Interview: David Welker

The next Artist Interview Project installment features artist David Welker. The first part of this post includes a student’s reflective summary. It is followed by the full interview text.

Learn more about the Artist Interview Project course assignment in Dr. Jenkins’ introduction to the series. You can follow the Philosophy School of Phish on Facebook, Twitter (@phishedu), and the course’s public website.

Find more information about Welker’s artwork on his studio’s website and at Fun City Ink


Being able to poke at the mind of an artist whose worked has moved you is a great privilege. As part of my final assignment, I had the incredible opportunity to interview artist David Welker. While I was not familiar with Welker’s work before the Philosophy School of Phish course, I instantly became a fan; his prints give me goosebumps. His artwork is intricate and detailed; each print tells a story. The art Welker creates, including his Phish prints, take viewers through an imaginary world that he brings to life, whether that be a heartbroken man in a blue room (Rift), the fictitious man’s decrepit house twenty years later (Mound), or a more abstract and psychedelic scene (Woodpecker Tsunami or Infinity Fish).

Welker’s work is Dionysian. Even in its darker moments, his prints are a celebration of what philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche calls the will to life. Nietzsche describes the Dionysian experience in his book, Twilight of the Idols. He writes:

Saying Yes to life even in its most strange and intractable problems, the will to life, celebrating its own inexhaustibility by sacrificing its highest types- that is what I called Dionysian (p. 91).

Similarly, Welker seeks to affirm life in all its complexities through his artwork. In doing so, he creates breathtakingly beautiful designs, such as his poster for Phish’s 2014 Seattle concert at Key Arena. Other works, like his Fun City Apocalypse print, illustrate destruction and chaos. For Welker, honesty and discipline are what makes art beautiful. He states:

I strive to reflect beauty in all my work even if the subject matter is dark. Art is beautiful when it’s based in honest emotion and when that emotion is conveyed with the appropriate discipline.

Welker’s artwork rises above simple illustrations, moving his audience through impeccable, flowing detail and textures. For example, Welker’s work on Phish’s Rift album combines his complex, psychedelic artwork with storytelling, to weave nearly all the songs on the album into the oil-on-paper painting. When asked about the amount of detail in his work, he responded by saying,“I think it’s just in my nature to gravitate to this level of narrative detail.” The Rift piece itself invokes a sense of melancholy and loneliness, which some might argue makes the painting sad, rather than beautiful. But, sadness, like other negative emotions, can be beautiful, as Welker’s work demonstrates, because they honestly depict the hardships and vulnerability of human existence.

In addition to being beautiful, Welker’s artwork is in line with what philosopher Immanuel Kant calls the sublime. In his book, The Critique of Judgment, Kant defines the sublime as:

a pleasure that only arises indirectly, being brought about by the feeling of a momentary check to the vital forces followed at once by a discharge all the more powerful, and so it is an emotion that seems to be no sport, but dead earnest in the affairs of the imagination.

The sublime invokes a sense of awe in its audience. In describing the sublime, Kant cites examples such as encounters with nature or large buildings overwhelming that overwhelm us by their incalculable magnitude. The level of detail with which Welker depicts the inner depths of his psyche and imaginative landscapes certainly qualifies as sublime. Rift may be a complex, emotionally difficult piece of art, but I find it hard to look away from the pain this print captures, and because of that, I find it sublime, as well as beautiful.

Welker’s gig posters commemorate the live performances of Phish (and other bands) in limited edition, collectable art form. Welker’s Phish posters have made him an integral part of the Phish community; many phans seek out and collect his work. A passionate, engaged community of phans is a large part of what makes Phish such an influential, meaningful band. Because of the band’s improvisational style, the phans continue to see the band over and over because of the unique, intense experiences they share while at these concerts. This is what philosopher Jeanette Bicknell calls, in her book Why Music Moves Us, the social dimension of music. Bicknell writes:

When we are moved by music and want to share music and the feeling with others, this can be the foundation of a deeper relationship (p. 111).

To put it plainly, music bonds the people who experience it together. Welker’s art and the network of phans who collect and trade his artwork help to extend the friendships, rituals, and excitement of Phish concerts beyond the events themselves and into everyday life.

This has been an exciting and enlightening class, even though I do not consider myself to be a Phish phan. However, I know I will continue to follow David Welker’s work, as I have found myself moved and impressed by his art and intellect.  I am grateful to him for his time and reflection.

Interview Transcript

Your work on the Rift album for Phish was incredibly detailed and interwoven with the songs on the album. Does your artwork for Phish continue to reflect this level of detail? Why or why not?

Yes, I think it’s just in my nature to gravitate to this level of narrative detail.


You’ve been a part of the Phish community for years, and still do posters for their shows. What aspects of the band’s music and community continue to inspire you and keep you involved?

I’ve always found the band’s dedication to their musical exploration and their fans very inspiring. They have broad, eclectic influences and I’ve admired this from the first time I was exposed to them.


Do you have a favorite piece for Phish that you’ve created? If so, which one, and why? 

As a rule of thumb my favorite piece is always the one I’m currently working on. This frame of reference keeps me in the present moment and moving forward creatively.


What do you think makes a work of art beautiful? Would you describe your work as beautiful?

I strive to reflect beauty in all my work even if the subject matter is dark. Art is beautiful when it’s based in honest emotion and when that emotion is conveyed with the appropriate discipline.


In the press release for your Subconscious Narratives exhibit, your work is described as a map of your subconscious and a “Rosetta Stone for our minds.” What, in your view, is the importance of depicting thought creatively before it becomes solidified in language or concept? What purpose do you think art serves in our day-to-day lives?

Attempting to depict a thought form before it fully materializes was an exercise for me. It’s open to interpretation, and that interpretation could also take place with other mediums aside from painting. As for the purpose of art in our day to day lives, on a societal level it’s as important as infrastructure is to civil planning.


Your artwork is highly detailed and invites its viewers to interpret the depicted narrative. Do you think art needs to be understood by the audience to be appreciated?

Interpretations are always somewhat subjective whether or not the artist is including or excluding specific narrative devices. I feel that society at large was disenfranchised from the art world in the latter half of the 20th Century in part because of the trend towards minimalism and conceptual art. I do feel that there has been a resurgence of interest in art on a broad social level due to the rise in popularity of illustrative art as a high art form.


In our course readings, we’ve been discussing strong emotional responses to art. Why do you think art has the power to move us? Do you think event prints commemorating live shows enhance or modify the emotional experience of attending a concert?

At its best, art is a form of transportation for the soul (as is music). I’ve always felt that the gig poster movement is a modern form of folk art. This convergence of art and music and event in physical document form is very powerful.


Inviting your audience to view and interpret the contents of your subconscious must be an intimate, exposing process. What is the most personal piece you’ve ever done, and why?

Every piece is a window into some very deep part of my psyche. A willingness to let the viewer into that intimate place is the only way to ensure that anything meaningful is being conveyed.




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