John Wilde at Tory Folliard Gallery
The term, “magic realism,” might conjure up ideas about bunnies popping out of hats. But what it really refers to is a form of art (and literature) built upon realistic images transformed into an unreal fantasy – think of Salvador Dalí’s world on a more plausible level.
Wilde’s pictures are elegant and otherworldly, rendered with unfailing attention to detail and meticulous craftsmanship, plus a heavy injection of dark, bizarre humor. He works in a traditional manner, taking cues from Old Master and Renaissance methods, and uses conventional subjects such as still lifes and figure painting. The areas of unreality are where things get really fun. Several pieces in this show reveal an interest in what might be termed the secret lives of vegetables — apples laugh and grin, a green pepper looms like a giant over a vast and empty plain, and innocuous berries burst forth from their containers as though about to spill a secret. It’s all beautifully painted and evocatively mysterious.
The focal point of the exhibition is Wildeworld Revisited, a 1995 painting based on Wilde’s earlier work, Wisconsin Wildeworld (Provincia, Naturlica, Classicum), (1953-55), which now hangs in the Milwaukee Art Museum as part of the museum’s permanent collection. The composition is much the same in both paintings; Wilde is front and center as the artist in an apocalyptic landscape where civilization as we know it is visibly crumbling around our ears. In the earlier version, he’s dressed in harlequin-like clothing, suggestive of a prankster-sage; in the later painting, there is no such theatrical guise; we see the articulated muscles of his back as though built by age, and his work-worn blue jeans. The mood is portentous, no longer playful. The air of disaster has become stronger; the sky is a great orange vortex sucking everything into the end of the universe. The happy housewives and children of the earlier work no longer romp and stroll. The fluttering birds have met with their demise as well, and the strange ancient architecture opposite the humble homes of Main Street USA meet their end with a whoosh as they’re drawn into the great emptiness bearing down on humanity. Wilde, unfazed, sits like a seer, carefully measuring his perspective, sizing up impending doom.
It’s the sort of image that comes from a stew of fantasy and fear, anxiety and imagination, as well as the technical chops to bring this dreamscape to fruition. It’s a look into another world where Wilde reigns, and anything can happen.
John Wilde Revisited
Through March 6
Tory Folliard Gallery
233 N. Milwaukee St.
Tues. – Fri., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Sat., 11 a.m.-4 p.m.