Artopia: David Wilhelm On Why Art Isn't Easy, It's Dangerous

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The Houston Press Artopia party is Saturday, and Hair Balls is previewing a different participating artist each day this week. Artopia, at Winter Street Studios, will feature 27 artists, as well as live art and music performances, fashion shows, and a presentation of the Press's MasterMind awards. For more details and ticket information, click here

The picture at the top of this post is something Houston artist David Wilhelm calls light painting, "altering reality with light inside of a [digital] image." Wilhelm climbed to the top of a building northeast of downtown for that shot, two days before the building was demolished. 

"Photography is where I get to be artistic again," Wilhelm tells Hair Balls. "[Light painting] is about bringing the difficulty of photography back into digital photography, not using Photoshop and things like that, but create an image that looks computer generated."

Working with steel, however, is Wilhelm's first and true love, even if it has caused more than a few scars.

"I've cut myself, burnt myself, grinded parts of my arm, welded my fingers where I had to keep my fingers in a tub of butter for three weeks," Wilhelm says. "I've dropped pieces on my feet, I've gashed open my back and my leg."

"You're definitely not just picking up a paintbrush to paint."

Wilhelm's grandfather owned an engineering company, and that's where he developed a passion for working with metal. He spent a couple summers working at his grandfather's place, learning how to fabricate.

"When it comes to fabrication, I've built things from big, metal trees to benches, fire pits and barbecue pits and clocks," Wilhelm says. "It's very rare that I just build something that I can call my art."

Wilhelm, who has a studio called Art and Steel, teamed up three years ago with another artist, Fidel Ordonez, and the duo is creating hybrid pieces of steel and paint. Ordonez is a large scale painter, getting paid to do outdoor murals, or as Wilhelm calls it, "legal graffiti."

For the collaborative work, Wilhelm uses stainless steel panels that he welds and bends and grinds to create patterns that reflect light in different ways. Ordonez then paints on those panels. One of the main pieces Wilhelm will show at Artopia is a painting of "two women caressing themselves."

"Fidel has such a great style and such a great technique of what he does, and I've been doing what I do for so long, that it seems like we've gotten to a certain point where we're meshing together," Wilhelm says. "We're trying to create a whole new series of work, and I really can't even explain how happy I am about it."

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