Blake Wheeler, the artist, paints these magical worlds filled with wonder. You’ve probably seen Blake’s art more than a few times if you live in Charleston, WV, and you don’t even know it…which makes the conversation we had so very special. Born in Charleston and raised in Lincoln County, his art encompasses everything West Virginians hold dear in the wild and wonderful hills and countryside we call home. The young Blake Wheeler wanted to be a comic book artist growing up. “Looking at comics, that was a huge influence. I would buy them for the art and not read them,” he told me. His favorite comic artists growing up include “Joe Mad, Frank Miller, Alex Ross - probably Alex Ross overall, but as I got older, I loved traditional art and artists too. Impressionism, surreal art. Dali, Monet…”
I then shared with Blake the time I had the insane privilege to see a rare Dali exhibit in Prague. Looking at the art of Alex Ross (one of the most influential artists in comic books - you know, the guy who is the creator of Marvels and Kingdom Come), I can understand why Blake was so drawn to comics in his early years. Dali’s sketches remind me of early comics or stop motion storyboards. However, what influenced Blake Wheeler the most, “I would definitely say landscapes of WV have influenced my art. Lately, I’ve been more into landscapes. For sure, a 100% inspiration.”
Recently, Blake has been working on mural projects, one in particular at a park in Hurricane, “It’s a trail that goes through the woods with 8ft walls. They gave me a guideline of ‘nature-themed.’ I sent in a sketch and they just let me have at it.” The mural itself is four entire 8ft walls that are 5ft wide, and the murals go from day to night. He was also chosen as a Tamarack Emerging Artist Fellow, along with five other artists from WV, in 2021. The contest offers remuneration, exposure, and a group art show, among other things. The 2021 art show was held in Thomas, WV. Blake’s piece is on hardboard, which ended up being installed
on the walls at Marshall University. Currently, you can view the piece in the cafe of Taylor Books. “It just sold to the Montessori School the other day. It’s definitely a painting inspired by WV. It depicts a kid exploring the woods and has a robot head he found - I explored the woods as a kid. We didn’t have the internet. So, growing up, I had comics, drawing, exploring outside, riding bikes - all of that comes back to my painting.”
Where can you see Blake Wheeler’s art? Taylor Books, Hurricane Park, three of the Gallery 64 Bridge Piers in downtown Charleston, WV, an electric box on Capitol Street (the corner where the park is by the old Chesapeake Bagel). In 2018, The City of Charleston commissioned a project called Artist Alley that features 6ft to 8ft paintings on metal sheets, bolted onto the wall next to Gonzoburger, with Blake’s being the first one. His art is also featured in a similar project with another group of artists, called “In Place Mural Project.” The paintings are on metal bolted into different spots around Charleston, WV, and the artists were instructed to use the environment around the art’s location. Blake’s piece appears on Bridge Road.
If you’ve seen the Pirate Ship on The Levee, you’ve seen Blake’s work as well. “It was Jeff
Pearson’s vision in 2019, then 2020 happened, so he commissioned me to paint the Pirate Ship on The Levee. They were supposed to put elements from other artists on this poly tab stuff and paste it on there - a pirate, octopus, sea turtle.” While the architect was not too thrilled, it’s art. And being an artist myself, I know all too well that sometimes your art isn’t accepted by everyone. Blake told me, “They may sandblast it off, but you get paid no matter what. I would feel differently if it was my vision.” And I couldn’t agree more with him when it comes to the sentiment around your art whether it’s painting, writing, music, anything really.
What’s next for Blake Wheeler? He’s still painting his way around Wild and Wonderful West Virginia. The City of Charleston recently commissioned art on The Boulevard at Luna Park. “They are making historical pedestals, and I have three digital paintings coming in 2022. I’ve been into digital art lately - I did the first art bus. They sent me the templates, I painted them, and they print the large vinyl sheets.” So, if you see a KRT bus in Charleston that has an image of a guy hiking with his dog, that’s “Take Strange Trails” by Blake Wheeler.
Currently, Blake is also part of the showcase Artists of Charleston at Love Hope Center for the Arts in Fayetteville. The fine art gallery showcase runs until February 24, 2022, and features talent from the capital city. Blake told me, during our chat, that he would paint something large, so I’m excited to see what he came up with for this art installation. For the foreseeable future, he is hoping to do more murals in 2022. So if you get the chance to catch a glimpse of a Blake Wheeler painting, just know that it is steeped in a rich history full of all that is wild and wonderful, and shows the rest of the world how magical it is to grow up in West Virginia.