Article by Ann McCreary.
Photographs by Sol Gutierrez.
Vblast doesn’t care whether you like his art. He just wants to poke you, mess with you. If he gets a reaction, any reaction, he’s achieved his end.
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Kind of like his years of performing in punk and metal bands, when fans responded by throwing things at him and his fellow band members. “You could tell by the velocity” of the thrown objects how the crowd was reacting to the performance, Vblast said.
“I’ve been hit with everything. Candy bars, bottles, chicken feet…but we threw the chicken feet out at the crowd in the first place.”
So it is with his art. When a couple came into one of his art exhibits in Seattle, he was gratified by their reaction to his work. “They looked like they smelled a turd,” Vblast recalled with a smile. The man declared Vblast’s paintings to be “crap,” and the couple walked out.
Kind of like throwing chicken feet that had been thrown at them in the first place.
“My art is to provoke a reaction. Love, hate, anger. It’s about whether people react to it. Does it engage them? To me that’s success,” Vblast said.
By his own description, Vblast is “an unreformed punk rocker who hides behind a slim veil of respectability. I like nothing more than giving a poke in the eye.”
He uses words like contrarian, antisocial and cynical to describe himself. A big man (6 feet four inches tall) with tattooed arms who glowers at the camera in publicity photos, Vblast amiably shared personal stories and his thoughts about life and art during a recent interview. His real name is Vern White. “I’m not that scary,” he admitted.
Vblast moved with his wife, jewelry artist Joanne Maracci, and their son Tyler, to the Methow Valley in 2013 – only to watch the valley burn down around them the next year. By some miracle their hilltop home east of Twisp, and their art studios, survived when the Carlton Complex wildfire raged across their property, coming within feet of the house.
Within the next year, both his father and mother-in-law died after illnesses. All that stuff made an impression.
“Moving here, and everything that happened, it’s all about change. It’s informed my life in so many ways. Most of my work reflects change. This place,” he added, “makes you examine yourself.”
His art is introspective and an end in itself, he said. For the past 15 years he has devoted himself to creating art full-time, and he worked hard to get to this place. “I spent 25 years setting myself up so I can do whatever I want. I pretty much can live without sales, which enables me to produce what I want to produce.”
Monsters and metal
Vblast is a self-taught artist who was “drawing monsters when I was six” and was spending his allowance on sci-fi and horror comics when he was nine. His passion for music was full blown by high school. “I used to get in trouble because I had Heavy Metal magazine in my Pee-Chee.”
His art and music have always been interconnected. He honed his artistic skills while living in Seattle and working in commercial art and graphic illustration, including working as a production manager for a Seattle company with clients like Boeing and Microsoft.
He was also performing with punk/metal/industrial bands and created art to support the music. “I had totally cool bosses who let me use company tools for my own projects as long as I paid for materials.” He was able to create “a virtual propaganda machine” for his band, producing posters, stickers, backdrops, stage props, videos and album covers.
His love for music – particularly metal and punk – has been and continues to be a driving and creative force in his life, art and identity.
“I got the name Vblast from when I was in a short-lived band called Alien Psycho Blast. It was a three-piece group with an alien, a psycho and the B blast being myself. Liked the moniker so I kept it and used it from there on,” he said. He signs his art Vblast.
He went on to play in a “metal/punk crossover” band called Mace, then co-founded his final (and perhaps most notorious) band, The Pleasure Elite. “It was a metal industrial band with a healthy dose of punk thrown in for good measure. Add to that a live show with bondage clad dancing girls holding whips and pistols, fire breathers, dwarves and lucha wrestlers sharing the stage with us to create a circus of chaos and mayhem. Good times.”
The Pleasure Elite’s shows were described as musical and visual assaults that pushed the limits of outrageousness and provoked near-riots. “We were a rolling train wreck,” said Vblast, who was called the Reverend V Blast and was a vocalist for the band. The Pleasure Elite played venues like Bumbershoot, the Paramount and Moore theaters in Seattle, toured the United States, and did a European tour as well.
“I was in that band for 20 years. I’ve broken down in every frickin’ state in the country. We even broke down in Germany,” Vblast said.
He’s not performing music any more, but continues to pursue his musical passions with a show on local radio station KTRT 97.5 called “Fast and Furious,” during which Vblast treats listeners to an hour of “metal, rock, rockabilly, psychobilly, stoner doom, hard rock, hardcore, audio book excerpts, sound samples – anything that will annoy people and freak them out.” Intrepid listeners can tune in at 4 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays.
“It’s a rolling show of doom,” Vblast said. It gives him a chance to share his vast collection of music. “I fill a need for somebody. I know my fans, both of them. I collect music like people collect comics and baseball cards. If a band really bothers me, I listen to it – except for pop crap. I try to figure out why it’s bothering me.”
He and his family moved to the Methow Valley from Burien, escaping an area that had become “gang infested.” He has found the valley to be “an artist community” and fertile ground for artistic growth.
“I’ll tell you one thing about the artists in the Methow, beyond the fact that you can swing a dead cat and hit one. You see what someone’s doing in another medium and you pull connections into your own work. Some ethereal part of what they’re doing inspires a spark. A lot of people are doing cross-disciplines.”
Vblast is among those artists working in diverse disciplines. On a hillside near his house, a wide strip of aqua blue tumbles hundreds of feet down a slope. Vblast salvaged roofing from a barn that burned in the Carlton Complex and connected 8-foot-long sections of metal together, painted them blue and arranged them in an undulating flow downhill. The blue is a dynamic contrast to green grasses and yellow balsamroot flowers in spring.
“I call it River Project. There’s so much weird, twisted stuff from the fire. I wanted to do something fire-related,” he said. “I like reusing materials, mostly because they have a history. I’m just giving them another part of a life.”
In front of his house is a sculpture garden with a growing collection of creations in metal and wood. One of the newest additions is a tall metal dragon made of 500 pieces. It was intended to serve as a mailbox holder, but didn’t meet postal regulations, to put it mildly.”If someone ran into it, it would kill them,” Vblast said. So the dragon stands guard in front of the house.
Vblast works almost every day, kick-starting his morning with a pot of coffee. A “professional drinker for 40 years,” he gave up alcohol about four years ago. “My drug of choice is coffee. I drink two pots a day,” he said. Most mornings in warmer months, Vblast heads to his metal workshop in a converted garage next to the house. The workshop opens to a panoramic view of nearby hills, and Vblast’s tools and equipment are neatly arranged on shelves and walls.
In the afternoons, or during the cold winter months, he spends his time in his painting studio. It’s a huge, high-ceilinged room below the house, and was originally designed to be a racquetball court. It’s next to his wife’s jewelry workshop, and nearby is another room with a fireplace, couch and big screen TV where Vblast partakes of another passion – video games. “I’m a crazy gamer,” he said. “There’s something uniquely satisfying about running through the blood mist of the enemies of light. I have tried to explain this to my wife, but she just rolls her eyes and sighs.”
His art studio walls are covered with finished works and works in progress, as well as an eclectic mix of music, movie and event posters (Rodney Dangerfield, Iggy Pop, The Pleasure Elite). Studio décor includes an array of skulls and bones, odd statuaries and an impressive collection of alarmingly large bugs and spiders in frames.
Vblast paints on canvas hanging on a wall. He works primarily in acrylics, creating heavily textured abstract paintings and mixed media pieces that sometimes incorporate organic forms like skulls, skeletons, human figures, and animals. His says his work is best described as abstract, “though I tend to veer away from pure abstraction and occasionally move into collage and narrative work – giant comic book paintings that pose as fine art.”
He explores how to engage people in his art, sometimes discovering an answer by accident. He created a large painting for a show “that turned into a piece of shit, so I cut it up.” He saved one of the pieces and in a corner of it he painted a tiny bee. “People just gravitated to it,” he said. “I’m beginning to add more recognizable things.”
He usually has several pieces in progress, and finds that leaving a piece of work alone for awhile can be productive. “If you let it sit, things will happen. It’s kind of an organized patience,” he said.
“I don’t believe in inspiration,” Vblast said. “That probably comes from my technical and commercial background. I believe in hard work and figuring it out.”
Many of Vblast’s paintings tend heavily toward bold reds and yellows. “My palate is pretty warm. Maybe because I’m a naturally angry guy,” he said. He continues to strive to create work that raises questions and tests people’s tolerance. “I like stuff on the edge,” Vblast said. “I’m a cynical guy. But I have a lot of fun in life.”
Vblast’s work has been exhibited throughout the Northwest and is held in many private collections. His newest works can be seen in an upcoming show at Confluence Gallery in Twisp called “Methow Contemporary,” August 24-September 28.
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Photographs were taken by Sol Gutierrez.