JOE WILSON- Guardian/Child
Each period has its peculiar image of man….When in abstract or non-objective painting and sculpture, the figure disappears completely, one is tempted to ask, what has happened to man?…We should ask ourselves, what has become of us? What has happened to the reality of our lives? If we listen to the more profound observers of our period, we hear them speak of the danger in which modern man lives: the
danger of losing his humanity and of becoming a thing amongst the things he produces.(1)
(1) Paul Tillich, from the catalogue New Images of Man (1959)
Initially, the suite of paintings by Joe Wilson at Mils Gallery entitled Guardian and Child appear to be somber colored paintings with nothing identifiably "modern" about them. In fact they could be conceived as platitudes of figurative paintings: faceless heads, reclining nudes and isolated figures and yet these figures are not bland or banal but have an air of silence and solitariness about them that reflect an intrinsic and expressive value. There are subtle
disturbances and flickers of pathos in Wilson's work created through his use of muted tones and larger-than-life scaling in some of his figures and studies. The rhythm and feeling of his complex figurative paintings are entirely distinctive although echoes of Braque, Picasso and Leger are present, influences that have informed the artist's personal vision rather than mere references intended to indicate the breadth of his reading.
Joe Wilson could be considered a "painter's painter". He has and continues to develop his own personalised repertoire of gestural brushwork, muted colours and motif. The paintings and collages he creates are quietly insistent. They resist recourse to cheap rhetoric, pseudo-radical claptrap or flashy gimmicky devices apparent in the artworld. His paintings demand the same openness and time for contemplation from the viewer as from those of the
'modernist' period whilst resisting easy categorisation. That is, his work represents a synthesis of analytic and gestural approaches to the image and a subtle understanding of the visual language of modernist abstraction.
Wilson begins from the position of vision and subjectivity in painting. The acrylic painting process he employs is one that proceeds in a strict succession from light to darker colours. He uses a restricted palette of muted and dulled tones reminiscent of Braque and Derain. This combined with fractured compositional planes produces an effect of floating and fluid gentleness which allows painterliness to cohabit with strict form. It is this sense of a
dissolving of the 'real' that is pronounced in his recent work.
The task of the artist as far as Wilson is concerned is not to create visual paradigms but to find a language that can acknowledge the impossibility of such creations. His concern is to show the way in which art – that has lost critical distance in a media saturated world – is capable of communicating. Many of his works dramatise the opacity and muteness of the
Humanity is not something man simply has. He must fight for it anew in every generation….One need only look at the dehumanizing structure of the totalitarian
systems in one half of the world, and the dehumanizing consequences of technical mass civilization in the other half….The image of man has become transformed, distorted, disrupted and it finally disappeared in recent art….All of [these] show traces
of the battle for the human image they want to rediscover…They fight desperately over the image of man, and by producing shock and fascination in the observer they communicate their own concern for threatened and struggling humanity.”(2)
In Guardian and Child, Joe Wilson joins the history of artists who have felt the impulse to engage in the figurative tradition. In this particular body of work his figures inhabit not a material space but a psychological one, the inner world. An expressionist, he is not devoted to the classical drawing practices. His nameless, faceless figures which stand for humanity,
stand concretely in fields of color. They are simultaneously beautiful and chaotic, characterizing the human relationships they depict. In the salient words of Paul Tillich, the works of our century are the mirrors of our predicament produced by some of the most sensitive minds of our time. In the light of our predicament we must look at the works of
contemporary art, and conversely, in the light of contemporary art we must look at our predicament.(3)
(2) Paul Tillich, from the catalogue New Images of Man (1959)
(3) Paul Tillich in "Each Period Has Its Peculiar Image of Man", from the catalogue New Images of Man (1959)