Artist rediscovers his hometown with oil paints and canvas
It’s hard not to find something to relate to in Bill Goffrier’s paintings.
The Wichita-based artist has become known for creating small oil-based paintings depicting various Wichita streetscapes, a series he calls “Authenti-City.”
Goffrier, who commands a large Facebook following, has painted more than 180 of these works in the past few years.
About 60 of these Wichita paintings are currently on display on the second floor of CityArts, 334 N. Mead, and will be through March 20.
“Authenti-City” tells the story of a changing city.
It’s a series where you can find classic images of 1920s College Hill bungalows and historic downtown buildings — and much newer construction like the Downtown YMCA, Old Town Warren and Gallery Alley.
“That’s kind of the job of the artist — to make something beautiful out of something that wasn’t obviously that, to create beauty,” Goffrier said.
Goffrier himself has a long, albeit patchy, history in Wichita.
Growing up on the east side, he took oil painting lessons from Betty Dickerson, an instructor at the Wichita Art Association (now Mark Arts) known as an icon of Wichita art.
Then, at Southeast High School, he studied painting under Don Weddle, the same teacher who instructed internationally known artists Tom Otterness and David Salle.
“He was the best teacher I ever had in my life,” Goffrier said. “At the time I didn’t know. ... A dumb kid didn’t appreciate what a really talented teacher he was.”
He opted to stay here after graduation and attend Wichita State University for art, partially because he was becoming increasingly involved in Wichita’s indie-rock scene.
Goffrier was lead guitarist for The Embarrassment, a popular rock act out of Wichita that recorded and toured until 1983.
Eventually, Goffrier rented a private studio space in the narrow, triangular building at 21st and Broadway informally known as the “Flatiron Building.”
“I’d kind of trudge around through the more industrial areas, the stockyards in North Wichita,” he said. “I liked the grit of Wichita.”
After the band broke up, he decided to devote himself once again to art — quickly leaving Wichita to get a master’s degree at Boston University.
“I went out there and I did learn a lot more about painting, but it also made me more lost in who I was as a painter,” he said. “I tried several different styles — most of the time pretty much floundering. ... I wasn’t having any fun at it.”
In Boston, he met some musicians and, once again, the rock bug bit him.
In 1985, the indie-rock band Big Dipper was formed in Boston — a group that, for a short time, was quite successful, getting reviewed by The New York Times and signed to Sony’s Epic Records in 1990. (An aside: the band’s song, “Ron Klaus Wrecked His House,” about a wild party The Embarrassment played in Wichita, was featured in the 2015 movie, “Gold.”)
“We got chewed up and spit out of the music business really quick,” he said. “It ran its course and I was back to thinking, ‘OK, once again music has had its period.’”
Goffrier worked various jobs in Boston over a span of 30 years, as a preparator at a prestigious gallery and as an art teacher at the college and elementary levels.
He visited Wichita frequently over those years, he said.
Return to Wichita and ‘Authenti-City’
In 2013 Goffrier moved back to Wichita semi-permanently to take care of his ailing father.
He found time to start painting the city again and quickly realized Wichita was a much different place than it was in the 1980s.
“Some of the history is still here and a lot of it’s just getting wiped away, maybe for good reason — maybe being replaced by some really cool things the city is doing,” he said. “Maybe there’s some sadness about it too, because some memories are disappearing.”
Goffrier started puttering around downtown on a motorized scooter, art supplies in his backpack, looking for 5-by-7-inch scenes to paint.
“I was attracted, still, to kind of blunt, course, and sometimes what people would want to label as ugly parts of Wichita,” he said. “I start with a subject that’s not inherently beautiful and try to show what I think is there that’s inherently beautiful.”
His earliest works in what’s come to be known as “Authenti-City” were of icons like Union Station, the former Spaghetti Works building and the Douglas Street underpass.
He would paint en plein air, with his canvas set up directly in front of the subject he was painting.
What started as a few paintings of Douglas-centric streetscapes four years ago has blossomed into 182 different Wichita scenes, all presented as realist oil paintings.
In the past year or so, Goffrier has become one of the most in-demand artists in Wichita in large part because of Facebook, where images of his paintings are widely shared.
In the past year alone, he had multiple shows overlap each other at different venues like Third Place Brewing, Gallery Alley, Mark Arts, Good Shepherd Episcopal Church and more.
He attributes his popularity to the subject matter: Take, for instance, a widely shared painting he created of Riverside’s Park Villa in 2017.
“I wasn’t sure that that (was) really going to appeal to anybody the way it hit me,” he said. “Who knew that Park Villa had all these personal sentimental stories attached to it.”
At first, Goffrier did most of the subject selection himself, but as the series became more popular his fans and would-be commissioners suggested locations.
He currently has a “long list of subjects” he still wants to paint, he said.
“As people started leading me toward things I realized I’ve got a lot to learn and a lot of Wichita to explore,” Goffrier said. “I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll get to 100 paintings,’ and now I’m closer to 200 paintings.”
He’s also inadvertently become something of a preservationist — documenting buildings before they’re torn down, such as Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, the former Wichita Eagle building, Mead’s Corner and others.
Art lovers can see a clear Edward Hopper influence — the acclaimed realist painter famous for his cafe scenes and other streetscape oil paintings.
Goffrier admits Hopper was an influence on his particular artistic style ever since seeing Hopper paintings in the Wichita Art Museum’s Roland P. Murdock Collection as a boy in Wichita.
“Some of the first things I tried to draw in school, if they were architecture-related, immediately I’m thinking, ‘What would Edward Hopper do?’” Goffrier said. “I wanted that sense of light in my work.”
Goffrier no longer paints en plein air, primarily because he wants to capture more detail than is possible standing in front of his subjects. That, and physical and neurological complications of West Nile Virus have taken a toll. He paints in his studio now from photographs.
He said his residency in Wichita is “probably coming to an end” soon, but that “doesn’t mean my painting Wichita will stop.”
On his oil canvas, every building is equal.
It doesn’t matter if the subject is an art-deco building nearly a century old, a Warren movie theater, or a pile of shipping containers now known as Revolutsia – they all have a certain artistic merit and an inherent beauty, at least in Goffrier’s eyes.
Turns out canvas is the great equalizer.
Bill Goffrier’s ‘Authenti-City’
What: Exhibition of 60 oil paintings depicting Wichita scenes, and a small selection of oil paintings of Alaska scenes
Where: CityArts, 334 N. Mead, second floor
When: On display through March 20. Open 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Fri., 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat.
How much: $175-$2,400. Most small 5-by-7 paintings are around $300. Prints are also available of various images in the series for cheaper — contact Goffrier for more details.
More information: www.goffrier.com