PARK HILLS – Jim Wilson, art instructor at Mineral Area College and Farmington resident, has enjoyed almost a half century of being a professional artist, most of his time spent far away from his hometown of Jackson.
He’s spent time in Mexico and the Southwest, he’s been all over Europe, and now he’s gotten to spend a bit of time back in his old haunts of New York, exhibiting a piece in a juried exhibition by artist Lois Dodd, at the Prince Street Gallery in Manhattan. The showing of “Vault Revealed” is on display until today.
Wilson attended the opening of the exhibit at the gallery he said he helped found in 1972, and said the experience was like “coming home.”
“It was good to be back in Manhattan,” he said. “It’s just a different vibe for art than anywhere else in the country, I think. There, they know how to separate the wheat from the chaff, they know who’s ‘real,’ artistically speaking, and who’s faking it. You can’t really get anything by them, in that market. It’s tough, but satisfying. I was glad to be back in it.”
The pieces in the exhibit, including Wilson’s, were chosen by Lois Dodd, a successful landscape modern art painter. The Prince Street Gallery is a cooperative gallery, with artists from all over bringing in works for purchase. Many of the exhibitions are juried, meaning an artist connected with the gallery chooses artists’ work to be displayed.
Wilson’s colorful oil painting that was chosen depicts an eclectic get-together on a summer evening in the rural Midwest. There’s a pickup with a bed full of tools and scrap, a garage band, a pool party, clothes hanging on the line, a barn with horses, and a couple of chickens strutting about. Wilson said he’s trying to convey to the viewer “peace on earth....joy of life.”
The now-closed Farmington bar, The Vault, with its many special music and novelty acts, was part of the inspiration for the work.
“(The Vault) closed, so this started with a lament that this creative expression was probably lost to this town forever,” Wilson said. “I wished it was still here. So, I put them in the back yard as a garage band coupled with the fun activities that my family created when we were kids, bands, circuses, clubs, shooting galleries, zoos, and most of all our movie theatre that was a part of my family…Other things are stuff I see around every day walking my dog.”
Wilson said his work is different in that it “takes the risk of being ‘original’ in this art world.”
“These are my images and bear no reference to any contemporary art,” he said. “I am rummaging my closet for thoughts and memories. And I am trying to portray my feelings about Missouri to a world that has an inner knowledge of this culture, but has set it aside in favor of the ‘angst’ of contemporary expressionist art.”
Wilson said time spent in Mexico, where he met his wife, Lourdes, was where he brought more personal depth to his work.
“I discovered I wanted intimacy in my paintings when I moved to Mexico. I loved everything I saw, and to the dismay of my liberal friends, I stopped painting for power and strength,” he said. “I did not need people to be overwhelmed by my compositions. I needed them to love where we were. So I painted everyone and had the greatest success painting the local bakery. I also discovered cowboys and horses then tried to sell them in Santa Fe with some success.”
Wilson was either living in, or spent regular time in New York from 1972-99. He arrived by way of the Kansas City Art Institute, the U.S. Army, and Boston University “where painting still lifes and the figure was the mode of the day. The rest of the art world was painting minimal or color field abstract paintings.”
And then he became influenced by the work of young figurative artists such as Paul Georges. The group of figure-oriented painters, Wilson said, became a kind of "underground" movement that shook his world, along with the music, protests, books, and other counter-culture movements of the 1960s and ‘70s.
“I remember early in my time in New York, seeing a guy fall out of a window on the Bowery, and that told me I was in a different place that probably had different ideas,” he said. “I never recovered the simplicity of my Midwestern youth. Life became complex where painting, surviving in an amazing urban environment, and earning a living were new challenges I had never really faced.”
He was later one of several artists invited to a meeting where they were to become the founders of the Prince Street Gallery, where his work is being exhibited.
“It was a time of great optimism with hopes of creating many new possibilities in a vibrant community. Several young and older artists met on Monday nights at the Cedar Tavern, then on Tuesdays or Wednesdays at studio drawing groups, and then at the raucous Figurative Alliance on the lower east side,” he said. “There were many group exhibitions and several solo shows in which I participated.”
Wilson said he ran the Figurative Alliance one year, helped organize the Artist’s Choice Museum, and curated the largest narrative art exhibition in eleven 57th Street galleries.
“There was so much information, discussions, and wild battles between cliques of artistic interest,” he said.
Returning to New York, visiting friends he hadn’t seen in 20 years, Wilson said it was a reunion of sorts, and he plans to keep a hand in the New York scene in the future.
“I hope to get there a little more regularly, maybe every three months or so. I met with a number of New York art dealers, one for almost four hours, and they told me to exhibit more in New York,” he said. “I love this area we live in and everything about it, and I love painting it and bringing it back to the place that doesn’t get to see it. It’s important for the art world to get a chance to see a different kind of subject matter.”