From an article appearing in the San Francisco on-line journal 48hills by Mary Corbin:
Etude of Impermanence: Wanda Westberg’s Works Converse with Deeper Consciousness
“Painter Wanda Westberg wants to make a difference by inspiring change, evoking an emotional response, and giving back to the universe.
‘Painting is a way to have a conversation with that deeper consciousness one can experience when not thinking,” Westberg told 48hills. ‘To be in touch with the original self—that place where we are all connected.’
She grew up in the Midwest. After high school, she knew that California was her destination for college. When she saw the ocean, she never looked back. Westberg enrolled at UCLA to study art but was discouraged after a counselor advised her it was ‘not a good career for a woman.’ After getting a degree in English, she still longed to pursue art and took every art extension course offered. When she discovered oil painting, she found her calling.
She has studied with many respected artists including Arnold Shifrin, a flamboyant expressionist who chronicled Topanga Canyon and Mexico and championed Los Angeles artists. He was her greatest inspiration, encouraging her to follow her own path.
An interest in Buddhism greatly influences and drives Westberg’s work and, through her paintings, the artist expresses an intuitive, curious, and grateful nature. Working with Joko Beck, her teacher at the Los Angeles Zen Center, helped her discover that it is the ego that keeps us from true happiness.
A typical day for Westberg begins with a walk in nature before heading to her studio for the day, working into the evening hours. Her favorite part is the beginning: mixing up paint, putting it down on canvas in random order. She may start with an idea, but that usually changes once the process begins, taking her in a completely different direction.
‘I go with it. More music, more paint, more brushstrokes. I will leave it for a while then come back to revisit.’
Working in oils on primed, stretched canvas using large inexpensive brushes, paintings vary in size from 6×6 inches to 4×4 feet. For Westberg, painting is meditation in action. When problems come up, or something does not seem to be working, she sees that as an opportunity to go deeper into the painting to see what is. That may mean wiping things down to discover the potential under a layer of paint or even starting over.
‘Success depends on clearly seeing the situation and dealing with it skillfully without fear or doubt.’
The artist details this concept further by saying that fear and self-doubt are always present, but to be an artist is to quiet down those voices and simply be present and alert.
‘I am always surprised and grateful when a good painting happens.’
Westberg is interested in the impermanence of things, a Buddhist inquiry that was also the name of her latest exhibition (in May 2022) at Shoh Gallery in Berkeley, which explored the concept in a series of 25 paintings and 10 works on paper.
Within the body of work, Wabi-sabi, a Japanese aesthetic is explored: the respect for what is passing, fragile, slightly broken and modest, embracing authenticity over the ideal of perfection.
‘Wabi-sabi refers to the beauty of what is impermanent, imperfect, and incomplete. When you look at an object, you can sense its story—the hands that once owned it, made it, or used it. Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.’
In 2020, Westberg’s “Sky” exhibit, consisting of 50 small paintings, was inspired by views from her living room and deck of the San Francisco skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge and Mt. Tamalpais, exploring light and atmosphere during changing seasons and times of day.
In a 2019 exhibit titled “El Lago” she presented a series of paintings inspired by Jewel Lake in Tilden Park. Daily walks presented a myriad of impressions of this enchanting spot: the changing light and reflections, the sights and sounds of wildlife, the wind, rain, warmth of the sun and chill of the night, all bringing forth intense emotional responses to record in paint on canvas.
As a classical pianist, Westberg is working on a lively new series of paintings inspired by the Chopin Etudes and other musical offerings, including jazz compositions, and various tempos of music.
With a vast collection of found objects, from her travels, walks, and unexpected places, Westberg finds other subject matter. Always on the lookout for things lost, worn, and discarded, her collection includes paper and metal that have been exposed to the elements, well-used and rusted objects, bark, branches, stones, feathers, and shells. And a treasured old dog ball that shows up in her paintings again and again.
‘All of the objects are a constant reminder of the beauty of things as they age and change.’
One of her favorite recent finds was discovered in a pile of bulky trash in Oakland. Driving by, Westberg noticed a small statue of Buddha, his head sticking up out of the heap. Appearing to be a formerly painted terra cotta statue now absent of color, the figure had taken on a beautifully worn patina.
Westberg acknowledges that art always reflects what is going on in our lives and in the world. The pandemic, politics, and ageing have all touched her work.
‘I believe my paintings have been affected in a mostly positive way, as every challenge has made me more aware of the mutability of things and the acceptance of imperfection.’
Creating a feeling of connection to the deeper self is what she hopes viewers of her work take away—a sense of a place where things originate, where we respond emotionally, personally and in the present moment. And, of course, perhaps to reflect that constant, there is that omnipresent red dog ball.”
Paintings in private and corporate collections internationally.
Represented by Shoh Gallery, Berkeley, California
See “Events” for summary of past and current shows.