Immaculate Vulgarity — The Haunting Images of Tyler Wintermute’s San Francisco.
“ We had taken some mushrooms and went to the Safeway out on Ocean Beach — the people inside were a horrible sight. Jaws drooped, fingers dangled, bodies contorted in harsh angles, eyes seemed ancient and paranoid. I turned to Tyler, who I could see was feeling the effects, too, and said — “I feel like we are in one of your paintings.”
Tyler Wintermute's drawings are saturated with subjects, characters, and themes that are, at times, utterly grotesque. The human form takes on a gangly crude characterization within the discomforts of their haunted atmosphere. Tyler Wintermute, at the age of 38 is a supremely dedicated artist. His work is bold, politically incorrect, ruthlessly savage, and impressively meticulous.
View “Dolores Park “(shown adjacent). Wintermute’s hellscape vision of your token mid-twenties San Francisco experience, that is, day drinking in Dolores Park. A nude caravan of men carrying sparklers, weed tokers are among the belligerent masses— loud, rude, and dripping of sex, these are images made by an artist at eye-level with his surroundings. Musicians turn into werewolves, exotic women appear untrustworthy and clinch their accessory pets, which in turn morph to screeching, drooling gremlins. In Wintermute’s work, wild animals appear right at home with their animalistic co-parts; that is, us — humans. One begins to see not simply youth and chaos but the perversion of such a rich experience.
The scenarios are hellish — Einstein sits puzzled on a landfill in the post-apocalypse, a stockbroker careens down a tsunami of greenbacks on a surfboard. A vengeful girlfriend-turned-zombie eats the face of a former lover while money and parking tickets confetti the confined apartment. What is worse is that it looks like they may even (gasp!) spill the cocaine. Greetings from the City by the Bay (shown below) indeed.
Tyler Wintermute takes inspiration from a whole host of sources — his work is violent in a pulp sense of the word, in a way similar to the films of Quentin Tarantino. His work is ugly in the way R. Crumb’s work is “ugly.” His mark-making in pencil and ink are reminiscent of MAD magazine legends Mort Drucker and Jack Davis — careful placement of line, detailed precisely. When Wintermute chooses to be poetic, he has a sensibility of drama and punch that rarely requires any verbiage— like the political cartoonist Mike Luckovich. In “Standard Income” (shown below), Wintermute alludes to the all-over composition of the great master paintings, like “The Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo.(shown below)
Wintermute’s paintings are sleek and vivid, vulgar and weird. They are just as hard-edged as the scandalous cultural object-icons he references. As a draftsman, Wintermute is an artist who has his craft down to a tight process — he has the understanding of the essential elements of lighting, shape, function, and vision. Wintermute’s line and character's emotional intensity makes him less a mere illustrator and more an artist capable of playing god with his peers and the various states of their gritty existence. Wintermute is not the only artist doing this — San Francisco is full of art that references back to the city. In this cyclical culture-loop, everybody is pointing and laughing at everybody else at the party, but alas, nobody takes themselves seriously, anyway. But Wintermute exhibits in his diligent line, making a quite serious quality and one that his artist peers mostly fail ever to achieve, that is, a profound sense of patience. In this way, Wintermute carefully structures his images — they are of a design that requires a hard-working architect of dimensionality with the grace of line of an old master. Indeed the subjects are gritty, distasteful, grotesque — but they are rendered with an almost impossible elegance. The monsters in Wintermute’s work, however haggard and sinful, are conceived immaculately.
We should take notice of the parade of characters in attendance; everything is not local, after all. Wintermute occasionally references the political, the topical, and the celebrity within a dark commentary. Donald Trump sits in a G-string with his dancing tips. A pair of hands bust through the frames of Woody Allen’s spectacles. Jack Nicholson strikes his classic grin while puffing a cigar in a Laker’s Jersey. These ghastly, elongated, disturbed, and downright drunk portraits are mirror images of those who often occupy Wintermute’s periphery; the ghouls and goblins of California, the ghosts of dead celebrities, the barstool poets, the petite sex-kitten. While Tyler’s work may teeter on political incorrectness, it is hopelessly democratic. Wintermute isn’t playing favorites; everybody gets a walk-on role in the perverse theatre.
Wintermute makes this work from his studio in the Western Addition of San Francisco. In this area, the young and trendy have flocked, making it a hub for the cool kids. But Wintermute is not an immigrant to this territory; he is more like a veteran. He has seen the city of San Francisco move in the direction towards tech and geek-dom and away from what made San Francisco weird. It’s easy to see how an illustrator of his experience would draw upon these subjects, new and old — using them as a theme, as a weapon, and as a muse. I’ve known Tyler Wintermute for years, and I know he’s watching quite closely.
But Tyler isn’t just painting the local flavor outside his studio, “San Francisco in your twenties” — ok, early thirties — his work is a kind of twisted photography. In this way, Wintermute isn’t just indulging in sick visions. He is not adding to all the “hot” noise either. Behind the sleek, sexy, but sometimes haunting imagery, there is a layer of sardonic grossness lurking inside his work as a whole. How Wintermute depicts his subjects suggests he realizes it’s all a show; everybody is a character. Everybody is wearing a costume. Everybody has a facade. But if Wintermute is playing god when he makes his pictures, he does not center himself as a perfect one. Often referring to his work as “Hotnoise,” the literal corollary to his last name Wintermute, the artist indulges in a bit of role-playing and joke making himself. In this way, he is not immune from his own criticism — he too can acknowledge that even he is wearing a mask. He also can point a finger at himself and laugh. Tyler is a creator who draws you in — he puts you front row in the freak show, where he is the just as guilty ceremony master.
Animalia (shown here) shows the young lingerie-clad seductress on display underneath the supervision of two baboons giving the viewer the expectation of a taboo sexual encounter. She is elegant and vulgar all the same. She beckons the viewer with — “fuck it. Fuck me,” she says. The baboons may be watching, but they are only voyeurs — in San Francisco, there is no bedtime, we stay up all night. In San Francisco, no one is in charge. In San Francisco, we do what we fucking please.
These paintings are not lukewarm visions. They are indeed white-hot. Check them out at your own risk here. Then, if you want to get crazy, head to San Francisco, California, and onward to Dolores Park. Buy some cheap beer and drink until fighter jets appear in the sky, sex-kittens urge you to play, Jesus returns as a hipster, and the city in front of you, all ablaze in its glory, wraps you neath its wicked bosom.
I’ve known the artist Tyler Wintermute for over a decade. I have seen him victorious and utterly defeated in his art and his life. I have seen him in love and heartbroken — whatever the state he may be, at any given time, his hands are indeed busy trying to make some sense of himself and those all those wild-eyed characters in that wonderfully strange city by the bay.
February 13th, 2021