Painting, Sculpture& Design

All of Kurt Wenner’s artwork starts with a drawing. Because he works in a broad range of materials, drawings are the foundation that underpin and direct all of his work. With the drawing as a reference, completing the art is a matter of applying pastels, paint, or sculpting the work. Inspiration for his creations comes from many sources such as inspirational stories, myths, legends, literature, music, and theater. Even if the viewer is not familiar with the reference, they can see one exists.

During his career, Wenner has worked on many large projects. He enjoys the challenge of transforming everyday spaces into wonderfully special ones. Well known for his 3D illusions, he likes to combine painted and sculpted elements to envelop daily objects that challenge the viewer to know where the art ends. Wenner creates stand-alone paintings and sculptures in addition to themed environments like the library image here.

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Kurt Wenner's

Painting, Sculpture
& Design

When Kurt Wenner was growing up, his father was a university scientist and his mother taught music. Conversation at the dinner table would often turn to ideas from the past in these fields. Theories and concepts were questioned and Wenner grew up understanding that their work was built on a patrimony of ideas that had come down through the centuries. His mother imparted a love of art in him, while his father made sure he knew all about math and science. Is it any wonder he ended up working as an artist for NASA?

Despite his scholarly household no one could explain why contemporary artists no longer had the ability to create images like those from the Renaissance. After all, he heard his mother play classical piano along with contemporary tunes. His father’s scientific research wrestled with information from the past and eventually resulted in over-turning the work of a recent Nobel prize winner. As a young man Wenner grew up being comfortable questioning ideas stemming from patrimony as well as the present day. He recognized the break in the continuum of visual arts and knew it would be up to him to research and discover the answers for himself.

Fall of Icarus, oil paint on canvas 18’ x 25’ (6 meters x 9 meters).

Through his studies in neglected libraries and public archives, conversations with art historians and museum curators, and endless hours spent drawing from the works of the great master artist he unlocked the mystery as to how artists of the past created their work and what was missing from our present-day education.

Wenner has spent decades not only through his artwork but also with public talks and teaching to bring these lost ideas and techniques to life. He learned first-hand growing up that the tools and insights from the past are an important heritage. Once we lose it, we lose the very tools that can help us form creative solutions to present-day complex problems.

In 1991 he received the Kennedy Center Medallion for his outstanding contribution to arts education. Nowadays, everyone from corporation executives to elementary school teachers are lamenting the loss of creativity and artistic skill. Unfortunately, the loss of understanding our patrimony has led to our current difficulty. Wenner leads the way forward by showing us how classicism teaches us to use the building blocks of nature and work with the world rather than against it.

His years at NASA made him realize that scientists often claim things are random because they fail to see the underlying pattern of things. Wenner grew up with the arts and science living side-by-side and has always been curious about where they intersect. He has been able to decipher nature’s code and use its geometry, proportion, and patterns to make an immense variety of art.

Icarus and Dedalus, detail.

In his research, he discovered drawing was what connected all the art forms during the Renaissance. Drawings were the vital tools that directed the artistic design, whether it was a sculpture for a fountain or a wall fresco. Wenner understands drawing is a visual language that’s as crucial for communicating new ideas today as it was hundreds of years ago. Like artists of the past, he makes them the foundation of all of his work.

Living room interior with mural.

Through his years of study in Italy, he developed a genuine appreciation for the traditional arts and their materials. While in Rome he found a dark and dusty shop selling artist pigments, glues, and a wide range of articles he had not known about while in art school. Through researching old recipes, he learned to create oil paints and pastels by hand. Influence by art techniques he encountered in Italian churches, he caste materials giving them textures and patinas to resemble valuable substances. He began to design works that mixed painted and sculpted elements to blur the line between what is real and what is not.

Paradise Lost, oil paint on canvas 18’ x 18’ (5.5 meters x 5.5 meters).

While in Rome, Italy, Wenner encountered enormous paintings in museums and on church ceilings. He found that unlike a framed picture, the over-sized images created an opportunity to invite the viewer into the art. 

St. Gerome in his Study,
oil paint on wood panel.

Famous for his use of optical illusions in his 3D artwork, Wenner applies his abilities to beautiful oil paintings as well. Through combining perspective illusion and trompe l’oeil, he creates stunning layered illusions.

Wenner finds the tools of classicism essential for creating convincing illusions because they are based on human perception and therefore communicate form and space to the viewer. Throughout the ages, artists have had fun challenging our understanding of what is real and what isn’t.

Italian in Algiers, oil paint on a flat plaster ceiling and curved wall.
Last Days of Pompeii,
Illusion Room,
oil paint on canvas with linoleum.

Wenner’s painting also extends to ceramics. He has created several commissions on Italian fired Majolica tile.

Neptune and Thetis,
Italian ceramic tile mural.
Neptune, Italian ceramic.

Wenner’s painting also extends to ceramics. He has created several commissions on Italian fired Majolica tile.

Music room coffer design,
oil paint and plaster.
Music room with coffered ceiling.

Wenner began sculpting by creating coffers, moldings, and architectural details to accompany his paintings and murals. Eventually, these design elements became an integral part of his original architectural design.

Dining room coffer with a portrait of the owner.

By combining ideas of the past with today’s materials and technologies, there is no limit to what Wenner can invent or produce. Wenner likes to have fun with illusions, and with the one below, he placed a Cosmati style floor on the ceiling. By employing dimensional cast surfaces, he brought a tactile quality to the illusion.

Pompei Bath
detail in cast and painted plaster.

Wenner utilizes a variety of materials to create a feeling of sandstone, marble, and other materials. By mixing these with real wood, ceramic, metals, and more, he creates a metamorphosis that brings complexity to his illusions.

View of the Pompei Bath.

In the past, many magnificent residences were decorated with expensive materials. Nowadays, less costly substances and imagination can yield impressive results such as the plaster ceiling below.

Coffered ceiling design in pencil on paper with execution in plaster.

A significant advantage for artists today is the availability of high resolution and flexible mold-making materials such as silicon, which give incredible detail such as the cast plaster drapery below. By utilizing the skills of the past with today’s technology, it is possible to create astonishing works.

Cast plaster drapery detail.
Cast plaster ceiling.

Wenner sculpts architectural details for the exteriors of homes, which are cast in a variety of permanent materials to withstand many climatic conditions.

Pediment, cast stone.

In a world of building codes and earthquakes, newer lighter materials have enabled him to create artwork that is safe to apply to contemporary structures.

Drawings are essential for his work, even for a sculpture. Wenner has taught more than a hundred thousand students and knows poor instruction is often worse than none at all. He has seen that having to unlearn a technique is more difficult than acquiring it correctly. He works tirelessly promoting the importance of classical drawing as a tool of central importance to the arts.

Drawing and model for Sea Dragon.

Taking illusion a step further, he has applied it to sculpture. The three animals below are taken from Chinese mythology and align to create an interactive sea dragon at Disney’s Hong Kong park.

Three separate animals combine
to form the Sea Dragon.

A decorative viewer aids guests to see and photograph the illusion from the right location. Guests can pose and interact between the sculptures to appear wrapped in the sea dragon’s tail.

Viewing the illusion through
a decorative viewer.

works commissioned by