Timothy Wilson in Conversation with Angela Gram

Timothy was born and raised in rural Maine. Upon graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design he enrolled briefly at the Grand Central Academy before moving back to Maine to work as a creative designer for a clothing company. Not long after, he decided to leave the portence of a successful career and pursue a life as a frustrated painter. In November he will be undertaking a two month Fellowship in the Hudson Valley courtesy of the Art Students League. Timothy keeps his studio in Portland, Maine where he occasionally cat sits for his sisters purebred Persian. His solo exhibition at the Steven Amedee Gallery in New York City opens in October.

More of Timothy’s work can be viewed at http://www.timothypowerswilson.com

Timothy P. Wilson "Mutiny"
Timothy P. Wilson “Mutiny”

QAR: Let’s begin with your technique. Your work has a very unique tactility and organic feel to how you approach painting. Would you consider yourself an expressionist? How did you develop these skills?

TW: I had never really thought of myself as an expressionist before, but in a way; yes. Painting is becoming more about my own experience with the medium. The work is certainly getting selfish; more about me and less preoccupation about the viewer. My subject matter is getting lessened as i find out what is meaningful to me. Overall, I would say my approach to painting has been developed through a lot of frustration! I used to work and study rapaciously throughout my childhood and schooling. But I was self destructive, and for all the time spent laboring I wasn’t satisfied. I kept on throwing out my work and starting over constantly. There was a lot of hesitation, and alot of obsessive research and failed experiments. I think failure is essential. Difficult, but essential.

I went to school for illustration, and it happened to be at the cusp of the digital art vogue. I couldn’t place why it bothered me at the time, but I needed tactility and interaction with the medium that the computer screen just didn’t offer. There was too much of a separation. I needed something real; sticky, smelly, sweet. Something you needed to change your clothes from after. There is validity in any form of art or materials, but I need that dirt in my fingertips.

I spend a lot of time analyzing, looking, adopting things into my manual vocabulary. That way I can pull and manipulate form without really needing reference. Increasingly, thick, bulky materials seem to be getting my attention. Asphalt, tar, wax; things that offer a tug and pull. In trying to domesticate those materials, I spend less time in minute renderings and more time actively interacting. I tend to work from my head, and find I often go through a debilitating hesitation; not wanting to destroy the image I have in my mind, but can’t seem to get out through my cumbersome hands. Hesitation rarely yields results. So I gradually began to adopt a way to channel that hesitation in something more productive. I just start scribbling; letting my hand swirl around, layering, sanding, letting things happen until an image emerges. It’s more exhilarating that way, but requires alot of blind hope. And a lot of aborted work. In trying to figure out the image in my head, my palette has become very sparse. I try to deal mostly with just tone, making substance of the thought, and not worrying about color harmonies, temperature, saturations. That stuff is just too intelligent for me. I certainly have a fear of making art, and my self destruction still rears it’s ugly head every now and then, but I’ve tried to embrace it. I have had numerous artists I shared studio buildings with mention they used to pick through the trash after I had violent purges of art, and have the trashed art hanging on their wall. Part of me feels strange about that. But it is also just tremendously endearing. And hilarious: that means a handful of my collectors walls are festooned with free trash. You’ve got to have a sense of humor if you are going to be an artist. Otherwise, that’s going to be a pretty rough road.

Timothy P. Wilson “Burnt Face”

QAR: You very naturally blend the disciplines of illustration and contemporary painting. I sometimes catch a glimpse of perhaps, Phil Hale? Who are your main influences from both fields?

TW: Phil was one of the first contemporary painters that caused me to look at illustration in a different manner. I didn’t realize it at the time, I was just spellbound by his imagery and control of tonality, but he was using illustration as a platform to search for his own identity as a painter. He would just keep on painting the things that were dear to him; things you can tell he was intrinsically connected to. It was him redeveloping the same imagery over and over again. But it’s really good imagery. To be honest, I have started looking less and less at illustration: I absolutely love it, but it is a less personal experience than viewing a painting. I feel a stronger kinship with paintings that you can tell encapsulate the artists emotions. In saying that I immediately fall into a trap, as most of the historical painting is completely illustrative, Rubens, Rembrandt, Titian…but I need to draw a line somewhere.

Nicola Samori has been tremendously inspirational. Not because of the palette or imagery, but because for years I struggled with the concept of wanting to recreate historical paintings in my own hand. I felt in doing so I would be labelled as a fraud. His confidence to do whatever he wants is thoroughly inspiring. I love the tension he creates in his images, they are almost at the point of juxtapositional unbalance, but he captures that moment of tension perfectly. I love the handling of Ann Gale, the way her nest of brushstrokes describe the subject and simultaneously cause a total deconstruction into the abstract. Abstraction needs to have subjectivity. You need to understand the essence of your subject in order to relate its form, or the deconstruction of form. That’s my big gripe about a lot of abstract work; it’s not really abstraction of anything, it’s just marks. Nicolas Uribe and Alex Kanevsky are two painters I think really straddle the line of representation and fragmentation of form. It is deconstructed through their process of trying to find the image. There is a poignancy to Nicolas’ recent imagery. He gives you an intimate glimpse into his world. There are so many artists I am exposed to every day that captivate me, but I am so overwhelmed with the constant deluge that I quite honestly forget the names that I would want to mention. I don’t know if that is a good thing or bad. Really, I think my favorite artists are the ones that I have a personal connection to. I am able to see how they translate their lives and experiences to the canvas, and I find that thrilling. I really love almost everything. I love seeing the discarded piles of paper palettes in artists studios. I think those are just as poignant as any work produced; they show the history of labor even more than the canvases themselves.

Timothy P. Wilson "The Grim Grumble"
Timothy P. Wilson “Grim Grumble”

QAR: The ethereally monstrous faces of your Hauntling series most strikingly evoke a note of darkened Romanticism that resonates throughout your work. What does the abject sublime mean to you?

TW: I think we are all just primitive creatures just catering to our bodily functions. We need to eat, sleep and fuck. Yet within that native drive, we are absurdly complicated and have an awareness for information and growth. It’s a balance. I love that you can get dressed up and go to a fancy restaurant and order the finest food; yet three feet away from your table, behind a thin wall, someone is pissing in your direction into a urinal. It’s great.

There is a rawness to nature and to our physical bodies that we should be able to experience without the constancy of rational explanation. When I sit watching the ocean during a storm, I don’t want to think of the growth rate of a wave caused by a distant weather pattern: I want to think about the raw power of the force battering against the rocks. I want to be scared. The Romantics were in touch with myth and the desire to escape the new horror; the rationalization of life. They realized that the intrigue of existence would be purposeless without the element of the ineffable. People are fearful of the unknown, of mortalities. But fear isn’t a bad thing; it is actually quite beautiful. It is real. It brings a truth of emotion bubbling to the surface. There is beauty in death; even in torture. Look at the martyr paintings of Jusepe Ribera, or the macabres of Goya. Flesh is being ripped, bodies bent on wheels and stretched for quartering, ghouls flocking in the night, and the brutalities of primitive man in battle; and yet there is an irrepressible sublime to the image. There is a tenderness to the figures and gesture, and in the murky shadows and ethereal wisps, something of the divine is represented on the canvas and therein connected to the mortality of suffering. It is the depiction of the things that just can’t quite be explained, but you feel it when you see it. When you bring in the dimension of the artist acting as scribe, painting can embody the romance of the ineffable like nothing else.

Timothy P. Wilson "Fuckmoonlight"
Timothy P. Wilson “Fuck The Moonlight”

QAR: Describe the role of the figure in your work. Your figures seem to be futilely engaged between two worlds. They seem nebulous and vulnerable.

TW: I find my work is naturally dualescent. The figures are caught. I mentioned before my tendency for hesitation and indecision, my figures are the literal embodiment of that. When I see a figure in my head, I am not able to make out quite how they are supposed to exist, what they are gesticulating for. It is somewhat indefinable. What I love about the stillness of the picture plane is that the audience needs to create the movement. I am doing everything I can to put the image on the canvas, but I am only giving a fragment of the action. There is something compelling in the unknown. One of my favorite recurring comments from collectors is that they didn’t know why they bought a painting: but they felt compelled to, they had to buy it. I think if work can transcend the borders of the ‘here and now’, ‘this is that’, and can exist without concrete definition, it gets into the subconscious that we all collectively share. Sometimes I wish I could make decisions, and actively describe a specificity to the figures. I’ve tried, but it just makes me feel so unnatural. I will certainly admit that at the moment, I am in a strange place in my work, I am trying to figure out what it is that I am trying to do. Painting is exceedingly difficult for me, in fact of all the creative avenues, it is the one that just causes pure and constant frustration. Yet, for some reason, it is the one I doggedly pursue. If the fact that in dedicating myself to that pursuit in spite of all that frustration, someone can subconsciously feel that energy, well, that’s a pretty great compliment.

Timothy P. Wilson
Timothy P. Wilson “Tide”

QAR: The atmosphere of New England and of Maine especially, carries a rich history of culture and landscape. How does your environment influence you?

TW: There certainly is a pervading isolation to the landscape, that’s for sure. But it lets your mind create. I think too much of the world is reliant upon constant stimulation, it’s really depressing. It wasn’t until just the past few months, when I was having difficulty in my studio, that I realized I needed to actively document my experiences in nature. The elements of space, landscape, even the mood of an empty room, have always been so integral to my happiness. Suddenly for my job as a painter it was imperative to be aware of my experiences.

New England has all the seasons. That’s pivotal. Seeing the process of decay and rebirth. In recently taking up plein air painting to document my experiences in nature, a lot has changed for me. Painting in my studio is rife of the frustration I mentioned, but documenting nature, watching the subtleties that I would never consider, has been wholly enriching and meditative. It’s made me think of the strange middle ground that artists need to dwell in. We need to find a way to experience the tangibilities of life, and yet, we also need to be able to immediately step back, and into a further dimension to separate ourselves and act as documenter, transcriber. Whether it be an immediate physical documentation, or merely a mental note. Awareness, that is key as fuck. I feel very fortunate to have some of my favorite artists as friends and neighbors. Maine has a wealth of creatives, and they are all over, but they come here for the same romantic sense of isolation and seclusion; you need to search for them. And when you find them, you find a bond stronger than most anything else.

Timothy P. Wilson "Lastly"
Timothy P. Wilson “Herman”

QAR: What is a Hauntling?

TW: That was my way of trying to bridge the gap between what some audiences view as grotesque, disturbing imagery with what I consider to be merely harmless; even cute! I must have been inspired by Edward Goreys Gashlycrumb Tinies. I love how he was able to portray such tragic affairs with such an endearingly accessible imagery and wording. I had a show of those faces, and realizing I needed a title for them, Hauntling just popped into my mind. I think it fits. They are not menacing, but there is something spooky about them. I don’t know directly what they are or what they are supposed to represent. They could be old souls, portraits of ghost­ be­gones; really, they are just my compulsion to create smeary faces.

Timothy P. Wilson
Timothy P. Wilson “Untitled”

QAR: What is your favorite myth?

TW: That’s a difficult question. Overall I would have to say the creation myths; there is nothing more powerful and evocative. They are the oldest tales in the world, the precursor to science. From the beginning we wanted to describe why and how. We wanted to know where we came from and how things came to be. Before the concepts of evolution and creation were even formed and battled out, the creation myths were there as the poignant rationale. Each culture formed different tales, showing how everyone, even in isolation, revered the natural world to be mystifying, evocative and threatening. But, creation is broad. To choose a specific myth, I am going to switch perspectives: nothing beats Cronus. He castrated his father and devoured his children! God. That’s awesome. And what imagery. Of the more famous ones, as much as I love Rubens and his unrivaled bravado, his illustrative tinkering doesn’t hold water to the guttural punch Goya smacks you with. It’s ferocious. Considering what we talked about within the subject of the abject, the sublime, and the Romantics attempt to connect mortality with something higher, some of the folklore we weave about the divine show them as utterly primitive, futile beings. I would much prefer to be mortal than live forever knowing I ate my children. But that’s just me.