Uprooted flowers flung aside; tipped or broken vases gleaming over almost-metallic drops of water; tomatoes, watermelons, and blood oranges split open, displaying their dripping innards—Eric Wert (American, b. 1976) drags still life out of the Dutch Golden Age in a veritable flood of hyperreal detail. In his painting Deluge
, 2010, for instance, one can almost feel the jagged edges of ceramic fragments, the raised threads of the embroidered silk, the velvety texture of gladiolus petals. The floral fragrance, too, is almost tangible.
The Arrangement, 2015
Blood Oranges, 2015
“I want the viewer to feel compelled to explore the painting,” Wert says, “and leave with a feeling that even the most common objects that we encounter every day are fascinating and mysterious when observed closely.”
Wert has spent years training his eye to observe the world in this way. He began his career as a scientific illustrator after earning a bachelor of fine arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a master of fine arts degree from Northwestern University. Even with Wert’s education and training, these paintings do not slip into existence with ease. “Usually by the time a painting is started, I’ve been mulling it over for years,” Wert says. After a subject is settled on, he spends months in preparation and planning before a single drop of paint hits the canvas. “The luminosity must be woven into each subject from day one,” he says.
He also consults an expert about the tapestries he includes in the paintings: Marci Rae McDade, Wert’s wife, has an MFA in fiber and material studies from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. A former editor of Surface Design Journal
magazine (publications exploring contemporary textile art), she edits his painting technique as well, ensuring the weaves and threads he paints are historically accurate.
This all takes place in his studio in Portland, Oregon, where one can find an array of vases, dishes, often decaying plant matter, and Wert’s most prized possession: a large wall-mounted easel, complete with a crank to adjust the canvas level. Track lamps keeps the light consistent from predawn to night, so that he can work long hours. The process, the time commitment, is worth every second for the viewer. His expertly shaped fruits, vegetables, and flowers approach realism but go beyond its limitations, opening up a new world where one can get lost among petals and stamens, pulp and seeds, while gazing at tapestries on the horizon.
The Tipping Point, 2005