Can You Paint With All the Colors of the Wind?

By Michael Zahler

Darrell can.

Woman in Tears

“Hey Josh,” I yell across the hall to my roommate. “I’m going to meet Windwalker behind a blue house in Fayetteville.”

“If I’m not back by 9 call the cops,” I add, only half joking. I throw on my shades and grab my camera. I am out the door and in the car, cruising down Erie Boulevard. My thoughts wander. What did Windwalker mean when he said that he needed to “consult the voices” before our interview?

I turn left onto East Genesee Street and look for Friendly’s, one of two landmarks mentioned in Windwalker’s directions. My mind gravitates to how Windwalker, a local artist, describes himself as a “self-educated originator and manipulator of the creative forces” on his MySpace profile. Why does he call his creative method “ACID”?

His driveway comes up fast; I snap out of the trance. Is this guy gonna be on acid? I swing the door open and think to myself, If he offers me any, will I take it and go on crazy adventures with him? Up the hill, behind the blue house, old trees and green grass surround a tiny A-frame home. A middle-aged man with round glasses and shoulder-length brown hair walks toward me with his hand outstretched. I lift my shades and look past the man, trying to see if Windwalker is behind him. Who is this guy? He’s not the strung-out twenty-something I imagined.

“Hello,” he says, shaking my hand. “Hi,” I reply. “Are you Windwalker?” “Yes,” he answers softly, “but you can call me Darrell.”

He notices me admiring the yard. “Green Lakes Park is just over that hill,” he says, pointing behind him. “Deer and wild turkeys are back here all the time.” How ironic that the producer of such abstract art lives smack in the middle of a Renoir landscape.

Darrell opens the screen door and I walk onto the porch. Colorfully stained 45 records, painted glass, and countless signs, saws, and tools line the crowded walls. He opens the front door and I step inside the living room. My eyes skip from one painting to another — mish-moshes of color and shapes on glass. To my right a sculpture of a woman’s midsection adorned by smooth pieces of colorful glass and tiles sits on a shelf. My eyes jump again. Suddenly, I notice a big man sitting in the chair at the opposite end of the tiny living room.

“This is Ken Snider,” Darrell says, as the big man with white hair shakes my hand. Ken is here to act as a “translator,” Darrell explains, someone with a formal art background who can help describe the work in human terms. I say hello, but I’m really still scouring the room, looking at paintings entitled “Sci-Fi Vortex,” “Eastern Dreams,” and “Blue Woman in Tears.” Finally, I sit down to start the interview. “So how did you become Windwalker?”

“I had an experience meditating,” Darrell says quietly. “I felt like I was connected to millions of other souls. What I learned from that is that we’re never really alone. And during that experience I saw Windwalker written on a cloud.”

But while the idea of Windwalker officially came in a single moment of clarity, the foundations for his breakthrough occurred years earlier, possibly before Darrell’s own conception. “My earliest memory occurs before I was born,” he tells me. “There was this blackness and I was this orb of white light. I was talking with this other white light. I don’t remember the conversation, but I do remember saying, ‘Well its time to go,’ and just like that, I descended [into my mother’s womb].”

Darrell’s earliest memory informs his own beliefs in God. As a young boy in Sunday school, he says a teacher once instructed him to draw God’s picture. Darrell left his paper blank. The teacher told him that his drawing was wrong. She told him that his blank paper was not what God looked like. Darrell could not understand how this woman was so sure of God’s appearance. He explains that in his twenties, he started ‘unlearning’ what he was taught as a child. “I got into new-age things and came across information,” he explains. “It seemed like information was just coming to me that would make sense. And that all goes back into the art now — symbolism, numerology, and metaphysics.”

We start to talk more about his paintings and Darrell directs my attention to the wall where “Blue Woman in Tears” hangs. He asks if I see it. I do not know what I see. All I know is that “Blue Woman in Tears” is a hodgepodge of reds and blues and greens and odd shapes. “Do you see it?” he asks again. I try to avoid looking like an idiot so I act like I just had an epiphany and say, “Oh, oh, of course, I see it now.” But Darrell’s no fool. He points and says softly, “The red is her hair. The green is her dress.” And then I have my first “oh shit” moment of the day. There is the face. How did I miss it? I take a second to look at the other painting and am now able to see the wise samurai in “Bushi” and the woman in “Eastern Dreams.”

“This is the only stuff like it in the world,” Ken the translator says. “Come here,” he adds. Darrell and I follow him into the kitchen and there is “Sci-Fi Vortex.” On the left side of the painting is a woman’s face. Wild swirls of color make up an abstract design on the right side. “When I look at this,” Ken says, “I see ego and alter ego.” He starts to trace a line with his finger in front of the painting. “Do you see the lioness? That is the woman’s alter ego.”

Darrell continues, “You see, I never saw the lioness until Ken showed it to me. But everyone sees something different.”

Ken chuckles. “People have said of the pure abstracts that they could look at [them] for the rest of their lives and never see the same thing again.”

Darrell always knew that he would be an artist. “Since I was a kid, I was always drawing. I wanted to be like Walt Disney,” he said. Today he takes inspiration from works of street artists as well as famous artists. “I like to experiment, kind of like a scientist or something…It’s kind of like channeling doing the art and then afterwards I have to decipher and interpret what it was…That’s why I said I listen to ‘the voices.’ It’s more of an inner voice.”

Darrell says that his Windwalker persona, down to the wording of his MySpace profile and the language in his emails, is also part of the art. It is an attempt “to get people’s attention, to make them think about things.”

“So what’s ACID?” I follow. “A.C.I.D. is not mind-blowing,” Ken jumps in. “It’s an acronym for Abstract Consciousness in Design.”

Darrell puts A.C.I.D. into practice by painting on glass. “It’s getting into the abstract consciousness of an artist and it’s in development, it’s always evolving,” Darrell says. “It’s a long-term project. I’m always trying to take it to the next level, to improve on it, make it better, make it bigger.”

Finally, I ask why he paints.

“What I’m trying to do is get people to look inside themselves,” he tells me. “Everyone sees something different [in the abstract pieces]…it’s what’s in you that you’re seeing.”

Darrell then tells a story about a very religious woman who attended one of his gallery showings. After circling the room she walked up to Windwalker and said, “There is evil in these paintings.” Darrell laughs as he tells the story. “She certainly doesn’t know me,” he says. “I didn’t put evil in the paintings.” And while he does not say it, all I can think is, maybe there was evil in her.

Then we say our goodbyes. As I drive away I am unable to concentrate on the road. All I can think about is how Windwalker’s art acts as a mirror into the viewer’s mind. Oh shit. Windwalker’s entire persona is part of his art. I recall how I assumed that Darrell would be some acid-tripping twenty-something artist and that maybe this would inform the messages in his paintings. But Windwalker does not put explicit messages in his art. Rather, he encourages his audience to look inside of themselves and find their own meanings. Finally, I realize that my preconceived notions of Windwalker reflect more about my own subconscious than they do about him.

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