ALAMEDA -- The upper body of the crouching figure takes female form, with protruding spinal cord, visible rib cage, and womanly curves. The head appears to be a cracked egg with an oddly shaped revolver-like weapon protruding from within. At the hipline, the creature becomes a giant nose with what looks like maggots leaking from its nostrils.
The creator of this creature is Bay Area artist Bill Weber, and it exists in his painting "The Nose," which first appeared in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1971.
The bizarre image once came before the eyes of the legendary surrealist painter Salvador Dali.
When Weber's friend and fellow artist tracked Dali down during a trip to Spain, he found the artist in his driveway, watering (not washing, watering) a Rolls-Royce.
"He had grass growing all over the car," Weber says. "They went in the house, and my friend showed him his paintings. Salvador Dali told my friend to throw his paintings in the garbage. Then he looked at my paintings, and when he saw 'The Nose' he just said, 'This guy's gonna cut his ear off in five years."
Both of Weber's ears remain intact many more than five years later, but his dreamscapes and nightmarish depictions continue to provoke startled reactions.
"All of my paintings are surreal, but some of them are political, and some of them are related to science," says Weber. "I also have some environmental-type paintings, paintings that speak to war
"The Nose," will appear alongside a series of other paintings by Weber and 10 more local artists from 6-9 p.m. Friday at Bridgehead Studios, 2516 Blanding Ave., Alameda. The event is free, and there will be two bands and artisan craftmakers in the gallery's back room. The show is in conjunction with the Second Friday Art Attack.
"A lot of the art at the show is a little bit surreal, so it all kind of fits together," Weber said.
While Weber's paintings often take a Dali-esque tone, his greatest influences are more realist than surrealist. After just a few months of art school, he dropped out to study the texts of the classical painters, or "Old Masters."
"I asked [a teacher] how to paint this technique called glazing that the Old Masters used, and he told me to go to the library and look it up," Weber said. "I just said to him, 'Then what am I doing here?'"
Weber took the teacher's advice and discovered Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks in the library. He began to carry the books with him everywhere.
Weber's work combines the realistic style employed by classical painters like da Vinci, with the mind-bending proportions and scenarios of surrealism.
If you have ever spotted the giant image of Benny Goodman wailing on clarinet beside Teddy Wilson on the piano, and Gene Krupa on drums at the corner of Broadway and Columbus in San Francisco, you are more familiar with Weber's work than you realize. In addition to his surrealist paintings, Weber has worked as a mural artist since 1974, and was commissioned to create the iconic four-story-high, 100-foot-wide Jazz Mural in 1987.
Weber, whose murals usually follow a historical motif, is currently coloring the walls of a building on the corner of Haight and Clayton (one block from Ashbury) with appropriately psychedelic figures.
"It's called 'The Summer of Love, 1967,' and it has scenes from the parks where they had concerts," Weber says.
In an ode to free expression, the new project reunites Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, Grace Slick, Jerry Garcia, George Harrison and his wife Patty on a 130-foot canvas.
Weber said his paintings, large and small, realistic and surreal, highlight the positive things about humanity's existence.
"Things that we create -- art, music -- glorify mankind," he says. "[Art] makes us look good, despite some of the things we do that don't look that great for the human race, and I think it's important to glorify our own existence."