By Sandra Younger
The lights dim. The music rises. Images of the rock band U2 fill two enormous video screens on either side of a spotlit stage where Erik Wahl ’93, darts between pots of paint and a huge black canvas, filling it with vibrant smears of color.
It’s a full-on multimedia experience. By the final note, Wahl has created a bold portrait of U2 front man Bono. Only then does the artist turn and address the room full of marketing executives: “When did you decide logic trumps creativity? Chances are, that’s when you lost your passion — and your competitiveness. Want it back? Show up with your whole self, left and right brain, head and heart.”
It’s a message Wahl has taken to corporate clients worldwide for the past 10 years. Now he’s broadening his reach. Soon he’ll debut a live theatrical experience designed to inspire general audiences. And he’s using social media to engage followers in ART DROP, a world¬wide scavenger hunt for free paintings.
“Creativity isn’t just for corporate America,” he says. “It’s universal. There’s no set way to do something, no set way to be. Art is freedom. You’re unshackled.”
Wahl founded his company, The Art of Vision, with his wife, Tasha Moffitt Wahl, ’94, and their success has exceeded their wildest dreams. Wahl speaks a hundred times a year; he’s done a film; he has a book coming out next year. And his artwork, which he never sells, has generated $1.5 million at charity auctions.
Yet the Wahls’ success sprang from bitter failure. After 9/11, the business blueprint Wahl had devoted his life to fell victim to a crumbling economy. He lost everything. “The emotional toll was huge,” he says. He started painting purely as catharsis. Big canvases, bright colors, unstudied abandon. Art was a long shot, but he kept at it — and painted his way to an epiphany.
His life had been backwards; now he had a chance to set it right. Returning to the corporate world was out, but he and Tasha had three sons. How were they going to survive? After brainstorming, they came up with a wild idea. What if Wahl blended his knowledge of business and speaking with his new passion for art? He began piecing together a presentation; Tasha took on the marketing. Every time her 4-year-old went down for a nap, she got on the phone. It didn’t take too many yeses to jumpstart their venture.
“With each speaking date came five more,” Erik Wahl says. “It wasn’t a linear growth structure; it was nuclear: No one was doing what we were doing.” And there’s his point again. Want to be successful? Be different. Be unique. Be your most creative self.
“We’re all in these boxes; we’re all living with labels,” Wahl says. How fast could we change the world?”