Jean Wells and the “GamBLING Machine”
"This is my smallest truck," exclaims Jean Wells, referring to the giant, bright red Ford F-150 Raptor that's parked in front of her Miramar studio. It's the kind of truck you might see parked outside of a NASCAR race, but Wells is quick to add that the truck is more utilitarian necessity than flashy accessory.
"Maybe I should get a gun rack, and I can put a mosaic gun in it. Wouldn't that be that hysterical?"
What she uses that truck for is transporting the extraordinary amount of colored glass and materials that go into just one of her gigantic sculptures. One of the more successful artists on the local scene, Wells has done everything from giant mirrored toilets to an "Urban Fruit Tree" that is fashioned to look like it's sprouting junk food. She recently created a glass art taxicab using a Smart car complete with hubcaps made to look like Life Saver candies.
A third-generation mosaic artist, Wells' uncle was a Pulitzer Prize-winning artist, and her father and grandfather created mosaic pieces for the Catholic church in Wells' hometown of Seattle. When she moved to San Diego for college in the '80s, she says her outlook on art changed when she was exposed to artists such as Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollack and Roy Lichtenstein. She started creating things like mosaic hot dogs before deciding that she wanted to use another kind of material.
"I moved to glass because glass could sparkle a lot more," Wells says. "It was more exciting, and I felt limited by the little tiles I was using. It's not as much fun."
Her latest "fun" piece is the "GamBLING Machine," a customized slot machine that brilliantly blurs the lines between art and commerce. Ten months in the making, the machine was recently debuted at Harrah's Resort Southern California in Valley Center.
"I really felt the enthusiasm and excitement of the place, so it was easy to be highly creative," says Wells, who adds that, as far as she knows, this is the first slot machine customized and created by a fine artist. "I think it's a novelty, and Harrah's really wants to incorporate art into the environment. I think it elevates the experience."
Harrah's is already building a custom rotating stand for the machine, and Wells is now ready to start working on new pieces for an upcoming show in March at the Imago Gallery in Palm Desert. After that, well, she has some ideas.
"I told my husband I'm going to create a big giant hamburger," Wells says. "We're going to live in it."