Our mid-Summer Artist Interview Blog features one of my boss’, Linda Wehrli’s favorite California Impressionist painters, Karl Dempwolf. We were super excited when he graciously accepted our invitation to be interviewed. But first, a little background on this masterful painter’s accomplishments.
Karl Dempwolf has participated in exhibitions at the Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles, the Frederick R. Weisman Museum at Pepperdine University in Malibu, the Phippen Museum in Prescott AZ, the Carnegie Art Museum in Ventura County, the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana CA. California, and the Pasadena Museum of California Art.
But wait – there’s more! His work can also be found in publications from North Light Books. His paintings grace the permanent collections of large corporations, among them McGraw-Hill Publishers and the National Park Foundation. Did we mention he also published 2 books, titled A Painter’s Journey and Small Plein Air Sketches in Oil?
Talk about being busy! My boss, Linda Wehrli, the founder/instructor of Pastimes for a Lifetime, can relate to that; she is currently writing a series of educational drawing and painting books for her students and followers to purchase. Stay tuned!
And to add to his accomplishments, Dempwolf was contacted by the US Gov. Department of State in the fall of 2014 asking to donate one of his paintings, titled Cypress Veil for President Obama to give to Chancellor Angela Merkel in a special White House ceremony. Although he and his wife, Diane were invited to the ceremony, they were unable to attend due to being on a cruise at the time. The painting was given in a ceremony in February of 2015.
Now, back to our interview. it’s our pleasure to introduce our dear students and readers to artist extraordinaire, Karl Dempwofl!
JLS: What is your style of painting referred to? For our art students, would you please describe what this style means or represents?
KD: My style of painting is referred to as traditional, or impressionistic; it represents a style of painting associated with French Impressionism. Details are not important, but well designed and arranged masses that are found in the composition are of utmost priority.
JLS: Very cool! Much of your paintings feature landscapes and picturesque architecture scenes. What is the story or inspiration behind your choice of subject matter? Do you paint in plein air or study from photographs?
KD: My choice of subject matter is the inspiration I feel, the emotional high when looking at a vista or landscape. I love our two puppies, and our chicken, I love my car, I love my wife and grandkids, but have no wish or desire to paint them.
JLS: Chuckle. Good to know. May I ask, what’s your process?
KD: The architectural items included in most of my work is there to drive the eye, a simple technique to get the viewer to enter with his eyes and explore my work. Plein air is where most of my paintings have their start, but when someone sends me a picture and asks me to design a painting from it I can work from images as well.
JLS: Ah. You can feel the inspiration when you look at your work. Breathtaking. I understand you are a member of the California Art Club. So cool. In fact, my boss saw your breathtaking painting, Timeless Zion in their recent newsletter, which prompted us to reach out! Congratulations on the 111th Annual Gold Medal Exhibition! We also recently interviewed California Art League member, Nita Harper. May we ask how you and the organization became acquainted? What are the pros of joining such a prestigious league?
KD: The California Art Club is one of the largest art organizations in the US, and it is the oldest Club west of the Mississippi. It was founded in 1909 by Edgar Payne and William Wendt, Wendt being its first president, with the headquarters then located in Laguna Beach, California. The club later fell on hard times when many of the artworks donated to it by artists like Guy Rose, William Wendt, Hanson Puthuff, Franz Bischoff and Edgar Payne, were lost after the financial crisis and depression which began in 1929. Peter Adams, who has been president for the past 20 years, decided to dedicate his time and resources to restore the club and I followed along about the time Peter decided to take on this important task. It has been good for me, and I do suggest those starting out in art will find the competitions and camaraderie offered by the California Art Club to be invaluable.
JLS: That’s quite a history behind the organization. Linda and I are huge fans of those artists. In fact, we recently interviewed the great-great grandson of Hanson Puthuff, Zachary Mendoza! The California Art Club is an admirable organization and we hope it continues to thrive for future artists. Are you represented by any art galleries or do you work solo?
JLS: That’s great. For our students, what do you believe are the pros and cons of gallery representation.
KD: The pros of Gallery representation is that the marketing is done by someone who specializes in selling art. I donate art, or might give it as a gift to friends and family, but selling is something I find very difficult. The cons of gallery representation can be overwhelming. The Wendt gallery in Laguna Beach was one of those galleries. Owner Joseph Manqueros was a great salesman and my work sold well, but over time it became obvious that the trust I placed in the beginning was lost over time. I had to finally take the gallery to court to try and recover my losses. The judge ruled in my favor in the amount of $150,000 but have not collected a dime because it would mean more money, more attorneys, and a distraction from my work. Establishing trust is critical, so ask other artists in the gallery where you are seeking representation to determine is this where you want to show your work.
JLS: So sorry to hear about the gallery troubles. Thank you for the warning and advice. I understand you were born in Germany. What brought you to California and how has living here impacted your art?
KD: My father was an aeronautical engineer working for Messerschmitt during WW II. Lockheed came to Germany soon after the war in 1949 looking to recruit those engineers who had specialties needed by the US Government’s aerospace and defense programs, to be able to compete with the Russians who had similar needs and plans. My father was sought by Lockheed and our family was brought to the States in June of 1954. Bringing us to America was the greatest gift our parents gave us, and we’re forever grateful for the opportunities made available to us. Their mission, additionally, was to expose us to the wonderful parks and natural wonders of the South West. We attached an old military trailer to our 1949 Cadillac and camped in Sequoia, Death Valley, Mammoth Lakes, Zion, and more, instilling a love of natural beauty in me. This I believe is what has made nature and painting the landscape so very important in my life.
JLS: That’s quite a journey! Very inspiring. Thank you for sharing your family’s story. Those parks are definitely life changing. Did anyone try to talk you out of venturing into an art profession? If so, how did you handle it?
KD: I was very interested in photography and attended Art Center when it was still on 3rd street in Los Angeles to learn to be a better photographer. My plan was to photograph products, weddings, and anything to do with a camera. On occasion my mother would ask me to paint her something from a postcard that had an image of something she missed from the homeland after arriving in California, which could include birch trees, the Alps, or any landscapes she wanted to remember. Over the years I painted things that she enjoyed. I had taken an art class, which may have been a requirement at Valley State College, now Cal State Northridge but no formal art painting training was part of my education. My parents waited a very long time for me to decide what I was going to do to support myself, until my then girlfriend and now my wife for the past 54 years, decided we wanted to teach so we would have the summers free to travel, the decision was made. We did not travel as planned after graduation and start a teaching career, since an opportunity to use my background in photography and film came along during the summer.
JLS: Glad you had support from loved ones. Our students are interested in the latest tools of the trade. May I please inquire, what is your preference for paints and brushes? Do you use oils or acrylics? Do you paint on canvas board, panels, or…? Do you finish with a varnish or leave as is?
KD: I started with acrylics; I tried water-based oils when some of my students began to use them. I tried gouache, but have always come back to oils. It’s true that over time you develop a preference for certain colors and makes; my preference has been for Utrecht oil paints. I have tried most of the brands available to all but have not found a Cerulean blue I like better than Utrecht. I love and use Permanent Green, Brilliant Green all made by Utrecht.
JLS: We’ve heard great things about Utrecht. We’ll have to check them out. What about brushes?
KD: As for brushes, most of them are now made in China, Isabey is what I have used. I like flat bristle brushes because I want to see my brush strokes. Permalba is another brush I like but is not easy to find in stores, try on line. The other brushes I like are Rhenish Utrecht Natural bristle brushes.
JLS: How do you prime or prep your grounds?
KD: I mix a Winsor & Newton alkyd white so that my work will be dry the next day if I painted very thin, then I’m ready to scrape it or paint over what I did previously. I painted on stretched canvas for years, stretched the canvas over the bars that I purchased, but today I find traveling with wood panels that I make, that I prime with gesso, or glue canvas onto wood panels, much more convenient.
JLS: Nice. Do you use any varnish?
KD: I use a Kamar spray varnish made by Krylon, it dries quickly and punches up the colors which I like.
JLS: Thank you for this view into your workspace. At what age did you realize you wanted to be a professional artist?
KD: I worked as a photographer for an aerospace company just 15 minutes from my home in the San Fernando Valley. I loved my job, I loved the technical aspects of it; I loved the WW II pilots and navigators now engineers with whom I worked. The company built rocket motors and my job was to record it on film or print it in the lab on paper. High speed motion analysis was also part of my job description shooting 16mm film that ran through a Hi-Cam film camera at 10,000 frames per second. I loved my job. The company was poorly run and when only 100 people were left in the company, down from 1500, they no longer needed me, the company photographer. I tried to find other photographic employment but by that time my age became a serious handicap. I had two choices: start a business as a photographer or a painter. I decided on becoming a painter at the age of 62.
JLS: Wow! That’s quite a career path. Did you study art in college or are you self-taught? What do you find are the pros and cons of studying at a university vs. self-taught?
KD: I’m a self-taught painter, my studies at the University were not art related but did teach me some discipline and good work habits. Self-taught includes looking at master works of art and reading everything of interest related to painting. I may be self taught but I studied art books, paintings in galleries and museums to try to influence my choices when I started painting and still do. I made copies of the artists I liked, then gave the paintings to friends and family. For someone to become a great writer he reads Faulkner, Twain, Hemingway; to paint like Sargent you copy Sargent.
JLS: Indeed! Sound advice. Thank you. I am also a self-taught painter and Sargent master copies are definitely a must. Do you teach any workshops via Zoom or in-person?
KD: I’m giving a workshop in person Sept 16-17-18 in Cambria, CA. If interested, contact Carol Ling at 818-636-3770. I have done Zoom presentations for the California Art Club, and if I can ever figure out how to use my Apple Pro I will give individual lessons online.
JLS: Sounds good. We’ll check it out! Art can touch people’s lives, bringing happiness and hope. For example, our school partners with CoachArt to provide free art classes for families impacted by childhood chronic illness. Is there a charity you are fond of or support, that you might like our readers to learn more about?
KD: Art does affect people’s lives. Many hospitals are using the positive results from dozens of studies that show patients heal more quickly if they have the opportunity to enjoy artwork displayed on the walls. I’ve donated work to St. Joseph Hospital in Burbank, along with hundreds of other artists, to promote the healing of patients recovering there. Art is a passion that has endured and enriched humanity since the earliest cave drawings were scratched into walls, many thousands of years ago.
JLS: How wonderful! That’s very kind of you to donate your lovely paintings. Thank you again, Karl for such a stimulating interview! It’s a pleasure and a privilege 🙂
Want to learn more about this brilliant artist? Check out on his website and Instagram page!
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Pastimes For a Lifetime Art and Piano School is located in Valley Glen, California. 818-766-0614. School is open Tuesday – Saturday year round, except major holidays.