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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Will Wilson

Self Portrait, 2000, Will Wilson
I've often wondered, if the old masters were alive today, would their work look as it did during their original lifetimes or would their paintings take on the look of some form of modern art as seen in the world today? It might seem like a fruitless, conjectural point to ponder, but it draws to the fore the question of just how much of an artist's work comes from within, and how much is influenced by outside, contemporary elements. If Vermeer, for instance, were painting today, would he still be painting young women gracing with their luminous presence, quiet, interior, domestic scenes, tightly rendered, probably with the aid of his high-tech (for its time) camera obscura, or would he be painting female athletes captured with the use of high-speed shutters and telephoto lenses? Would Rembrandt still be capturing deeply insightful faces with the striking lighting effects that became his trademark or would he...actually there's no need for conjecture here. One only has to look at the work of his modern day reincarnation, the 55-year-old Will Wilson, to conclude that this era, if not every era, has its own Rembrandt van Rijn.
Untitled, 1996, Will Wilson

Like Rembrandt, Wilson came to painting early in life. He chose his career at the age of ten when he saw an exhibit of the work of N. C. Wyeth at the Brandywine Museum. His art training was as classical as Rembrandt's. He studied at the Schuler school in Baltimore. He uses friends and relatives as models, or sometimes strangers he might meet in a bar. So did Rembrandt. He prepares his canvases as did the Flemish masters, using linen sized with two to four coats of rabbit skin glue, followed by two or three coats of white lead applied with a palette knife. Then the canvas is toned to a light gray.  He not only makes his own paints from dry pigments using a cooked, cold-pressed linseed oil and litharge, but goes even a step further by brewing up Maroger's medium, a toxic concoction of lead, washed linseed oil, and mastic varnish. This he claims allows the paint to glide off the brush more easily for a longer stroke and allows for luminous transparent glazes, which dry quickly.
Alchemy, 2011, Will Wilson

Also like Rembrandt, Wilson's preparatory drawings are often exhaustive, highly refined, works of art in themselves. A dozen or more is not unusual. But in painting, he seldom does any preliminary drawing on the canvas, preferring to work from life, immediately drawing his figures in paint using burnt umber, followed by thick strokes of initial color covering the entire canvas. These he blends using sable brushes before switching to smaller brushes and essentially redrawing details, wet on wet. A typical portrait takes five days to three weeks. And since, in the final stages, he relies upon glazes which must dry somewhat between layers, Wilson often has as many as ten paintings in the works at any given time. However, unlike many artists today, he seem not to have a favorite size or even a favorite subject matter. His paintings sometimes are as small as 9"x10" or as large as 50"x70". He paints as many still-lifes and florals as figures and portraits. However, as with Rembrandt, I've never seen any landscapes among his works.

Austin, 1999, Will Wilson
Wilson claims not to worry about style, perhaps even not to have one. Style, he says, takes care of itself. His still-lifes are tromp l'oeil in the best tradition of Peto and Harnett. His larger works have a clean, illustrative quality. Indeed, his work has graced the covers of periodicals such as Time, Newsweek, and Money Magazine. His work can also be seen from time to time on CD covers and in lithographs selling from $300 to $650 each. His originals sell in the low five-figure to low six-figure range. But it is in his portraits where the classical traits and training show themselves. Whether strikingly modern in their flash and sparkle, or nudes with Rubenesque proportions, or poses and painting techniques straight from the old masters, Will Wilson could easily be termed a contemporary "new master."
The Ages of Man, 1993, Will Wilson