Arts October 18, 2021

Tangled Up In Hues

Wendel Wirth’s photography invites one to decide the story

Dawn. A mug of English Breakfast Tea nestled in the cupholder of her SUV. Black Lab Ace draping his doughy face over her shoulder. Dylan croons from the stereo, “…tangled up in bluuuuue.”

Wendel Wirth has begun the simple joy of seeing.

“Once the music gets into my head, I ponder the project at hand,” the Ketchum fine art photographer said.

She will drive until what’s in the windshield’s frame triggers a visceral response.

“I get filled with an unexplainable excitement. My gut is screaming at me to take the shot,” says Wirth. “These are the times that I try not to analyze what I am seeing. I just take the shot. Then I analyze it, and then take some more. The one that I took with my gut is almost always the best of the bunch.”

In the 1970s, the New York native took advantage of MOMA’s weekly free nights. It was there she was first drawn to Georgia O’Keeffe’s work.

“I was trying to sort out what I was so drawn to,” says Wirth. “I noticed that O’Keeffe’s work falls somewhere between abstraction and reality. That really resonated with me, so I made it a personal guideline for my work.”

Reaching the intuitive point that informs her work today included 18 years as a commercial artist and a Master’s of Fine Art from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

“One of the overarching goals of mine is to find a space, or to blur the line, between photography and minimalist art,” says Wirth. “Not simply minimalism but rather the minimalist art of the 60s and 70s.”

Atmosphere pulls everything together.

“Without the right atmosphere, the voice of the work can be lost. In a lot of my work, there’s an expanse. To some, that’s lonely. To others, it’s tranquil. I like to create photographs that create a space for introspection.”

Wirth largely works alone. “I think my family can attest that when I am really shooting, no one wants to wait in sub-zero temperatures for me to obsess for hours on one barn,” she says.

She uses critique of her work as an adjunct editor, but she’s experienced enough to consider the source.

“I need someone to poke holes in my work along the way,” says Wirth. “That said, it’s helpful to know that person and where they are coming from, so you have a bit of context as well. Doubt is not nearly as helpful, but it is also a part of the process.”

It’s too soon to talk about what she is working on, but Wirth provides a lavish word soup to explain some of the evolution of series’ past.

Consider, for example, her most recent body of work at Gilman Contemporary in Ketchum called, “THIS IS THE PLACE,” an exploration of minimalist art found in Idaho’s fading farmland.

“The linear landscape feels curated. In the winter months, the muted horizon parades elemental forms: barns and grain elevators, cow houses, cowsheds, granges. My mind translates the landscape into fields of Donald Judd’s concrete blocks. As a photographer, I flatten the plane, calling to mind Judd’s woodblock prints. The structures fade into a cluster of modest rectangles. A perfectly centered horizon line juts from a singular form.”

Her work, “NO VACANCY,” employs color blocks with the images.

“There were two main things that drove me to use the color blocks,” says Wirth. “The first had to do with color and ‘plasticity,’ a term used to describe if a color visually moves backwards or forwards. I was trying to create a space between the photograph and the color block. In some, I wanted people to perhaps get the sensation of peeking around the block for the rest of this image. The second was challenging people to finish the photograph on their own.”

The latter explains her attraction to the Dylan tune, a series of lyrical postcards about a lost romance and the way time glosses the memory and perpetuates the pursuit of what might have been.

Despite her acclaim, Wirth doesn’t feel she’s found all she’s looking for.

“I think I am always working to affirm my course professionally. It’s a personal challenge to make stronger work, dive deeper into the art world and to continually push the bar higher,” says Wirth. “I like the simple joy of discovery, but more importantly, I like the challenge and excitement of finding those things as I shoot. I try to add some visual play for an element of surprise. This can be strangely satisfying for me.

“I love the simple joy of seeing.”

Wendel Wirth Photography can be seen in person at Gilman Contemporary in Ketchum and Dimmitt Contemporary Art in Houston or at

This article appears in the Fall 2021 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.