By Donald Huntington
– 110° Magazine
Bill Weber is an amazing local resource for the arts. His murals are scattered throughout California, reaching as far as Palm Springs. In many ways he is advancing the arts in our area.
The Brentwood artist, Bill Weber, is engaged in a number of diverse disciplines as muralist, painter, sculptor, illustrator, architect, holographer, digital artist, modeler, photographer, and curator. Plus, he’s engaged in a number of projects that defy easy classification.
Weber Exhibits an unassuming lack of pretension that is sometimes the mark of a truly gifted human being.
A Sane Artist
The line between genius and insanity seems often to be blurred. The fact that Vincent van Gogh would cut off a piece of his ear and send it to a lady of the night for safekeeping seems to be appalling, but to some people understandable, adjunct to the creative genius that flamed in the man’s breast.
Weber, however, always comes across in his human interactions as a rational individual, which is a good thing considering the breadth and depth of the man’s artistic genius. In spite of appearing to be perfectly sane, Weber often includes surreal themes in his fine art pieces – images that might have come out of fevered dreams for from a troubled psyche.
In light of the fantastic and even bizarre character of some of his pictures, it should come as no surprise that Weber counts Salvador Dali as one of the biggest influences in his art. Dali once famously said about himself, “The only difference between me and a madman is that I’m not mad.” And then he created even more confusion by an attempted explanation: “There is only one difference between a madman and me. The madman thinks he is sane. I know I am mad.”
One day a fellow Artist, named Anthony, told Weber that he was going to personally visit Dali at his home. Anthony intended to shoe some of his art to Dali and to get a critique of his efforts from that great man. He offered to take one of Weber’s pictures to show Dali, as well. So Bill gave him a piece he called The Nose.
If Dali wasn’t actually mad, he was capable of putting on a pretty good imitation of a mentally unbalanced person. Tony told Weber that when he pulled up in Dali’s driveway he found Dali watering his Rolls Royce with a garden hose. It turned out that Dali had planted grass on all the Roll’s external surfaces, and so, he had to water the car from time-to-time to keep it green.
This picture, The Nose, is one that caused Salvador Dali to predict that Bill Weber would cut off his ear. We can imagine that he said that because Dali thought he saw in Weber’s work something of the imagination and madcap genius of Vincent van Gogh. The picture, full of strange inventions and comic twists, plays with the viewers’ minds and imaginations. For Example, the creature is obviously some kind of female. But then, at some point on its lower torso she transformed into a giant nose. The monster is apparently engaged in blowing out her brains at one end, but then blowing its nose on the other. And blowing what out of her nose? And when you look more carefully, she really isn’t shooting herself, but extracting a very odd firearm out of a hold in the back of her cranium. The weapon is dripping what? The picture succeeds in being both merry and gross; both enchanting and repulsive. And most of all, its a tease for our imagination.
Dali invited Anthony into his house, looked at the man’s pictures, and made the judgement, “the only thing these are good for is to throw into the garbage.” But when he saw Weber’s picture he studied it thoughtfully for a moment and then said, “The man who painted this picture will cut off his ear within five years.”
Weber says he took the comment as a compliment – which was probably what the artist intended.
Sources of Inspiration and Art
Weber says he was greatly influenced by the works of three artists. He obviously learned some lessons from the beautiful and dream-like images of Salvador Dali, but says he can trace his artistic legacy, in part, back to the vision of the fifteenth century Duch renaissance painter, Hieronymus Bosch. Weber finds Bosch’s great painting The Garden of Earthly Delights to be a source of inspiration.
Weber has especially studied carefully the works and writings of Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci was an incredible artist, inventor, designer, architect, and scientist. For example, he painted the Mona Lisa, but also invented such things as a helicopter, an airplane, and a 3-speed transmission. Da Vinci became a one-man Pentagon – inventing and supplying the weapons for his country’s wars, plus inventing other futuristic weapons including a tank, a machine gun, and a submarine.
Da Vinci advanced the world’s knowledge in the areas of anatomy, astronomy, architecture, engineering, optics, and hydrodynamics. He reportedly devised a theory of plate tectonics.
While in college, Weber brought a copy of da Vinci’s notebooks, read them multiple times, and has continued to read and reread them during the intervening years until now. He learned from da Vinci, in general, to aim for excellence in many areas of life, and in particular learned from studying da Vinci’s writings and paintings how to use colors and create compositions.
For example, Bill says that he learned about glazing from studying da Vinci’s technique of applying paint in as many as 40 transparent layers onto a white background so the white would illuminate the colors as it reflected through the overlying coatings. The resulting effect makes the viewers believe that they are actually looking into rather than at the picture. The effect is almost like looking at a color slide.
Weber also learned from da Vinci’s writings the fascinating technique of aerial perspective. The technique is based upon a principle that the greater the intervening space between a painted surface and the viewer, the lighter and bluer that color becomes.
In other words, when seen up close, an object’s reds, greens, and other colors may seem crisp and bright. From farther away, however, because of the effect of the atmosphere, colors shift towards blue. Weber uses this technique to provide a sense of depth and perspective to some of his pictures.
Weber’s largest project is the giant Jazz mural at 606 Broadway in San Francisco. The mural prominently features Benny Goodman playing on his clarinet and Teddy Wilson playing his piano. It also depicts San Francisco figures from the past and present including legends like Herb Caen, Emperon Norton, and a line-up of the city’s former mayors stretching back to Alioto, who was mayor in the 1960’s.
One of Benny Goodman’s daughters wrote powerfully about Weber’s picture of her father:
“I’m always stunned at the likeness Bill created. Without question it is one of the best portraits done, an uncanny resemblance… I always lookup from my steering wheel and say a quick hello to my Daddy when I pass by.”
The Jazz mural is four stories high and more than 100 feet long. The location at the intersection of Broadway and Columbus Street is significant because it marks the point where Chinatown, North Beach, and the old Barbary Coast sections of the City come together. Elements in the mural depict the history of the three areas – showing, for example, a Chinese dragon and a scene of the Barbary Coast from the 1930’s.
Bill first painted the Jazz mural in 1987. Two decades of fog, pollution, and sunshine marred the worke and faded the colors so three years ago he began a restoration project that is nearing completion. He incorporated some updates in the mural, adding Willy Brown, Gene Kruppa, and Gavin Newsom, for example. Also the painting now includes a yellow, 2-seat, 1935 Mercedes Convertible with the license plate bearing the number “110,” in honor of our magazine.
Weber recently created another large mural for the Antelope Storage Unit in the Sacramento area. The 300-foot front wall of the unit now depicts characters from the old Little Rascals movies. Various scenes humorously depict Spanky, Buckwheat, Darla, Porky, Stymie, Alfalfa, And Pete the Pup engaged in releasing antelopes from storage units where they had been presumably been held captive.
Weber’s murals are scattered throughout Northern California and beyond. A fascinating Brentwood example completely covers the wall opposite Ms. Unique Boutique and Gabby’s Grind, in the First Street Plaza. Garry Arfsten, the proprietor of Gabby’s Grind, said that his mom sat in the coffee shop one morning and finally exclaimed, “That cat hasn’t moved a muscle in two hours!”
Besides the obvious public examples of his work, Weber’s murals adorn the walls of many private homes. If a homeowner wishes the wall of a large dining room to give the effect of looking from the window of a Tuscan villa or to provide the illusion of being on a street facing an English Pub, Weber will paint the scene in vivid colors and with high realism. He is able to develop any theme the homeowner wishes. One elderly woman commissioned him to paint a large mural in the family estate depicting all of her grandchildren playing together in an outdoor scene.
Fine Artist, Sculptor, Architect, Curator
Weber reserves his greatest love for his fine art. Painting under the brush name of El Gallo, which is Spanish for ‘the rooster,” he creates vivid and fantastic pictures of creates and scenes that spring from the imagination.
Weber says that several of his paintings have brought him special satisfaction. One of his most curious paintings depicts the head of Albert Einstein. All over and around the scene people from diverse walks of life including soldiers, lawyers, doctors, and poets, are intently examining Einstein’s mind, ostensibly seeking knowledge for understanding the universe and dealing with questions that humans have been asking since the dawn of time.
Beautiful automobiles are one of the most popular subjects for Weber’s fine art. He has created a series of highly-realistic paintings of gorgeous classic automobiles, such as a 1935 Bughatty Type-57 Roadster.
Weber is also an accomplished sculptor. For the past year he has been working on a bronze statue of a farmer sweing seeds, symbolizing the growth of Brentwood. The work was commissioned by the Arts commission as part of the city beautification project.
Another hat Weber wears is that of premier architect. He is currently involved in several building projects. The most ambitious is a combination winery and estate home for the Azzulina Vineyard Estate in Livermore. He is designing the winery to incorporate a tasting room and reception hall. The 16,000 square foot building includes a 6,000 square foot wine cellar.
An 8,000 square foot estate home will be located 130 feet from the winery. The two buildings are situated on a 20 acre vineyard. Bill’s highly detailed plans are laid out on 50 pages of 30 by 40 inch drawings – all of them perfectly drawn and done by hand.
He built scale models for both buildings, took pictures of the area and the models, and then Photo-shopped the buildings into the scene so that the client can see exactly what the project will look like when completed before the first footings are poured.
Bill continually contributes his time and talents to the City of Brentwood without any remuneration. For example, he has served for years as the unpaid curator of the Brentwood Arts Commision Gallery, which is located in the Brentwood Business and Technology center. The gallery provides a place for local artists to exhibit their work. Any artist is free to show between one and four pieces. The exhibits are rotated on a quarterly basis.
The Arts Commission Gallery also provides a venue for displaying the artwork of guests and artists. Past shows included the works of artists like Frank Lloyd Wright, Art Gonzales, and Diego Rivera. The gallery is currently exhibiting the passionate work of Bruno Aguirre and is currently preparing to set up a show demonstrating the amazing plein air works of San Ramon artist, Stephen Sanfilippo. Weber is continually working on planning future exhibits. Future scheduled artists includes a phantasie artist and a photographer from Studio 54.
Weber says that he really enjoys putting these shows on and takes delight in seeing people enjoy the artwork that he has displayed!
Weber is also curator of the Blackhawk Art Museum and manager of the art gallery located in the Beat Museum that opened this past summer in San Francisco.
An Amazing Family Legacy
Bill is a remarkable scion from an extraordinary family tree. Two centuries ago, his forebears, the Peraltas, were the first Spanish settlers in the area. The family patriarch, Don Luiz Maria Peralta, was general in the Spanish Army who helped protect missionaries including Father Junipero Serra.
As a reward, instead of money, Peralta was granted all the land encompassing the current towns of San Leandro, Oakland, Alameda, Emeryville, Piedmont, Berkeley, and Albany. He built a huge hacienda in Oakland the size of a city block, including two large homes, 20 guest houses, and a private church. The main structure is still on the site and being used as a museum.
Weber’s maternal grandmother was a maid for William Randolph Hearst in the 1920’s . Her dad was a wood-carver in the Hearst castle. He restored the castle’s famous dining room table and made chairs to match the ancient table that had been imported from Europe. He also carved the fireplace mantle.
Weber’s paternal grandmother married into the Peraltas; her husband’s name was Orvalle Lucky. Orvalle’s dad worked for Wells Fargo and was robbed by the famous highwayman, Black Bart.
Weber’s dad was a pilot in WWII who “flew the Hump” in China bringing supplies to the Flying Tigers, and later piloted bombers over the African and Germany theaters. Following the war he was the personal pilot for General MacArthur in Japan. That’s where Bill was born.
Weber’s older brother, Bob, used to play with MacArthur’s son. When the two of them were six years old they disappeared one day setting off a frantic search which ended when they were discovered sitting in the audience of the Bob Hope show.
Weber’s dad died in 1989 but flying remained a part of his family because, following a lifetime of taking lessons, his mom got her license when she was 65 and continued flying into her 80s. She lives on the runway of Pine Mountain Lake and would come and go from the huge 35 by 100 foot hanger in her back yard, which Weber designed for her, complete with an apartment/guesthouse and a woodshop for his step-father who was a dilettante carpenter.
Brother Bob became the head of the L.A. SWAT organization and was captain of the team that ended the career of Patti Hearst’s kidnapper by the straight forward way of burning down the building where he had taken refuge. Bill’s brother subsequently helped design the Kevlar bullet-proof vest and is now VP for Safari Body Armor.
Weber says that his objective in all parts of his art consist of striving towards transcendence. He believes that all creative efforts can be judged by the standard of whether or not it lends itself to a vision of human life that soars above the mundane gray world of mere unreflective existence.
Weber believes humankind to be the proper goal and measure of an artist’s work and feels that he’s painting something worthwhile only to the extent that it glorifies mankind’s existence in some worthy manner. He shares da Vinvi’s embrace of life and holds great regard for any work of creation that elevates the humanity we share with each other.
The essence of artistry for Weber is to create things that have never been seen before on earth. He believes that there is a magic quality about real art because it always involves bringing into existence some object or presentation that has at its source the imagination of the artist. Such activity forms the basis for Weber’s meaning of life.
“I try to create something new and, hopefully, wonderful that has never before been seen on our tired, worn planet. Doing that always feels right to me! There is a vitality about it! Life at that point really does become more than making a living. I’ll always be passionate about this!”