Q&A with SF painter EDMUND WYSS


This piece is about San Francisco painter Edmund Wyss, a favorite among local photographers for his photorealistic images of vintage cameras. Wyss shares a passion for light, precision and beautifully designed objects (in this case the aesthetics of vintage cameras) with photographers which in part explains the affinity for his work. Beyond this, they are just very cool paintings that both in their subject matter and in his painstaking methods speak to something that has been underground in our culture and is just now making a revival, the profound ability of something well-made and beautifully designed to make us feel right with the world, to simply reflect the quality of caring into the level of the mundane.

I spoke with Ned about his love for the analog, his process and not surprisingly about his collection of vintage cameras.

Speed Graphic, Oil on Board, 2008

POP: Why do you paint cameras?

Well, it really stems from my commercial art background and ideas I have about image making. I’ve always been amazed by the skill of artists in previous centuries and their ability to meet high standards of representation. This is not only rare these days but considered somewhat pointless. Why not take a picture? Consequently, photography has reshaped expectations about what painting should be. It’s all about surface, material and expression. Most painters don’t try to compete with the representational precision of photography because they don’t have to. The photograph is also a fine reference for painters who are concerned with retaining accuracy. So, in this way the camera is a double-edged sword as it relates to painting.

SP Float, Oil on Hardboard, 2010

For full interview, please click on link below.

POP: What kind of cameras most interest you?

I consider pre-plastic analog cameras of all formats to be just amazing and beautiful objects. However, I especially love the style and compactness of mid century 35mm rangefinder cameras. It’s safe to say that I have a bit of a fetish when it comes to these. A Leica M3 or Nikon SP is so wonderful and meticulous with as much concern for aesthetics as utility. These cameras were made for more sensitive skillful hands than today’s clunky plastic digitals.

M4 Float, Oil on Headboard, 2010

POP: Where do they come from?

In the past, I bought them through online sources like Ebay and Craiglist after much research and did quite well. I kind of reached my limit for practical purposes so I don’t really buy anything outright anymore. After so many years of painting cameras they now come to me through friends on loan. It’s not really commission work but more the fun of having someone paint your camera’s portrait.

Flex, Gouache on Paper, 2009

POP: What is your background with photography?

I got my undergraduate degree at Pratt Institute in communication arts so I took a lot of photography courses and shot my own subjects for graphic design projects. I’ve turned a few of my bathrooms into darkrooms over the years but I don’t really print anymore.

POP: I’ve noticed that most of the stylists and photographers I interview
have collections. Do you collect vintage cameras? Or anything else?

Yeah, I’m a packrat. I have a bunch of rangefinder cameras made between 1953 and 1968, Nikons, Leicas and a Canon. Of course I also own a number of corresponding lenses as well.

Range Finders. Leica M3, Canon P, Nikon SP, Nikon S2, Leica M4, Leica M8

SLRs. Nikon F2 AS, Nikon F, Nikon F3

POP: Serial numbers appear in most paintings, why?

Like any quality product the serial number is a mark of authenticity. This becomes a signature for the object which makes it personal and yet a result of collective production. There’s a dichotomy here between evident multiplicity and the uniqueness of a specific number. It represents a specific instant in time when the camera was assembled by hand. I like that.

57933, Gouache on Paper, 2009

POP: The paintings are realist in style but does photography inform the work in other ways?

I always develop my compositions based on an idealized perspective. This amounts to a diagram brought to life through hyperrealist rendering. I deny any depth of field or tapering of form through perspective. This is a quality that may not be immediately recognizable to some. The inherent distortion of photography, with it’s flattening of the visual field or exaggerated perspective does similar things. Since I use the camera to build my imagery, it is very much informed by photography.

Slice, Oil on Hardboard, 2010

POP: What significance does scale play?

Big paintings always have a huge impact but I like to mix it up. Some compositions deserve a large scale and others don’t. When I want to emphasize the individual components and focus on detail I tend to make the painting larger.

Mamiya Colossus, Oil on Canvas, 2010

POP: Your most recent show is titled Broken Down and for the first time, the cameras are ‘broken apart.’ How did this evolve and what is your process? How do you paint each part while keeping the lighting and perspective? Do you work from photographs?

This series of deconstructed pieces came from a desire to best utilize my process. I spend a lot of time photographing my subject beforehand. I probably take a minimum of a dozen digital photographs so that I get a detail of every component in focus and from a fixed point. I like to combine natural and Tungsten light sources because that gives me a broad color spectrum. Then I stitch all these photos together in Photoshop and this serves as my reference. Often I need to make a line drawing of the composition so that the geometry is perfect and transfer this to the painting surface. I use oil or gouache paint to carefully reproduce the photo composite with extra emphasis on sharpness and detail.

Deconstruction, building tube, vinyl, foamcore, 2010

POP: What painters and photographers have inspired you?

As far a painting goes, I am a huge Gerhard Richter fan. I suppose this is no surprise as his early painting was of photographs. Beyond that basic point, there is an effort to capture a certain quality of perception. That is to say, the subject is really informed by a filter of cognizance. This is a difficult thing to paint and can be approached in many ways. The Baader Meinhof series or ’18. Oktober 1977′ reflected the media filter of a painful and contentious event, the group suicide of leftist terrorists in prison. Blurred and closely cropped newspaper photos served to show the small window through which the public was allowed into this world. The camera registers the photographer’s decision of what not to reveal and this tells it’s own story. Richter’s more recent ‘abstract’ work was painted with the intention of showing ‘something’ which has been obscured by his process and by the viewers perspective. I always consider this when making new work. I suggest a space where my subject resides through the use of reflected light on it’s surface.
Simultaneously, I subtract everything else so the viewer is allowed to create their own narrative.

As for photographers, I like all of them.

POP: You have an upcoming show at the SFMOMA café. What will you be showing and what are the dates of the show?

Thanks for mentioning it. The exhibition runs from November 10 until December 21st. I plan on showing a number of pieces of different sizes materials and formats. I hope all your readers have a chance to check out the show.

Big thank you to Ned for his interview and for sharing his incredible images with us.

Wyss at Hatch Gallery, Oakland CA. 2010

One Response to “Q&A with SF painter EDMUND WYSS”

  1. 1 Thom Nesbitt

    Great stuff. Especially liked the interview that gave a better insight into the artists technique and what he was trying to do than I’ve read before. Shows you don’t have to stray into the metaphysical to describe your art

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