The Sonoma County Gazette: Community News Magazine
Sonoma County Gazette
| more

Photo Gallery

Tony Speirs: Mash-Up Artist


Tony Speirs: Mash-Up Artist

By Maja Wood

Local artist Tony Speirs may not be as well-known (at least not yet) as William T. Wiley, Robert Arneson, and Sol LeWitt, but like these and other big names in the art world, Speirs has also created a label for the prestigious Imagery Winery art series. His work is featured on the 2013 Grenache, released in September.

“When I’m looking for artists, I don’t care about notoriety or whether someone is young and just starting out or older and established or whatever,” says Bob Nugent, curator of the Imagery collection. “I only care about the art. Tony is a wonderful painter who excels at what I call “Carni Art.” He’s at the top of his game, and that’s what I look for.”

When asked how he’s able to entice so many big-name artists into creating labels for Imagery, Nugent laughs and says, “Believe me, they’re not doing it for the amount of money we’re paying, or for the exposure, they have plenty of that.” Instead, the appeal is they also get 60 bottles of the wine which has their art on it. “Do you know how cool it is to be able to give someone a bottle of wine as a gift—a really good bottle of wine—with your own artwork on it? That’s why I’m able to get all these artists to participate.”

Nugent is right. Soon after arriving at Speirs’ home to interview him, he grins and says, “Check this out, this is really cool,” and shows me one of the bottles, adding that his holiday gift giving has suddenly been taken care of.  He’s standing in his living room, turning the bottle in his hands, and trying to explain why his rendition of Botticelli’s-Venus-slash-Virgin-Mary is dressed in Hindu clothing while a superhero is grabbing on to her halo.

“The story that was playing in my head (while making the painting) is that an alien had come down to earth and then tried to call his planet and report back on what he was seeing here. So, he gets bits and pieces of information from here and from there, but everything gets kind of mixed up and jumbled and so the picture he paints of our world is kind of real but not really.

“I’m an illustrator, I like to tell stories with my work,” Speirs continues. “But, sometimes the story I’m telling might be completely different from what someone else is interpreting from the piece. And actually, I kind of like that. I love hearing what other people see in the picture.”

His curiosity about people and how their imaginations interact with his works is one of the reasons Speirs enjoys Sonoma County Art Trails so much. One time a woman came to Speirs’ studio and fell in love with a particular piece. The painting was called “Which One Do You Believe?” and depicted a large man holding a woman in his arms while wild beasts tried to attack. “Mysteriously, she would only tell me that the piece was important for her as it was part of the ‘healing process.’” Speirs says. “But I believe she probably felt the image of the man seemed strong and protective and that might be what was so healing for her.” But, the story that was running through Speirs’ head while creating the painting was a much different one. “I was at a place in life where I wasn’t feeling very big—I didn’t feel large enough physically, I didn’t feel I had enough money, I didn’t feel big enough in the world—I was just feeling small and insecure at that particular time and so I created this larger-than-life person to stand in for me in the picture.”

Just a couple of months ago, and almost 20 years after buying the painting, the woman called Speirs to thank him and let him know that looking at that piece for the past two decades actually did help her heal. And so, the reality is that Speirs’ imaginary stand-in really did turn out to be something strong and protective and powerful. Perhaps that’s just how it works. We try to send out messages of our own inner world, but things get mixed up and jumbled. Stories are told one way and heard another. But maybe it’s the attempt at communication itself that communicates the most; it’s the trying to see and allowing to be seen that forms the connections. Perhaps it’s not the story, but the simple act of storytelling, that brings the healing.

Check out Tony's recent work at Sonoma County Art TrailsOctober 10, 11, 17 and 18. Studio #149 211 Donald St. Graton (707) 824-1587