‘Travel’ with William Wegman at Westport Arts Center

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Pictured: Artist William Wegman will be on hand for the opening of his new exhibition at the Westport Arts Center on Friday, Jan. 25. (Photo/William Wegman Studio)

When you mention the name William Wegman, dogs — dressed as chefs, fashion models, even astronauts — usually spring to mind.

And for good reason: Wegman’s pictures of his Weimaraners, a breed known for its lustrous coat and regal stature, are what made him famous.

However, Wegman’s footprint (or paw print, if you want to get cute about it) extends to other subjects and styles. For one, the New England native has spent a good chunk of his career producing so-called “postcard paintings” — works in which the artist incorporates found images to create whimsical worlds and abstract atmospheres.

The Westport Arts Center will shine on a light on these, and other more obscure works from Wegman’s decades-long career, in its upcoming exhibition, “William Wegman: The Traveler.”

Opening with a public reception on Friday, Jan. 25, 6:30-8 p.m., the exhibition will feature an eclectic mix of postcard paintings, drawings, Polaroids and video dating from the mid-1980s to the present.

In a recent interview, Wegman discussed the inspiration behind his work, his sprawling postcard collection and his desire to make people think, as well as laugh.

Culture Cache: What scenes and subjects do you look for in postcards? Put another way (and, going off the title of this show), what environments do you like to explore?

William Wegman: I’ve always been interested in things that make you wonder — what could be just outside the field of view? What could be just outside the edge? … I remember finding a watercolor postcard in my grandma’s collection that was done of Provincetown Harbor. I tried to imagine what else was in that scene.

CC: Given the vast number in your collection, is it difficult to decide what postcards to use?

WW: The longer I use them, the more I’m challenged to use these things I couldn’t use before. For example, European postcards with compartmentalization — those ones with three or four scenes and graphic text. Before that, I wouldn’t use anything that had a border, so I could put it next to another card and seamlessly connect the two.

CC: What was the most recent post card you received, and did you end up using it in your work?

WW: I had friends that used to send me cards all the time, but that spirit of connection is on the way out. People don’t tend to do that anymore. However, I did find a card recently — it was a postcard from my sister at the age of six, who is now 59, that she had sent to grandmother. I had to preserve that.

CC: You artwork has been lauded by many art lovers as accessible and easy to enjoy. Is this intentional? Is it important for you to connect with your viewers?

WW: I love when viewers come and look at my work, and distort the compositions based on their backgrounds, and where they’ve traveled. That really affects them. Someone will come up to a corner, and say, ‘That’s in South Carolina! I remember being there with George in 1958.’ There are references you can’t control that are specific to the viewer which are very entertaining.

CC: Do you often feel as if you’re unfairly pigeonholed as the ‘dog guy’? What would you like people to know about your work?

WW: I did these works that were rather funny in the 70s, the ones I did with my dog; it was very gratifying that people, and the technicians who helped me, were laughing. They were well-received. At the same time, it’s nice to have something where there’s room for discovery, rather than dogs. There are certain paintings in the Westport exhibition — like this one that riffs on Kadinsky — that might make you go ‘hmm’ but not necessarily ‘haha.’

Scott Gargan

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