Cover artist Wess Foreman is spreading his wings on the northshore. He and his wife, Tammy, moved here in 2000, when he became the youth director of the United Methodist Church ESM in Bogalusa. Wess’ family has a strong connection to the church. His father, a Methodist minister, passed away while Wess was in college. After his death, Wess’ mother became a Methodist minister and now pastors a congregation in Shreveport.
Wess’ family moved around a lot, mostly in North Louisiana. He went to Louisiana Tech in Ruston, where he majored in graphic design and photography. Today, his subjects run the gamut of things in his life, but usually start with a photograph; frequently, taking a picture is the first step in his creative process. He mines his backlog of digital photos for inspiration, or he may see something as he’s traveling and snap it with the thought in mind that it may make a good painting.
After leaving Tech and getting married, Wess explored a variety of creative outlets. He still makes time to keep up with them—photography, music, writing fiction, blogging and seriously dabbling with computer technology and website design. For fun, he’ll sometimes switch out operating systems on the computer. “Tammy doesn’t like to hear about it when I do that,” he says.
After all his studies and hobbies and a variety of career choices, his painting took shape, and he realized, “This is what I need to do.” Wess has tried different media, and really liked working in oils. But their long drying time proved impractical for him and he works in acrylics now.
The painting on this issue’s cover is titled “30 Minute Commute.” It is a product of Wess’ exploration into different styles. “It’s based on one of my photos,” Wess says. Going through his old photos on his computer, he saw one that sparked the painter side of his creativity. “It was some random street scene. I was going through an abstract phase, and started to outline things in bold colors.” The piece uses bold squares and straight lines to define the cityscape. Two curved lines in the foreground that suggest hanging power lines add perspective to the piece.
“Toddler Playing,” (at left), features Wess and Tammy’s young son, Mason. “Most of my paintings come about pretty quickly; with that one I didn’t have to do a lot of detail work.” It’s another painting that started life as a photograph that was buried in his backlog of pictures. “I was going through them all one day and said, ‘Wow, that’s a great photo.’” He not only thought it would make a great painting—he also had the photo itself framed.
The eldest of five brothers, each of whom is creative in his own way, Wess believes his creative side comes from his mother. “She taught art and painted watercolors.” Wess keeps his artistic muscles flexed in a number of ways.
With brother Matt, a talented guitarist, he collaborates on writing songs; Wess also plays guitar and writes lyrics. He defers to Matt’s guitar playing abilities when it comes to deciding on the final tune, though.
Recently, Wess has found his music and lyrical creativity spilling over into his painting. Inspired by one of the songs he and Matt wrote, Wess began an abstract painting called “Something Unsure.” He says, “It was a bit of an abstract song in its own right. I wrote the lyrics with a china marker. Then, not happy with the look of the lyrics, I painted over most of them, leaving legible only the words ‘something unsure.’ Thus the name of the piece.”
Trying an idea that’s been done by other artists and photographers, Wess challenged himself online to a “painting-a-day” exercise. He explained the challenge on his blog. “I will attempt to post a new painting every weekday (and possibly on the weekends—we’ll see) for most of February.” The small paintings (4 by 6 inches) were on Masonite panels. Paint tubes, scissors, calligraphy pens, puppies, cats, dragonflies, fruit and son Mason were among the subjects. He even asked readers to send in photos for him to paint. Of course, the painting presented on February 14 was a valentine for his wife: a heart-shaped locket on a field of red cloth. He’s sold some of these small paintings online for $35 each. He’s planning another painting-a-day challenge for some time this winter—stay tuned to wessforeman.com.
Wess has completely adopted the internet as an outlet for his artistic urges. Besides the painting-a-day exercise, he also writes a post about and puts a photo up of each of his new paintings, posts he may categorize as “fresh off the easel.” He’ll say whether the work is available for sale and give his asking price for the piece.
His site is not just an online catalog; it is a place where he can share his philosophy and painting techniques. He’s presenting a series of lessons, “Painting 101.” The latest installment, Part 3, is titled “Diving In.” “I started it to let people know about my process,” he says.
Two areas of the art world have recently opened up for Wess. He’s been commissioned several times for portraiture work. His first portraits were of pets; he’s expanded to humans and does a great job with children. He has also ventured into commercial art. A Bogalusa businessman hired Wess to paint a mural in his office depicting a woodland creek scene from his childhood. Wess has also done some decorative wall paintings in private homes. Taking part in the community, he donates paintings and certificates for portrait commissions to charity, including the Kids Wanna Help Lemonade Brigade.
Visiting his mother in Hammond after Wess moved to the northshore led to his discovering the shops in Ponchatoula. It was a good find for the young artist. There he found and soon became a member of Louisiana Furniture and Art Gallery. Carol Siekkinen, who, along with husband (and executive director) Jack, runs the gallery, is happy to have Wess’ work hanging there. Wess is in good company. The non-profit gallery is home to more than 30 Louisiana artists and artisans, including IN cover artist Bill Hemmerling—who has two of Wess’ pieces hanging in his own home.
Wess’ influences include gallery-mate Hemmerling and Stuart Davis, an early American adopter of cubism, whose impact is notable in the cover painting. Another artist Wess admires is Dennis Campay, also an IN cover artist. While he is still exploring his work stylistically, one thing running through all of Wess’ art is an abundance of color. Carol Siekkinen says, “I don’t know what you would call it. Wess really has a style all his own. I think that’s why he’s doing well.” An apt description can be found in the title to a book he’s self-published, “Leaning Toward Abstract, paintings by Wess Foreman.”
If he seems hard to pin down stylistically, it’s because he’s not finished exploring. “I gravitate towards different styles. It’s basically about me fooling around on canvas until I get something cool. The first draft is rarely the finished product.”
Wess Foreman’s art can be seen at the Louisiana Furniture and Art Gallery, 495 S.W. Railroad Ave., Ponchatoula, 985-386-0471. For Wess’ full online gallery (and links to his creative writing) go to wessforeman.com.Filed under: Arts