Portage artist Dave Elhart says, when he was very young, he was diagnosed with having an extreme case of imagination...and he’s glad he never got rid of it. At Full City Café in Portage, Elhart hangs his fantastical paintings.
“This, believe it or not, is inside an iceberg. And of course there’s a three masted ship floating in there if you take a look real closely,” says Elhart as he describes on of his works. “There’s a tunnel in there. And of course, you know, if you were going to visit inside an iceberg, there wouldn’t be a tunnel probably in there to let a ship through. But in Dave’s world, that’s what you get. You get a tunnel where you can sail your ship inside and float around and look at all the crazy stuff that’s in there, all the colors and shapes.”
The bold lines and 2-D perspective in Elhart’s paintings make them look like colorful cartoons, similar to Japanese prints. Elhart worked for several years at a biomedical research lab in Japan where he says he fell in love with Japanese art. But unlike Japanese works, which are often subtle and simple, Elhart’ fills his paintings with bright, in-your-face color. He says paintings with mild colors get ignored.
“Put a painting on the wall for a year or two and then, all of the sudden it’s not there anymore. You know what I mean? You don’t see it,” Elhart says. “But with the color and the shapes, I think it’s always there and it’s calling out to you. Like ‘Hey, look. Get happy. Look at the yellow mountains and the blue rocks and the houses against the cliff. It’s a silly place, but I would say it’s better than the contemporary paintings that are available in print.”
At Elhart’s home studio, he uses acrylics as the base paint for his art but then switches to oil-based Sharpie markers to make the lines that cover his work.
“I oftentimes am up at three in the morning. And I come down here and I can relax by drawing lines,” Elhart says. “Which sounds rather strange but…I consider myself fortunate enough to be patient enough to do that because you can get some good effects with just the use of lines.”
There are a few reoccurring themes in Elhart’s work: Japan, the Arctic, cityscapes, ships and sailboats. But probably the most interesting theme is what Elhart calls the “strata”: a series of layers that look like vertical slices of bedrock. But that’s about as realistic as it gets.
“Getting to the bottom is not really like going from let’s say where we’re at here down to Western Michigan University. You wind up in places that you aren’t really anticipating,” says Elhart.
On example is his painting of a Cliffside village living a few slices of earth below a stormy ocean.
“What story you have on top is still combined with the story you have on the bottom. People living there with the waterfall and there’s bamboo trees in the background you can see. And in the back is some inclimate weather, sort of a disturbing looking sky. But, to me, it just works well together.”