21 September 2010
17 September 2010
John Wilde's "With Friends" exhibition review from Art in America
Excerpts from Heretics of the Heartland, review of recent "With Friends" exhibition at the Chazen Museum of Art by Michael Duncan, Art in America, February 2006
"With Friends: Six Magic Realists, 1940-1965," a recent exhibition at the Chazen (formerly Elvehjem) Museum at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, guest curated by Robert Cozzolino, surveyed a fascinating group of mid-century Midwestern artists who rejected American Scene painting to cultivate their own homegrown surrealism. The exhibition presented these figures-Gertrude Abercrombie (1909-1977), John Wilde (b. 1919), Marshall Glasier (1902-1988), Karl Priebe (1914-1976), Dudley Huppler (1917-1988) and Sylvia Fein (b. 1919)-as a coherent group who all drew on each others' ideas and techniques. Ignored in most accounts of mid-century American art and eclipsed in their own time by the postwar rush to abstraction, these artists offer a significant alternative voice. [article continues]
This midwestern group of friends-living in Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison, WIS.-seems far removed from the political turmoil and theoretical debate that fostered Bretonian Surrealism. More comfortable with the free-form, less dogmatic varieties of Surrealism they read about in VIEW magazine, these artists were sophisticated misfits who found release in gamesmanship and private allegory. Intrigued by narrative and symbol, they invented fictive realms that served as alternate universes, ignoring the cliched panoramas and shibboleths of the period's self-consciously American Scene art. [article continues]
The most prolific and accomplished artist of the group, John Wilde set a high standard for himself from his earliest drawings. Over the past 60 years, he has explored in classically rendered drawings and paintings a fantastical, bountiful world of ideas, objects and natural splendor featuring, as he once put it, "fruits and naked ladies (and old houses and dead fish and birds and meadow mice)." The exhibition included several major works, including Wildeworld (1953-55), a personal allegory presided over by the artist that juxtaposes a ruined classical setting and a contemporary Wisconsin street scene.
As a student, Wilde quickly blossomed under Glasier's encouragement and embraced the Renaissance-style techniques taught to him by Watrous. Wilde continues to make studies for his paintings in silverpoint, a medium that discourages changes or emendations. A natural draftsman, he set the group's benchmark for old-master-style rendering. Speaking of Wilde's university days, Fein states in the exhibition catalogue, "It was apparent from the beginning that something extraordinary was taking place. This just wasn't talent and training. There was [something] supernatural happening, rare, exquisite, fierce, very consistent and stable and constantly generating and cranking out [work] with no apparent struggle or missteps."
In his meticulous renderings, Wilde explored the fecundity of nature and the odd shapes and designs of flora and fauna. Inspired by Glasier's enthusiasm for local sites, the group made drawing expeditions to the hilly terrain of Castle Rock Park, west of Madison, where there are landscapes that resemble those of early Italian Renaissance painting. Wilde is by no means a strict realist, augmenting his depictions of vegetation with a sometimes queasy palette of acid green, pink and orange-red. An awareness of decay and the darker forces of life permeates his esthetic, stemming from his debilitating experiences during World War II.
Drafted into the Army in 1942, Wilde was assigned to draw venereal disease prevention propaganda and camouflage design. On his own time, he kept a 275-page journal/sketchbook of self-portraits, fantasy figures and intimate confessional texts that show his disdain for military regimentation and bureaucracy and chronicle his slide into a severe depression associated with his wartime experience. The journal, on display in the exhibition, features pages such as a Kafka-esque sketch from July 28, 1944, with a caption that reads, "My sentence is prolonged"; the drawing shows Wilde with head bowed before an Army board that consists of a panel of barking, lunging dogs.
During the war, Wilde made larger drawings based on the journal sketches, mailing them back to Huppler in Wisconsin for safekeeping. Glasier had given him a copy of Louis-Ferdinand Celine's harrowing 1934 novel Journey to the End of the Night, and Wilde's drawings seem inspired by a Celine-like sense of purposeless despair. As a body of work, these pencil drawings represent one of the most wrenching personal responses to war of any American artist.
The drawings are accompanied by free-flowing texts that elucidate Wilde's depression. Myself in the War (1943), a drawing featuring a foreground self-portrait and background image of a Roman warrior with cloven hoofs being attacked by a wolf, has a text that reads, "Wait for the second day. Perhaps it shall be better. But perhaps, as the wolves told me, it shall only be worse and worse." In the self-portrait The Sons of Worse Than Bitches Have Put a Hole in My Head! (1944), Wilde gazes out while reaching toward a gaping cavity in the side of his head. Portrait of HDPRAW (1944), a harrowing portrait of Wilde's wife Helen with a craterlike bullet hole in her chest, has a text that partially reads, "My love is infected with my madness."
While Wilde can be a master of whimsy, his most powerful works are macabre. The deathly pale, macro-encephalitic youth in Mother and Sick Child (1946) evokes Bellini's Dead Christ and the most abject portraits by Otto Dix and Christian Schad. The exhibition also features some of Wilde's tributes to other members of the group, including a forceful silverpoint portrait of Glasier (1949), a fanciful pencil drawing of Priebe hunting for bird eggs (1950), and a nostalgic group portrait in oil (1966) that looks back on the eccentric circle in its prime.
After the war, Wilde returned to the University of Wisconsin, where he completed a master of arts degree in 1946 with a thesis on Surrealism and the works of Max Ernst. Blending scholarship and bold-faced opinion, Wilde defended the ongoing relevance of Surrealism while scorning the constraints of manifestos and literary theory. He ended his paper by attacking the irrelevance of the American Scene painting and defending the “validity of the irrational, of nonsense, of wit.” [article continues-contact Gallery for full version]
Please click here to view works by John Wilde.
15 September 2010
Q: What is your definition of design?
A: A plan for arranging elements in such a way as to best accomplish a particular purpose.
Q: What are the boundaries of design?
A: What are the boundaries of problems?
Q: Does the creation of design admit constraint?
A: Design depends largely on constraints.
Q: What constraints?
A: The sum of all constraints. Here is one of the few effective keys to the design problem: the ability of the designer to recognize as many of the constraints as possible (and) his willingness and enthusiasm for working within these constraints—the constraints of price, size, strength, balance, surface, time, etc.; each problem has its own peculiar list.
Q: To whom does design address itself: to the greatest number (the masses)? The specialists…the enlightened amateur…a privileged social class?
A: To the need.
This has been the construction of myspace for Oranje 2010....the best entertainment value for your money!!! 45 artists, 35 music acts, 5 performance stages, 3 enviro-lounges + an interactive fashion lounge & an indie film lounge....all for only $20!!! Mark your calendar!!! Saturday, September 18!!! Don't miss it or else you'll be a loser!!!
06 September 2010
03 September 2010
Details: Opening reception 6 to 10 p.m. Sept. 3 (show through Sept. 28), Harrison Center for the Arts, 1505 N. Delaware St., (317) 396-3886.