Arts & Culture

His paintings are hyper-realistic. The story behind this Wichitan’s stunning artwork

It’s an arresting image.

Ernest Vincent Wood III’s award-winning oil painting, “Hope,” draws attention at Mark Arts, where it’s currently on display as part of the gallery’s Oil Painting National Invitational.

The painting depicts a nude man set against a plain background, gazing upward while surrounded by a live dove and origami doves. The man is giving a traditional gesture of blessing, as seen in iconography.

The piece, painted earlier this year, won second-place honors at the Mark Arts exhibition, which was underwritten by the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation.

Perhaps that’s fitting, as the Kochs’ cultural philanthropy was what launched Wood’s career as a painter more than a decade ago.

Wood, a 2006 Wichita State University graduate, received a grant from the Koch Cultural Trust shortly after graduation to study oil painting abroad in Italy.

The Italy residency — in a small town called Monte Castello di Vibio — led to Wood finding gallery representation in Ireland.

Wood, who said he had originally just planned on getting a master’s degree and teaching art, said he “had to get good” fast to take the leap from art student to full-time painter.

“When I saw this opportunity to paint full-time, I thought this is really what I’d like to do,” he said. “You kind of know when it’s your shot.”

Wood traveled between Ireland and Wichita for a few years after that, mounting a yearly show in Ireland in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

His figurative work is reminiscent of paintings by the 16th century Italian painter Caravaggio, from whom Wood draws inspiration.

Just as his career seemed to be taking off, the Great Recession hit.

“Ireland, Italy, Greece, a lot of EU members had a really hard time after the global economic downturn,” Wood said. “There were really no more paintings being purchased in Ireland after ‘09.”

So he did what all artists do when work is slow, he said: wait tables during the day and continue to make artwork at night. In 2014, Wood returned to full-time painting.

“You paint because you really know nothing else after awhile,” he said. “I don’t know if we just waited out the Recession or what, but it was evident that it could be somewhat stable again ... but it’s feast or famine, and you kind of learn to roll with that. Not that I’m ever comfortable with it.”

‘Hope’

All of that leads to “Hope,” the painting at Mark Arts now.

Wood said he had the idea for the painting for months prior, but it wasn’t until May 12 that he was inspired to bring it to fruition.

His father-in-law was killed in a farming accident that day.

“There isn’t anything that can bring despair, intense sadness and depression as much as the sudden loss of someone who was just really an amazing man,” Wood said.

As he was coping with the loss, he said he was inspired to complete “Hope,” as a statement that “there is reason to have hope and there is reason to see beyond the immediate in life.”

He enlisted the help of Devin Roberts, a local personal trainer, to model for the painting.

The work was painted from a photograph, Wood said — Roberts, the model, did not have to hold his pose for multiple hours.

The painting hints at the ideal of hope, he said — as the man gazes upward, out of the frame.

“Hope is expectant — we expect something to come or to happen,” Wood said. “As an apprentice of Christ ... I have to have my hope set in something more ultimate, outside of me. I lose my father-in-law, I lose my family — this is true, but it is temporary and moments are fleeting.”

Earlier this year, Wood created an account on Patreon, an online site where people can pay a certain amount every month to become a “patron” of an artist.

Currently he has 40 patrons on the site, which helps to provide some stable income, he said.

“A cup of coffee a month is going to change what I can make and how I can do it,” he said, adding that the custom-built frame for “Hope” was bought with Patreon money.

For more information about his Patreon site, visit www.patreon.com/evwiii.

“Hope” is on display at Mark Arts, 1307 N. Rock, through Sept. 19. Admission is free.

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