Caleb Weintraub: Putti power in a troubled world

Caleb Weintraub<
Cloudy with a chance of apocalypse 83″ x 96″ mixed media on wood. That pink fur on the girl’s jacket is not paint; it’s fluffy pink fur.

No way do the computer images do the job of communicating the experience of a Caleb Weintraub painting, with their slippery paint textures, their lumps and bumps, their beads and buttons and boas.

I know Roberta already wrote about Weintraub’s exhibit, “…with the bathwater,” at Projects Gallery, in the Weekly update, but the exhibit is up for another month–and well I just couldn’t help myself. You should get there.

We went to Projects yesterday to give the students in our class at Tyler a chance to meet the artist in person and to experience his passionate, hip, bravura work.


Weintraub, a Penn MFA alum, talked about the influences in his life, including the artist’s life in Brooklyn, the birth of his children, a 1 1/2 year old and a less-than-2-month old baby, and 9/11. Weintraub, now teaching at Indiana University, has put children and disaster all over his paintings. He’s worried about the state of the world and the culture.

Weintraub and putti
And all of a sudden the streets were filled with cherubs and uncertainty, the stars fell from the sky, the ground broke up beneath them and all of the walls complained.
10′ x 14′ mixed media on canvas. That’s Weintraub, explaining.

His largest painting, started in graduate school, and finished in the three weeks before the exhibit at Projects, depicts a Philadelphia filled with bad babies–“children with no moral compass,” in a culture without limits, where all behavior is rationalized.

Weintraub and gallerist Helen Hyder
That’s Weintraub.

An Orthodox Jew, Weintraub said he was troubled how, by keeping religion out of government and social structures, we as a culture had also thrown out any concept of transcendence, hence his vision of children turning on the adult world. His paintings address an audience who has seen it all, as opposed to an Orthodox Jewish audience.

Weintraub draws from conventions like the Rockwellian suburbs and the pastoral tradition in paintings, Rubens (“If I find a good cherub, I’m taking it.”) and Flemish painters. His paintings pick up the airlessness of the non-realistic painted spaces in Bruegel and Bosch, spaces without light, and spaces that merely reference the real world without documenting it.

Filmmakers Jean Genet, David Lynch and Michel Gondry, with their dark/absurdist worlds that reference the real world but do not document it, also influenced his sense of space, he said.

Caleb Weintraub
Bringing on the Blizzard–8″ x 8″ mixed media on canvas, including fabric, beads and sequins; kitsch meets horror and they love eachother.

Materials and space
That interest in space also plays out in glitzy collage materials like fabrics and frou-frou decorations along with the paint. “I can paint things that look like they sparkle, but why not use the thing that sparkles?” he said. The 2D and 3D elements in the paintings is a way of winking at the viewer. He likes the beauty of the manufactured, low-brow ornamentation, and he uses it especially liberally in the small jewel-like paintings. “Painting is a physical residue of some intellectual process,” he said, thereby confering a seriousness to the use of paint. By juxtaposing manufactured ornamentation with the paint, he said he is challenging the cultural designation of ornamentation as low brow at the same time that he uses the kitsch elements in his work to temper the horror.

Weintraub, whose delivery is as caffienated as his paintings, went whole hog with intense color and materials after 9/11. “I didn’t think it was a time to be whispering,” he said. With that thought, he began using the full spectrum of wild, unmixed modern paint colors now available, along with the addition of arts and crafts material. He also said,”This is not the time to behave myself;” his own bad behavior doesn’t compare to what he imagines the children are up to. He added that he was painting about sensory overload.

Weintraub said he also works in video and animation.

Caleb Weintraub
She splashed and splashed and splashed around until the ocean was empty and a few of the great lakes too. 81 x 74.75, acrylic on canvas

Baby power
As for the babies, he has made what were originally generic putti into specific characters, and he paints them with a passion. “Each one of them could be the new messiah.”

Weintraub’s next show is scheduled for the ultra-hip Brooklyn gallery Jack the Pelican, where the prices are sure to skyrocket.

A few more of my Weintraub photos are on Flickr. That Jack the Pelican link has a ton more images.