Visible Influence:
Janet Niewald and Wilbur Niewald on Influence, Teaching and Practice

Painting Perceptions, November 6th, 2021

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Janet Niewald, The Palisades II,

oil on canvas, 24x30”, 1999​

Wilbur Niewald, Quarry,

oil on canvas, 40x50”, 1964

Wilbur Niewald, Rocks at Greystone Heights IV, oil on canvas, 26x32”, 2001

Our invisible teachers, those we visit in the museums and galleries, expose us to the breadth and the possibilities of our craft, while our visible teachers, our peers, partners, colleagues and students, and for some, our parents and children, provide invaluable insight into its practice. Before the painter Janet Niewald could talk, her mother exposed her to Bach’s 2-Part Inventions. These contrapuntal auditory structures fused with her early visual experiences of the abstractions painted by her father, Wilbur Niewald, which were hung throughout their home. These pre-verbal rhythms have provided the structural groundwork for Janet’s complex visual and narrative structures to inhabit. These same images also provided the point of departure from which Wilbur’s practice evolved from an indirect engagement with a subject born of the studio, into an unwavering devotion to the abundance of appearances a directly observed motif offers. 

 

I have long been an admirer of Wilbur’s work and had the pleasure of knowing him for the past 16 years, visiting him in his Kansas City studio and attending his exhibitions and gallery talks with students in tow. Just after meeting Wilbur, he suggested I look at Janet’s website and I was more than a little impressed by the articulate and varied body of work of this decorated professor and accomplished painter whom I have since wanted to reach out to. I had the pleasure of meeting Janet this past August at the dedication of the Wilbur Niewald Senior Studios at the KCAI Painting Department. She was able to arrange for the three of us to sit down together at Wilbur’s home in Kansas City on a lovely August morning, with the 7-year cicadas in full chorus, to discuss influence, teaching, and practice. The following is a collection of excerpts from our conversation in 4 parts, beginning with written correspondence with Janet. 

 

I would like to thank Janet for her diligence and excellent writing, Wilbur and Gerry for inviting me into their home and Wilbur for his continued insight and encouragement. Images of Wilbur Niewald’s work are generously provided by HAW Contemporary and E.G. Schempf.

 

Jessie Fisher