Monday, July 31, 2006 | 7:25 a.m.
Jack Endewelt was a methodical and meticulous painter, who zeroed in on guns, vintage aircraft, chocolates, targets and other objects that appealed to him aesthetically.
His technical skill, curious composition and sometimes peculiar imagery made for intriguing portraits: ominous World War II planes, detailed plumbing equipment, sensual clouds with pockets and tufts, and articulate multi-image works.
Trifecta Gallery in the Arts Factory will exhibit his works in "Farewell Jack," a show opening Friday in honor of Endewelt, who died from lung cancer in January. This will be the first time that some of the works have been shown publicly.
"The craftsmanship is so amazing," says Casey Weldon, who designed a catalogue to accompany the show. "Everything is rendered so perfectly. But then there is the juxtaposition of the weird subject matter. The work, at first glance, seems so conservative, straightforward, but looking closer you see that it's off-kilter, eerie."
Endewelt worked as an illustrator for a magazine and publishing company and was chairman of the illustration department at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. But he was such a prolific fine-art painter that gallery owner Marty Walsh had her work cut out for her when she began assembling the exhibit.
Paintings filled his McDonald Ranch home's closets, walls, studio and even a spare bathtub.
In the end, Walsh gathered almost 60 works that will hang "salon style" - floor to ceiling in her cube-shaped studio .
Standing amid dozens of paintings leaning against the walls, she says, "I'm learning more and more about his work. The more I learn, the more I miss him."
As Walsh prepares for the exhibit, it seems that curating the show is as much emotional purge for Walsh as it is an homage to Endewelt.
Endewelt and his wife, Barbara, a former Broadway performer, retired to Las Vegas in 2000. Retirement allowed him ample time to paint, which he did full time: beginning at 8:30 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m. Because he rarely titled his paintings, he leaves the viewer with a lot of questions that will never be answered.
"He liked to take charged subjects - emotionally and sensually - neutralize them and elevate them," Walsh says.
His work - whether portraiture or strategic compilations of themed images - displays a rich depth of color and technical skill. The hazy greenish-blue sky from which the silhouetted World War II planes float, and sometimes emerge, appears airbrushed but was created using brushes. The war planes, painted during a time Endewelt referred to as his "dark years," are seen from the vantage point of a spotter.
"He was not a real fast painter," Barbara Endewelt said. "He took his time. He was particular about getting it right. He loved guns - not to shoot. He loved the shape of them, the shininess, the antiquity. He loved plumbing, he loved nudes. Whatever passed his fancy, he drew.
"He saw art in everything. I'm looking at a basket right now. If he painted the basket, you would really see it."
A lever-action rifle painted on a white canvas portrays a perfectly photorealistic steely loading mechanism while its stock and barrel are intentionally incomplete. The foreground includes a bullet and a directional marking; an illustration of the gun's loaded interior graces the background.
His collage-style paintings that Barbara Endewelt calls "salesman samples" contain equally realistic imagery.
The paintings are priced under $3,000.
The question that even Walsh struggles with is whether it's too soon to break up the collection. Barbara Endewelt says she's comfortable with the decision.
"In a way it isn't because I have so many things here that I wouldn't part with," she says. "Every time I open a box, I find more things, including a collection of quick watercolor landscapes from Fire Island. He saw art in everything. He would go from one subject to another.
"What's left is going to have to be archived and stored."