PICTURED: Paul Whitehead (left) and his alter ego Trisha van Cleef with their respective artwork. Photo submitted

by Emily Dodi

Over the years, much has been written about the famous artist Paul Whitehead, known for his iconic album cover art as well as for being the original art director of Time Out magazine and the creator of the first drive-through art gallery in Los Angeles. Among his numerous accolades, Whitehead also holds the Guinness World Record for the largest mural in the world. So, it is with great pleasure to write that Whitehead’s latest project is taking place in a beloved local venue. 

One Man – One Woman Artist: Paul Whitehead/Trisha van Cleef is actually a pair of consecutive shows at the Ojai Art Center. The first, running in January, features works by Whitehead, including album cover artwork he did for Genesis (Trespass, Nursery CrymeandFoxtrot) and paintings he created for Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs, the seminal book on astrology that was first published in the 1960s. The second exhibit, running in February, highlights the work of Whitehead’s alter ego, Trisha van Cleef.

As an artist,” Whitehead explains, “I’ve given myself the liberty to explore my feminine side. I know it sounds so cliché these days, but I took a leaf out of artist Marcel Duchamp’s book and created a playful, creative female doppelganger I call Trisha van Cleef.”

He explains that the paintings he creates as Paul Whitehead are “about ideas that I want to express,” and that they often take weeks or months to complete. “I become very critical,” he adds, saying that his process involves a lot of self-editing. The painstakingly detailed works are created from a “very male” point of view that is quite “analytical.” Whitehead’s paintings, such as “Peace?” and “Gunfire” that will be on display in the exhibit, ask questions of the viewer and are meant to spark thought and conversation. As stated in the exhibit’s promotional material, Whitehead’s “well-constructed yet stunning paintings cover a broad spectrum of subjects from the spiritual, surrealistic to mundane daily life.”

In contrast, Whitehead explains that Trisha van Cleef is “very spontaneous and emotional.” The exhibit literature states that “where Whitehead’s art is planned and executed, Trisha van Cleef is a freed spirit. She works extremely fast, without any intellectual purpose except to express the joy of creating while utilizing many media and even fishnet hose.”

“Starscape 1” by Trisha van Cleef. Image submitted

Initially, the artist began painting as Trisha van Cleef as a way to unwind after a long day in the studio. After six to eight hours of working on a canvas, holding a brush with his arms up and his back held straight, Whitehead craved some physical as well as emotional and mental relief. Using broad, free strokes of color, Whitehead found great joy painting as Trisha.

“It was very liberating as a painter,” Whitehead explains, adding that Trisha van Cleef’s head is in a very different space. Her work can best be described as gloriously abstract. As for her motivation?  “She just paints for the hell of it.” 

Whitehead recalls the day a friend was visiting his studio while Trisha van Cleef was working on a painting. “My friend watched me paint and suddenly said, ‘Stop! I want to buy it right now.’ That’s the first time that has ever happened. He took it home wet,” Whitehead remembers with a laugh. 

Also on display during the exhibit are handmade instruments made by the artist’s brother Peter Whitehead. The beautiful pieces fill the glass cases in the art center’s lobby. Whitehead is delighted to be sharing space with his brother. “It’s the first time we will be exhibited together.” Visitors should also note that the works by Paul Whitehead and Trisha van Cleef are for sale, but unlike the time his enthusiastic friend carried a fresh painting home on the spot — all works are perfectly dry.  

One Man – One Woman Artist: Paul Whitehead/Trisha van Cleef through March 3 at The Ojai Art Center, 113 S. Montgomery St., Ojai. For more information, call 805-646-0117 or visit www.ojaiartcenter.org.