Amblin' Man

Ian Wender, 42, has spent most of his life crisscrossing Earth searching for adventure and inspiration. Whether globetrotting in service of the armed forces or braving the Appalachian Trail, the hippie-ish painter and occasional photographer set foot on six continents before taking root in the Valley. The zigzagging nature of his journeys is echoed in the kinetically chaotic mass of paint rivulets that Wender ambles and flows across wood panels for his mixed-media works. Incorporating found objects and overlaid with resin, his "topical pop" creations — reminiscent of Jackson Pollock and symbolizing sociopolitical subjects — are born at the Holgas apartment complex in downtown Phoenix where he resides when he's not trekking to Burning Man or playing bass for local rockabillies The Hardways.

Globetrotter: I grew up traveling because my mother was a stewardess with British Overseas Airways Corporation, my grandmother lived in London, and my dad was a dentist in New York. He also did volunteer work, bringing medicine to tribes and doing backwoods extractions. We hung out with the Masai in Kenya and traveled through the Amazon in Colombia. If he wasn't volunteering in exotic places, we were in Florida or Puerto Rico, or up in Canada fishing.

World warrior: When I was 17, I joined the Navy and worked the flight deck of the USS Saipan all around the Atlantic. I went everywhere from Norway down to Cartagena, and all throughout the Mediterranean. Then I was a crew chief on a UH-1N helicopter for two years, visiting Beirut, Grenada, and McMurdo Station in Antarctica. After I got out, I became a combat engineer in the Army Reserves and went to Belgium and Panama City.

Order and chaos: I'm a surveyor and I help make maps. Everything I do at work has a high degree of accuracy right down to the hundredth of a foot. All day, I work in extreme precisions and then come home and have fun with none when painting, even though everything is precisely applied in a randomly chaotic matter.

Underneath the surface: The basis of every painting is always crystalline enamel, and almost every piece gets finished with an epoxy resin, adding depth and making things pop. What goes in between is a crapshoot. I've used found objects like copper plates, beer tabs, broken glass, and nails. Art should be dangerous.

Stick 'em up: My method isn't just throwing paint. I use mostly stir sticks, the kind you get at Home Depot. I dunk them into the paint, pull them up and get a really thick bead, hold it over the board, and by turning the stick, I control how thick the paint comes down.

Movement and motion: It's a frenetic manipulation of high-quality enamel paint involving speed, motion, and some planning and experimentation. It's like a dance, where I'm frequently moving and getting all around the painting; I can't just stand to one side. I'll put down certain layers, move the panel around, and let things take off in certain directions.

Jackson Pollock: He's an influence. I'd be lying if I said no. I visited the MoMA growing up and saw some of his bigger pieces. Looking at them, you see his different motions and movement. I'm doing some stuff the way Pollock did, but he seemed to let paint lay where it fell, and after I get it down, I'm manipulating it from there. I'll get in with the stick end of a paintbrush and move things around with swirls and such.

Playing bass: I've been playing on and off since I was about 15. It's art, just in a different medium. It involves groove and rhythm, not with a paint brush but a bass. I was born in Jacksonville, Florida, and I actually think I'm the illegitimate love child of one of Lynyrd Skynyrd's members, since I've liked southern rock like Marshall Tucker and Charlie Daniels since I was young.

Man's best friend: I'm a sidekick sort of person, and dogs make good sidekicks. I hate being alone and I don't do real well in relationships, so dogs are good company. My current one is B.B., a deer-type Chihuahua. He's got a lot of energy and runs and jumps around like an antelope.

Tea time: I drink a lot of tea, Earl Grey, English breakfast, Twinings, and British teas my mother mails me from New York. She grew up in London, and I grew up drinking tea. When I was in the Navy, I got packages from her with tea, and when you drink crappy Navy coffee for any amount of time, you want anything but.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.