Photography by Larry Jones

Photography by Larry Jones

I’ve been into surrealism ever since I was a teenager and kinda got my start as a 16-year-old oil painter fruitlessly trying to emulate Salvador Dali. Ever since then I’ve just been on an ongoing pursuit of the bizarre and fantastical.

In May we happened upon one of the most unusual unexpected large scale murals we have seen created on the streets of San Francisco as the artist was making final touches. The mural is completely made of paper pasted up on a wall on Olive at Polk Street in the Lower Polk Gulch close to Civic Center. We are pleased to introduce you to that artist, John Vochatzer who shared his experience in creating this mural.

Your mural is a surreal wheat paste collage of four culturally different women floating on a pastoral background. Can you explain the concept of the women and mural and if there is a message you wanted to convey?

I feel like there are a lot of different thematic currents in the mural; being on the back wall of my day job (The O’Farrell Theatre strip club) I had the intention of creating something that both celebrates its diversity of beautiful women but also explores the darker and more morbid aspects of the dynamic over there, all translated through my imagination in my typical Bosch-inspired collage style. Another big objective in my work recently has dealt with creating cultural and religious mash-ups (Hindu deities being the limelight in this particular mural) with the dual expression of the cross-cultural society I live in and the idea of stealing aspects of different traditions in order to create new ones that are more functional to individual needs and desires.

John Vochatzer street art wheat paste San Francisco, Ca

What is your process in creating a collage?

The collage making process really can differ from piece to piece, some of them being done sporadically with images found on the spot and others taking up to several weeks to plan out and assemble from a collection of photo albums stock-piled with cut-out images. Usually I’ll paint a background with acrylic paint and then collage everything into the foreground before putting a varnish on it; nearly the exact process that I applied to the mural.

John Vochatzer street art wheat paste San Francisco, Ca

How large is the mural? Have you ever done anything on this scale before? What inspired you to do this project?

The mural is 80′ x 35′, almost 3,000 square feet and probably almost 100 times bigger than anything I’ve ever done before. The whole thing came about one day last year when my boss casually told me if I ever wanted to do something on that wall to feel free. It was a flattering offer but at first I shrugged it off considering I’d never really envisioned my style of art translating to a giant outdoor mural. But then around the same time a coworker of mine who works for a large-format print company had blown up some of my smaller works into huge posters and I had seen a few other large scale wheat paste murals done online (namely Handiedan’s Urban Nation mural in Berlin) and these things combined got my mental gears working towards taking on the wall.

Given that it is a paper mural pasted on the wall can you tell us what some of the challenges were in designing the mural and scaling it up to size?

Challenges were bountiful throughout the entire course of the project. Designing it to scale 20x smaller was almost like taking a refresher geometry course in itself, and then came getting it scanned at an extremely high resolution and finding a way to print 1,600 square feet of color imagery in an at least somewhat cost effective manner. It’s hard to estimate how many individual pieces of paper comprised the mural once everything was cut up as needed, but I’d guess it wouldn’t be far off from a couple hundred.

John Vochatzer street art wheat paste San Francisco, Ca

Did you encounter any technical or other hurdles while pasting up the paper and getting it to line up perfectly?

The real challenges definitely came about in the actual installation of the mural. The wind was a big one. We had to cut up all of the print outs into much smaller ones because otherwise after we’d soaked them the wind would just rip them apart once we got up on the boom lift and tried to apply them. The erratic behavior of some of the folks of the Tenderloin also proved to be detrimental early on when after the first day of pasting someone ripped off a giant slab the moment we stepped away for a few minutes. Consequently we ended up hiring some friends to guard the mural at night until we got it sealed and either my assistant Mark Jr. or I had to come relieve them at 5:30 am every morning. The last big challenge occurred as a result of stupidly not wearing safety goggles while priming polymer varnish through an airless sprayer and blasting some of it into my right eye with a hose. I had to go get coagulated varnish scraped off my cornea by an optometrist at the ER and resultantly finished coating the mural over the last few days with a blind, swollen shut eye, a ringing headache, and not to mention over a week of accumulated sleep deprivation.

I was fortunate to have had been able to hire on D Young V as an assistant to lend me some of his expertise when it comes to wheatpasting. Upon his recommendation we used 5 gallon bucket mixtures of wall paper paste, matte medium, and glue, and then soaked the papers with spray bottles first so they’d adhere better. I took as many precautions as I could to help protect the mural against deterioration: first by printing it on high quality paper with durable UV inks, and then by coating it with a few layers or varnish that aside from protecting against vandalism, also supposedly offer a degree of UV and weather resistance. All that being said, it’s still an outdoor wheatpaste mural so there’s a good degree of experimentation in how well it’ll hold up. Hopefully at least long enough that my employer feels warranted by the costs of supplies.

John Vochatzer street art wheat paste San Francisco, Ca

What inspired you to create surreal collages? Are you a trained artist? Have you shown your art?

I’ve been into surrealism ever since I was a teenager and kinda got my start as a 16-year-old oil painter fruitlessly trying to emulate Salvador Dali. Ever since then I’ve just been on an ongoing pursuit of the bizarre and fantastical. When I was 21 I stumbled upon this giant, epoxy resined masterpiece by Fred Tomaselli at the SFMOMA and to my recollection that was a pivotal moment in my transition to collage as my primary medium; having had really seen the potential of it.

I first moved to San Francisco to drop out of film school at the Academy of Art where I took a handful of fine art classes, but I otherwise have no formal training. In the past couple years I’ve had a couple of minor exhibitions and been in a handful of group shows, but nothing too major and in all honesty I don’t really feel like I’ve quite yet built up the oeuvre to do so.

Do you have any plans you want to tell us about?

Nothing too notable at the moment. Doing that mural had really dominated a lot of my time and creative energy for the first half of this year and right now I’m kinda taking my time to get my creative footing back on track and hone my craft a bit before undertaking some more ambitious, large scale projects.

Connect with John Vochatzer

Facebook: artofjohnvochatzer
Instagram: @Calamityfair

Collaboration with Eiji Nasu (Sagamihara, Japan) on Tumblr: nightmairmail

On the Warpath of a Rogue PlanetCollage Wheat Paste Fantasy
View all posts by John Vochatzer