending my creative soul with someone else's creative soul who may not be utilizing creativity on a regular basis," he explains of his patrons' reactions. "All of a sudden, the flood gates open for my clients."
The vibrant base of the canvas is achieved with a Jackson Pollock-esque technique; what McWhorter calls "controlled chaos." The colors may be mused by the artist's friendship with his clients, in combination with visual cues from the language itself. But the movement and energy of the painting's foundation is partly left up to chance, albeit he does pay attention to weight, composition and balance.
"It's an homage to all those who've championed me as an artist — and as a person."
With a ruler and pencil, he outlines the flow of the text from line to line. By exploiting negative space with simple contours, many of the letters morph into individual artful vignettes that allow the effervescent background to emerge through.
The Double Entendre surfaces when McWhorter selects certain letters and words to craft his own message within the excerpt.
For realtor Joel Bickley and Dr. Roland Maldonado, McWhorter extracted, "We dream of a world, my friend and me, where we see the world as a rainbow" from the words of Henry Mancini's "Moon River." For collectors Tom and Reggie Nichols, McWhorter's message became, "Feeling your embrace, I smile, I soar. I wouldn't be me without you, as you live in me," from Nat King Cole's "It's Only A Paper Moon." McWhorter will do the same for Diane Caplan with The Four Agreements.
Double Entendre reaches across genres with a collaboration with soulful vocalist Kristine Mills. The lyrics of a new song are the subject of her commission.
The complete collection will anchor McWhorter's first tome, sponsored by Dentiq Dentistry, whose commission of Champions after Queen's "We are the Champions" will be the cover of the art book. It's slated for release in the fall of 2013.
"It's an homage to all those who've championed me as an artist — and as a person," McWhorter says.