A local artist re-emerges, using his Short North area home as a canvas to express his creative self.
Local artist Charles Wince sits in the dining room that he created with help from a few artistic friends.
Michael A. Foley/MAF Photography
In Harrison West, a frame home situated among others also built around 1917, stands out in its uniqueness. This is a street of small, wooden structures—some with sentinel front porches, generous gables, gingerbread trim and narrow, vertical windows.
The unusual home among this group is owned by Charles Wince, an artist who surrounds himself, literally, with his work. Wince’s artistry is wall to wall, floor to ceiling, painted on the stairs, papering the bathroom, in the garden out back and over the kitchen sink. Quiet art, it is not.
From the street, there is no clue to what lies beyond the front door. When landscaper Greg Maynard planned it, he incorporated a design profuse with textures and nature’s stronger colors. A delicate iron gate swings open to reveal magnolia, arborvitae and tangles of ferns, hostas, towering cannas and irises. Claude Monet might have liked it here.
But this is WinceWorld. The name is lettered on the sign that hangs from the porch, a whimsical placard that lends hippie-era spirit to the pale green house trimmed in sunshine yellow, maroon and teal. Wince purchased his home for $40,000 back in 1988, mostly with savings from his work as a part-time postman in Licking County.
“The house was [in] shambles,” the artist, now 56, notes in a deep, gravely voice.
Still, moving to a house with three bedrooms and a roomy backyard was a big step up from his High Street apartment. “I lived on top of the Garden, which was a burlesque joint back then,” he says, referring to downtown’s former Garden Theatre. “That blinking light was something.”
As an artist, Wince’s big break came in 1984. Barbara Haskell, curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, selected the self-taught artist’s work for an exhibit at OSU, “Critic’s Choice: 7 from Columbus,” praising its power and authenticity. Local galleries featured his paintings, critics reacted favorably.
But with all of that attention came trouble for the artist.
“It got weird,” Wince says, referring to bouts of depression, as well as drug and alcohol abuse.
His work, which he describes as a mix of gonzo, neo-expressionist and outsider art, explodes with dark, tormented imagery steeped in politics and pop culture. When his home was selected to be shown as part of last fall’s Short North Tour of Homes & Gardens, visitors were stunned at its uniqueness—quite unlike those generally chosen for such tours.
Wince’s most famous piece hangs in his bedroom. “Mother Russia Meltdown” is a 12-by-6-foot commentary on American capitalism and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Humor, raw emotion and perversity converge, unedited, in gonzo art, seemingly traveling from the subconscious straight to the canvas.
This is how Wince creates. It’s also how he tackles interior decorating.
Consider his kitchen, for example. He ripped out the old linoleum floor in favor of something livelier. “I got some OSU students to make floor tiles,” he says of the blue, yellow, sea green and maroon ceramic squares. Then, he added his own touch, several tile inlays that he designed. “Here’s a roach. A rat in a trap. There’s a broken plate. A chicken drumstick.” Then, laughing, he adds: “Hey, I’m messy. Those things would’ve ended up on my floor anyway.”
“If I’d gotten a nice house,” he admits, “I wouldn’t have felt as free to go wild.”
It’s not just the floor tile that’s wild, though. The narrow kitchen is a mesh of patterns, colors, faces—a theme that’s repeated in the bathroom upstairs. Every square inch of the kitchen’s wall and ceiling space is collaged with photographs of friends, contact sheets, advertisements and more. There is his cover design for the literary journal Filigree as well as photos of Patti Smith. At some point, he also painted tile-like squares of splashy colors on the cabinets.
In the dining room, white mosaics and dark grout carry graphic impact. The round table, crafted by artist friend Aaron Schroeder from Wince’s roughly sketched specifications, has legs that Wince calls “Aztec/Martian/French Provincial.” It is illuminated from within, capped by two frosted Lucite panels.
“The Knights of the Round Table—they sat in a circle.” Wince says, referring to the legendary British King Arthur. Then, he settles his slender frame into a painted chair in the dining room, adding: “Angles make people edgy.”
The floor here is another work of spontaneity. “We had fish-shaped tiles, circular ones, wood inlays,” says Wince. “I was trying to get the ebb and flow, with no blueprint.” The grout guy had his doubts. “After ten minutes he was saying, ‘Dude, this might not work out,’” Wince recalls.
With no sofas or conversation pits, the two front rooms are more gallery than hang-out. Works by Wince—one titled “America Terrorizes Itself,” with a decapitated eagle’s head and another called “Every Fish Baits Its Own Hook”—hint at the artist’s fascination with Salvador Dali, Francis Bacon and the satirical, meticulous detail of artist-illustrator R. Crumb.
Artwork of friends is showcased here, too. Retired Ohio State professor Mary Jo Bole’s two-piece ceramic sculpture of a Victorian woman billows from the fireplace hearth. Columbus artist Paul Volker’s humor-driven postcards ($1 each) rest in a metal stand.
For Wince’s “wingdings,” as he calls them, friends cluster around the dining table or shift, in warmer weather, to the porch and fenced backyard where they may cross a small Japanese bridge, over water lilies and gently flowing water, to spiraling brick paths that Volker created.
“It’s a Fibonacci spiral,” Volker explains. “It gets wider with every quarter turn.” He and Wince used Nelsonville Block bricks that remained from the foundation of the original garage, which they excavated from the yard. “It took a few weeks to lay out the pattern. But, no grass to mow!” exclaims Volker.
Their methodical work now is a backdrop for provocative art. Formidable steel sculptures by Schroeder and local artist Chris Mohler tower over holly and impatiens. A mannequin’s torso—which Wince found in the nearby alley—arches sensually under the peek-a-boo branches of a weeping cherry tree.
Sometimes there are art parties, Volker says, where he and others gather at WinceWorld “to drink, play music and draw a bit.”
In a single afternoon, Melissa Vogley Woods created under-the-sea murals for the stairwell to the second floor. Angelfish and an octopus float languidly in swirls of cobalt and ultramarine paint. A crystal chandelier hangs overhead, while tiny white lights lead to Wince’s studio and bedroom.
The studio is what you’d expect from an artist who paints every other day—buckets of brushes, walls of photos for inspiration, drips of color on the floor, stacks of canvases to the side.
But the bedroom is phantasmagorical: “Mother Russia Meltdown” claims one entire wall. His red-white-and-blue “Star-Spangled Banter Mirror,” on the opposite wall, reflects “Mother Russia Meltdown.” Bright orange papier-mâché flames leap from a torch lamp. A massive bas-relief headboard, carved by Schroeder, features a tiger and Joseph Stalin springing forth from Mother Russia’s head. Who could sleep?
Up a narrow flight of steps, Wince follows undulating blue waves painted on the floor to his favorite spot, the attic. Four skylights provide soft sunshine for a black leather sofa, a large fish tank and a scattering of houseplants.
“I get away from all that visual eye candy up here,” he says. “It’s peaceful.”
Rhonda Koulermos is a freelance writer.