Harry Wirth – Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Briefly describe the work that you do.

Jetstream, Watercolor, 24"x18", 2011

Jetstream, Watercolor, 24″x18″, 2011


The paintings are visuals of my fascination with the dynamics of the natural landscape. The spaces implied on the paper are imaginary glimpses of time and space and do not necessarily represent an actual spot in any particular place.

The simple line of the horizon continues to stir my imagination and is evident in many of the works. To me, the horizon is ever-present as a reminder of where we are on earth. Where sky meets earth is a delicate and mysterious zone. At times the boundary is cold and hard and other times one blends into the other with no real demarcation or boundary. The intent is to create a space of depth, dimension, and intellectual awareness.

The view of the landscape can be obstructed by other natural features or man-made structures that tend to ‘frame’, distort, or obstruct the view. These paintings I call, ‘windows’. The ‘negative’ areas on the paper (white spaces) takes on an equal importance to the actual object of the painted areas.

My material is the memory of an experience on the landscape. I take these memories into the studio and create my special views which I call “Imaginary Spaces”.

The Architecture

My most recent architectural work is my home and studio. The concept here is working with the natural landscape and designing the interior and exterior with the same kind of simplicity as my paintings. Bold and contrasting graphic design elements are incorporated inside and out that emphasize the fenestration and geometric details. There is a balance between the functional and the aesthetic. The house not only is an aesthetic statement, but is also energy efficient incorporating solar heating and minimizing material usage.

Frontline, Watercolor, 18"x24", 2012

Frontline, Watercolor, 18″x24″, 2012

At what point in your life did you decide to become an artist?

Art was part of my life as long as I can remember. Drawing was a daily activity of mine as a youth. “I want to be an artist or designer or architect when I grow up” was the answer to that ubiquitous question given in grade school. My favorite activity was building models or drawing or art class at school.

Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.

My early work was applied art and my current work is expressive art. Having always been mechanically inclined, and trained as an architect and designer, my early work always had practical applications. The “art” was in the form of buildings, homes, interiors, graphic designs and other projects that were of a practical nature. This influenced my work in a stressful way that everything had a monetary attachment and business connection that governed the outcome. The recent work I am producing has no attachment to practicality and is purely art expression.  However, one can see the architectural and graphic design influences on my current work.

Standoff, Watercolor, 18"x24", 2012

Standoff, Watercolor, 18″x24″, 2012

What types of conceptual concerns are present in your work? How do those relate to the specific process(es) or media you use?

My basic concept is manipulating images to express space and depth in the picture plane. The watercolor medium tends to accentuate this because of its transparency and ability to represent “spatial light”. In short, what I’m basically doing is staining paper to represent mood, atmosphere and space.

We once heard Chuck Close say he did not believe in being inspired, rather in working hard everyday. What motivates you in your studio practice?

What motivates me in my everyday studio work is the ongoing exploration and search for compositions and shapes that reflect my inner aesthetic. This is an ongoing struggle because there is no real answer to the question, just an ongoing search and experimentation.

What artists living or non-living influence your work?

The list is long and ever changing. It’s comprised of artists, designers, architects, and students of mine. To name a few, Charles Dix (deceased Wisconsin artist), Andrew Wyeth’s watercolor studies, JMW Turner, Winslow Homer, Thom Mayne, Murray Fredericks, Laslo Moholy Nagy, Man Ray and John Cage.

When you are not making art what types of activities and interests do you engage in? 

When I’m not making art, I’m continually upgrading and redesigning the house that I live in. A departure from my creative work is teaching basic and high performance motorcycle training. I’m a retired professional educator of art and design and continually share my life experiences and wisdom through my mentoring and various workshops.


DSCN0020Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1951. Lived and studied in Arizona 1972-1977. Graduate of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture. Studied art and architecture, Arizona State University and Phoenix College. Taught as professor of Art and design at MIAD-Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, Mount Mary College in Milwaukee, UW-Milwaukee-School of Art, and Northern Illinois University. Currently Professor Emeritus from NIU.

Lectured nationally, including SCIARC-Southern California Institute of Architecture and internationally at the Bauhaus University in Weimar, Germany and School of Art in Katowice, Poland. Numerous architectural and art awards. NEA Grant winner. Published in numerous national and international publications. Featured in numerous solo and group art exhibitions. Received numerous art awards and honors. Curated and produced numerous art and design exhibitions nationally and internationally.

Registered Wisconsin Architect and NCIDQ certified Interior designer since 1980. 

In the Studio

In the Studio


All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission. 

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