Among Richmond’s improvements over the years has been the emergence of eye-catching street art.
Much of that can be attributed to a single artist — John Wehrle — who was honored in a City Council proclamation Tuesday as the “greatest single contributor to public art murals in Richmond.”
The award-wining Wehrle is responsible for six iconic public works in Richmond, his first being the mural overpass on Macdonald Avenue. The mural was funded by a city grant, a benefit Wehrle said allows artists like him to “paint overpasses rather than having to sleep under them.”
His six notable Richmond murals include Past Perfect on Macdonald (1990); Revisionist History on San Pablo Avenue (1995); Ferry Point in Pt. Richmond (1996); Century Xing at the Macdonald Avenue BART (2000); Macdonald Avenue Gateway (2007); and Monarchs at the Recreation Complex on Macdonald (2018).
“Mr. Wehrle set a new standard by painting the letters ‘Richmond’ on the overpass above San Pablo Avenue, and creating a new way-finding trend in other cities across the state,” according to the city proclamation.
Born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, Werhle and his family moved to Richmond 30 years ago. He began painting public murals in the 1970s, accomplishing works in nearly a dozen California cities, along with cities in Washington and Illinois. In 1984, he was commissioned by the Los Angeles Olympics Committee to pain “Galileo, Jupiter, Apollo,” a mural that took five months while working outdoors on I-5 near Broadway and Spring streets.
In 1966, he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the US Army and was chosen to be the leader of the first “combat artist” team sent to cover the war in Vietnam.
“Paintings from this experience are part of the permanent collection of the Military Historical Division at the Pentagon and were prominently featured in the 2010 exhibition Art of the American Soldier at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia,” according to city documents.
Wehrle has taught art at the De Young Museum in San Francisco and California College of Arts & Crafts in Oakland, but his contributions locally have been even greater.
Werhle is the only local artist to be commissioned by Chevron to do on-site murals on Chevron premises in 2013-14 and 2016-17. He also served as a member of Richmond’s Public Art Advisory Committee from 2003-05, and has a long history with the Richmond Art Center, where he served on the Board from 2006-2012, was President in 2011 and now serves on the Exhibition Committee. He has has taught and attended classes at RAC and had a solo show in 2011.
“Mr. Wehrle holds the highest standard of excellence and work ethic in his murals and has trained many young Richmond artists as mural interns, giving them on-site instruction and coaching at his mural sites, and often painting images of them into the murals,” city officials said.
Wehrle used his moment in the sun on Tuesday to plug the resourcefulness of the Richmond Museum of History. He said his public works are mostly site-specific with an historical, mythological or allegorical bent.
“I like to get the details correct,” he said, “and I spent many hours going through photographic files at the Richmond History Museum.”
Murals are “street theater,” he added, created in real time before a parade of people.
“I’ve had works graffiitied, shot with guns and some demolished.”
But he said the city’s continued investment in public art has made a difference in the community.
“I’m pleased to see how Richmond has grown in positive ways in 30 years,” he said, adding there are now many talented young artists in the community.
For more on his work, visit his website at www.troutinhand.com.