What I Get From Other Artists

27 Apr 2011

Wilson uses the visual world as a lexicon of poetic images, as in his painting,
Mary. In the 19th century, painters depicted modern life, embracing the “real”
and eschewing narrative subjects and symbolism. Now, modern figure painters
are embracing poetic language anew, and escaping the limitations of the
everyday “real” visual world. All works by Will Wilson.

Like all artists, I draw inspiration from other artists, and this can be especially meaningful if the artist is my contemporary. One of my favorite artists to watch is Will Wilson. Wilson works in San Francisco, in a studio upstairs from his long-time gallery, John Pence. Will studied at the Schuler School of Fine Arts, and at my alma mater, The New York Academy of Art

Will has been making amazingly consistent, exemplary and individualistic work for about 30 years. He has always been a “guiding light” of mine in the classical tradition of the figure and portrait painting. One of the things I admire in his work is his clear sense of “voice” and individuality. When I look at his painting, I think, “Will and I are barking up the same tree.”

I recently received a card from John Pence Gallery featuring a fantastic recent oil painting portrait of Wilson’s, Mary. The painting is a quiet revolution. I wanted to share the image because it stands in sharp contrast to the predominant style of much figure painting out there today. The alla-prima brushstrokes and dash of impasto that are usually praised as good oil painting techniques are nowhere to be found. Instead, the paint handling is careful, the drawing precise, and the surface is relatively smooth with delicately modeled form.

Wilson isn’t dwelling on the surface of the painting's canvas. Art, for him, is more than that--he’s trying to draw you into the world of the image. He wants you to depart into his painted realm, inside the picture plane, and consider what the world is like from that view. He is implying narrative, but in ways that invites the viewer’s opinion. He uses subtle embellishments in the composition, like the pansies in the girl's hair and the key around her neck, to remove the image from the everyday.

The painting is also very sweet. Do you know how hard it is to make a sweet painting that is not trite, saccharine, or stereotyped? And where is the irony, the mortification, the fashionable disaffection, or the socio-political commentary that critics so often look for? Sweet is not cool, right? But painting a young woman, pretty, yet individual, is a challenge. Wilson goes his own way, not with the maddening crowd, and sticks to his singular vision.

Entr’acte depicts a moment backstage between acts of a
play as the title actor prepares for her final scene as Joan
of Arc. Thehelmet symbolizes a halo, the purple robe
divinity, and the lilies in her lap foreshadow resurrection
I asked Will to comment on the picture and he wrote, “Mary is a portrait of my 21-year-old cousin who was about to move to NYC to pursue a career in music. For the background I looked at photos from the Hubble telescope depicting Nebula, clouds of interstellar gas and dust, the place where stars are made.“ Wilson is crafting a background that works on two levels—as a well designed sky that complements the subject, and as a metaphor for the message contained within the painting.

Consider the predominant style in any given painting and ask yourself, why? What are your preferences, and how much are your opinions about “good” or “bad” based on predominance, rather than excellence? Artists can and should break the rules as much as they abide them, so question your own preconceived ideas about style and expression. This will shape your individual voice, and strengthen your commitment to the unique expression you can make, in spite of any countervailing pressure. 
String Theory, 2006, 23 x 17.


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