The Vince Bell-Vince Pawless Collaboration That Became WayWords Art™

In 2001, Vince Bell was living and working in Nashville, Tennessee. Vince Pawless, a guitar maker in Gainesville, Texas, heard Vince Bell on the radio, singing his song “All Through My Days.” He wrote to the other Vince and, as a business promotion, offered to build him a free guitar. 

Vince Bell gladly accepted Vince Pawless’s gift of a custom-made musical instrument, and that year, during the build of the guitar, the two communicated often by telephone and email.

With the delivery of that mesquite dreadnought acoustic guitar, a friendship began between the two Vinces—one that’s gone on for two decades and continues today. Vince Bell moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and whenever he played a gig in Texas, Vince Pawless would show up to meet him there, sometimes traveling with Vince and his then-wife, Sarah, to other gigs, and eventually becoming Vince’s accompanist. 

As Vince Bell puts it today, “Vince Pawless has been making the guitars I play for years. My music from a v2 model Pawless guitar led me to the words that became Ojo, the spoken-word album I recorded with Bob Neuwirth, Dave Soldier, Patrick Derivaz, and other world-class musicians in New York City in 2018. 

“That first exposure to improvisational music prompted a question: If my words could be so well rendered with the accompaniment of improvisational music, might there also be an improvisational writing style lurking somewhere inside me? A style like improv music, like freehand painting? 

“I went back to Santa Fe and started writing hundreds of pieces that I called IMPROVs, each one initially up to a thousand words and completed in a couple of hours. I’d choose a word and then use it with different imageries and meanings every which way I could, just as fast as I could write. I started posting these free-spirited, somewhat poetically dense IMPROVs on social media and my website.

“About this time, I saw that Vince Pawless was making acrylic paintings happen at the same breakneck speed: hundreds each week. We began a tag team of art production, he painting impressionistic landscapes and me pouring out improvisations from the library between my ears. We began placing brief quotes from my writings beneath some of his many landscape and seascape images.”

Says Vince Pawless, “I had painted some oils growing up, and in my early years acrylic paints were just cruel to work with. They’re better now, though they can still be cruel sometimes. You try to blend them like oils and they’ll turn to mud. It forces you to use colors more individually than you would in mixing oils.

“About the time that Vince Bell was doing Ojo, I started out painting aspen groves. From aspens I went to barbed wire fences, adobe structures, and Western mesas with shrubs in the foreground. A lot of things popped up in those paintings, and I never knew at first what they were.  I was letting the paint, the knife, the water, the brush, just do their thing as a painting progressed. If something magical happened, I left it alone.

“Vince would send me his blogs, and I would choose a particular line and do a painting for it. We’d put the two together, photograph it, and post it on social media. I think we both realized that the combined power of just a few words with one image gave them legs of their own.”