EAST LIVERPOOL - Craig Wetzel's place is hard to find - and it's probably just as well. He's an artist, after all, and artists are supposed to be hard to figure out. If the artist's ways are inscrutable, why should getting to his house be any easier?
When Wetzel gets visitors, he usually has to "talk them in" on their cell phone and take them down the brick alley behind his house. He hasn't used the street out front in years.
And so it is with art - the obvious way is often the least rewarding.
Local artist Craig Wetzel paints at his easel in his East Liverpool studio. (Photo by Stephen Huba)
"For me, a painting is only interesting if there is something left unspoken," Wetzel said. "Ambiguity, mystery, insinuation - it doesn't matter, as long as it doesn't convey an obvious conclusion. I want people to see a painting and think, or wonder."
Wetzel, 47, has been provoking a response from people with his art for decades now. A 1982 graduate of Beaver Local High School, he started to get serious about his art around 1985. For years, he played the part of the struggling artist. It's only been more recently that he's been able to make a living from his art.
"I definitely would not recommend it as a career choice," he said in a recent interview. "For those years, it's been nothing but a struggle. My wife has been my enabler for a good many years."
Locally, Wetzel is known for his public murals at places such as Nentwick Convalescent Home and the Lou Holtz Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame, but they're far outnumbered by his private commissions. Wetzel figures he's done more than 100 private commissions - everything from large murals to small portraits.
"I have no interest in grand vistas, pretty scenes, barns, blue skies and covered bridges," he said, "and, in spite of my love for the outdoors, I don't care to paint nature without some human element, however small it is, for it is the human element which interests me the most."
Wetzel was 5 when he began to realize he had an aptitude for art. "I could always draw well. It was mostly a fun thing to do," he said. "Then comes the day when you realize it's something you can make a future out of."
Despite his career aspirations, Wetzel received no formal training in the arts. He's self-taught, and his media of choice are egg tempera, watercolor and pencil. Egg tempera, he said, is his "soul mate."
According to his Web site, craigwetzel.com, egg tempera is paint made from pigment, water and egg yolk. It dries quickly and achieves its unique effect from the artist applying layer after layer. Wetzel usually paints on a surface known as medium density fiberboard.
"For me, painting is a slow, deliberate, painstaking process, and the more thought, planning and sketching I do before beginning the painting, the better it turns out," he said. "Egg tempera is perfect for an artist that works as I do. Simply put, it is not a medium for impatient people, unless they're also masochistic."
Wetzel works in a small studio behind his house. In it is a large wooden easel, a mirror, a table for his pigments and a work space for doodling. Many of his paintings are studies on the idiosyncrasies of local architecture and local landscapes. He's also taken to sketching maps, both real and imagined, in pencil and which are featured on the Web site imagimapco.com.
When he's not painting, Wetzel teaches classes at local colleges in the "Fundamentals of Painting," "Egg Tempera" and "Drawing."
Because he's so busy with commissions, one thing he's not been able to do as much is show his art in galleries. However, a show at the Mary Patterson Building of Kent State East Liverpool last October featured about 30 of his works.