The East Sider

Art All Night

Security guard V.F. Wolf patrols the RISD Museum while the city sleeps – then he paints


Artist V.F. Wolf sees the East Side through a different lens than most. As a night security guard at the RISD Museum, he spends the hours when most of us are asleep keeping watch over the building’s many galleries and the precious artwork and objects stored within. His favorite area is the antiquities section: the Egyptian, Greek, and Roman galleries. He views his own art making process as an excavation of the psyche, a process he compares to the ways in which ancient artifacts are dug up to reveal secrets of past civilizations. “Like antiquity, the paintings might be archaeological artifacts whose mysteries are still hidden.”

A veteran who served time overseas, Wolf considers the military to be “my first art school, because it taught me discipline and humility: two traits I consider essential to making art.” His interest in art started earlier in life, however, with a weekly cartoon strip at 10 years old. During junior high and high school, he took several
painting and drawing classes, and would spend even his free time “hanging out in art classes.”

Wolf describes his approach to art making as “fragmented,” incorporating an assortment of different mediums and subjects. Often the trajectory of the painting itself will change as new strokes are applied. But his passion and dedication to painting are unwavering. “Being in the military forced me to grow up quickly, and I realized that life is short, and if you want something, just go out there and get it.”

This positive attitude and perseverance served Wolf well when applying to his position at RISD, which he did three times before getting an interview. Inspired by modern painters like Picasso, Matisse, and Munch, Wolf would often visit the museum as a child. By working there now, he feels that he has
“gone full circle.”

Although he works on the East Side, Wolf lives just across the border in Pawtucket, up the street from his studio at the Pawtucket Armory, which once held many artist studios but is now mostly home to performance venues and groups. “I think I’m the only painter now, the last of them,” he muses. His small space is full of paintings of all different sizes, colors, and subject matter – some quite dark, and some more humorous or satirical riffs on pop culture themes.

“If you haven’t noticed, I love clutter,” Wolf admits. “For me, chaos breeds ideas.”

Wolf is represented by ArtProv Gallery on Chestnut Street, where his work is available for purchase and will be featured in a show from June 6 to July 21 of this year. He hopes to someday become a full-time artist, but for now he’s enjoying both his job at RISD and the time he spends in his studio three to four days a week after he gets out of work at 4am. “The beauty of the East Side gives me lots of inspiration to take back to the studio,” he says.