Curious details and outrageous color
Wisconsin artist John Wilde (1919-2006) and the "Celebrations in Art" show are on display at the Tory Folliard Gallery. Kat Murrell takes a closer look.
Wisconsin artist John Wilde (1919-2006) synthesized northern Renaissance style draftsmanship characterized by exquisite detail with the freedom, surprise, and humor of 20th century surrealism. Wilde’s paintings seem to claim ancestry with the oddities of Hieronymus Bosch, a painter notorious for his Garden of Earthly Delights, though Wilde usually operated without the moralizing patina.
In the exhibition of his paintings and drawings currently on view at Tory Folliard Gallery, Parade IV stands out with dainty, pale figures riding on exotic mounts such as a flamingo and a rooster blessed with a giraffe-like neck. It is just another day in paradise, taken over by a delightful menagerie of dreamy animals and puny nudes. Waif-like figures appear again, peering out of a birch bark tunnel in A Secret Place: What Shirley Found. They are tiny and slight, but unabashedly curious and confident. Wilde’s pristine painting style accents the clarity of his vision through minuscule paint strokes and cool, reserved colors.
Wilde is aligned with Magic Realism, a movement that prized combining elements of sharp naturalism with seemingly fantastical elements. Cousinly relations may be detected in the art of Salvador Dalí, but Wilde’s work is not about personal, angst-driven hang-ups as much as it is about looking in the world for its charming absurdities.
Things like Still Life with Three Happy Apples play on the traditions of still life, as the chuckling, grinning apples certainly do not seem still. Other vegetable subjects take on a sculptural feeling, such as the diminutive, monochromatic Untitled (Two Carrots). Two root vegetables lay entwined, lounging together. Many of Wilde’s paintings have quite a dry sense of humor; they are weird and slightly wild, but ultimately, completely under control.
Also on view is a group show simply titled Celebrations in Art. It’s a useful catch-all for the variety of pieces on view, from sculpture and jewelry to paintings and furniture. Seven artists are featured but as a study in painting techniques, Rodger Bechtold is an especially interesting counterpoint to Wilde. Bechtold’s brushes skim the surfaces of canvas with flourishes of brilliant color. If one thinks of harmony in terms of the way one element responds to another within a composition, it becomes clear that Bechtold is a extraordinarily skilled conductor of his palette.
The most acidic greens and yellows play wonderfully together and remain in balance with rich blues and purples in Budding Spring. The stand of vertical trees and diagonal hill in this landscape painting are not a necessarily unique compositional structure, but the color makes the scene beautiful and exciting. These canvases are quite brave, as the palette of each painting is pushed daringly toward super saturated hues, but refrains from going into garish overload. Outrageous Fall is a glorious rush of marks, gently arcing in a canopy of orange, red, and fuchsia trees. Whispering gently underneath as a restrained supporting player is the warm, pale and shimmering earth. In the background, bands in the sky glow from pale turquoise to cornflower, vibrant in their own right but letting the full ringing of the trees resound in chords of color.
John Wilde Remembered and Celebrations in Art continue through Dec. 31 at Tory Folliard Gallery, 233 N. Milwaukee Street.