The "virtual travel" art by renowned contemporary artist William Wegman -- many inspired by postcards -- featured in a new exhibit at the Westport Arts Center, prompted those at Friday's opening reception to reminisce about the days when a postcard was a popular way to let others know about your travels.
Curated by Helen Klisser-During, the exhibit features more than a dozen paintings on the theme of travel by Wegman, best known for a series of whimsical photographs of his dogs. Wegman initiated that noted photo series in the early 1970s with his first dog, Man Ray, and continued over the decades with other dogs like Fay Ray, her offspring and their offspring. Two examples of those photos, including "Lawn Sculpture," are included in the WAC exhibit.
The travel paintings, spanning a period from 1993 to present, incorporate postcards into landscapes and altered depictions of terrain.
Klisser-During, drawn to Wegman's constant experimentation in diverse media, initially approached the artist's dealer about a show in Westport. "He's essentially a conceptual artist," she said. "I was interested in how he articulates his ideas and the ironies in life. We're all on a journey and we can use a postcard as a springboard. You don't have to go anywhere as these trigger your memory and experience."
Of Wegman's style, During said, "His work is very pithy and philosophical. He paints with such fluidity. With these paintings, it's hard to pull away. You keep looking. Elements are not arbitrarily placed and capture the highs and lows of life. People can easily identify with his work."
Wegman, she said, is "very down to earth. He works in his studio and feeds his dogs at the same time. He's always been a photographer, but is now out of the closet as a painter."
After addressing the crowd and then signing copies of his book, "Hello Nature," Wegman spoke about how the postcard art work developed and the evolution of the paintings.
"I'm not really a collector of postcards -- most have been given to me. In fact, I have too many to organize -- literally suitcases full. I spread them out and rifle through them, looking to develop compositions. At first, bridges and roadways -- extending them and making them surreal -- were an interest. Then I used unattractive cards with geometric shapes, which led to geometric depictions."
Though Wegman's use of postcards in compositions is relatively new, "I had painted on and around photos of my own since the 1970s. The postcard work has evolved since the '90s," he said.
"My recent work is more complete and finite -- almost dioramas. Now I'm starting to challenge myself with just black-and-white imagery and push it to the next level. My background as a photographer and painter merges in this style."
Julie Loporo, president of Westport Animal Shelter Advocates, was among those attending the reception, and said she is a fan of Wegman's famous dog photos, but was equally delighted with his postcard work. "My daughter collected postcards when she was little and, on rainy days, we would pull them out and make up stories about them," she said.
"Wegman's doing the same thing. His work makes me happy, and very nostalgic, particularly as postcards become less universal as a way to stay in touch," she said.
"William Wegman -- The Traveler" runs through March 24 at the Westport Arts Center, 51 Riverside Ave. For information, call 203-226-1806 or check, https://westportartscenter.org