Saturday, December 11, 2010

Chuck Wilkinson: Illustrator, artist, spiritual mentor, friend.

Note: please click on the pictures for a larger view!

Sacrificial Lamb

Obituary (partial)

Wilkinson, Charles W., age 78, December 4, 2010. Chuck was born in Detroit, Michigan, and studied art at Pratt Institute in New York. ...his illustrations have been widely used in both publications and advertising as well as limited edition prints and originals. His works have been on exhibit in New York and Detroit and have received numerous awards. His life style paintings, done in egg tempera, evoke an elegance of an earlier era and have become synonymous with American Nostalgia.

Chuck was one of my teachers at College for Creative Studies in Detroit, back in the late 1970s. I was in his Illustration class, of which I have many fond memories. I stayed in touch with Chuck off and on over the years. Withing the last ten years, we were in much closer contact, I'm happy to say.

Chuck enriched my life in so many ways-- as a teacher, an artist, a spiritual mentor, and as a dear friend. You couldn't find a kinder, gentler, more giving person.

Chuck was very successful as an illustrator. He worked out of Detroit, but was also represented by a major artist rep in New York, providing him with a lot of nationally-based work as well. Chuck did his share of advertising illustration over the years, but his work had more of an "editorial" look, and in fact, that is where much of his work appeared-- as illustrations for magazine articles, stories, book covers, etc.

Chuck was a committed Christian; he dedicated his life to Jesus. As the years went on, he did less and less commercial work, and focused on what he referred to as his "parable paintings". This is not your typical saccharine "Christian art". Chuck's allegorical paintings are rich with symbolism and metaphor, filled with deep meaning, and often with a bit of Chuck's subtle sense of humor as well.

Today, any serious working artist has a presence on the Internet-- usually a personal website, sometimes just a blog (ahem). Chuck's years as an illustrator of note were before the Internet came into play. As pretty much an "old school" type of guy, he didn't even have a computer (as far as I know). Thus, there has been little to no work of Chuck's to be found online. I've been meaning to rectify this situation for some time; there is no time like the present.

I shot these photographs of Chuck's works a few years ago. too bad it has taken his passing to get me motivated to post them. Better late than never, I suppose.

Guardian Angel

Son Ship

According to Chuck, the "angel" is actually Lucifer.
Chuck: "Look-- Jesus is wearing a Timex! Hahaha!"

World Prison Systems Inc.

Note the paintings by Impressionist masters on the wall-- Cezanne, Monet, Degas, etc.

Pentecost Junction
(Sorry about the reflections-- this one is under glass.)

God bless Chuck Wilkinson-- he has been a real blessing to many, many people over the years. Chuck's legacy lives not only in his art, but especially in the way he has touched so many of us. God willing, hopefully we can pass at least something of this on to the other people in our lives.

Note: I have done my best to give these paintings their correct titles-- I have probably made some errors.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Vesica Piscis

This is a digital sketch for an upcoming painting. The painting will be acrylic, 18" x 24".

Click on the image below for a larger view.

The image is based on a geometric shape known as the Vesica Piscis. This shape is the basis of what is often referred to as "sacred geometry".

This piece was originally designed with the intention of showing the vesica piscis laid on top of the faces. At the present time, I am liking the art without the v.p.

Here it is with the vesica piscis overlay.

Sketch painted in Photoshop with a Wacom Intuos 4 tablet

More info on the vesica piscis:

Monday, June 7, 2010

It's nice when they "get it".

From one of my Advanced 3D Art students:

"When I entered this class I was pessimistic because my major is 2D Art and it is more what I am natural at. However, my lack of knowledge is what helped me though the class. I learned things about myself as a person and as an artist. Now I know to try new things because everything I did in this class was new to me. The experience was great."

Friday, March 19, 2010

Small Dark Worlds: installation and performance art


Last Saturday night I attended Small Dark Worlds, a show of installation and performance art. This show was held on the fifth floor of Detroit's marvelous Russell Industrial Center (a former auto body manufacturing plant). Long out of use as a manufacturing facility, the building is now populated by a good number of artists, along with many other small businesses. Still, the complex is so large, that much of it remains deserted. Even in the areas that are currently in use, you can feel a palpable sense of the ghosts of the past-- this building defines the term "post-industrial", and is something of a metaphor for Detroit in general.

Small Dark Worlds was curated by artists Marianne Audrey Burrows and Amanda Faye Cain. I was introduced to Amanda's work last May, when I attended her photography/installation show Free Alcohol [ism], which was also at the RIC. I have not really been much of a fan of installation and performance art; still, as my artistic interests have been expanding lately, I became interested in this show when my son Jesse and his friend Dan B. told me about it (Amanda is a friend of theirs). So, I attended Free Alcohol [ism], and found it to actually be quite fascinating. I made a blog post about the event, with lots of photos. Click here for a link to that page (you'll have to scroll down a bit once you get there).

I attended Small Dark Worlds with two of my friends, Todd MacIntosh, and Joe Smith. Both are in advertising-- Todd as an art director, and Joe as a writer-- and both are musicians as well. They play together as Me + Joe Smith, and I have played both guitar and drums with them on a number of occasions. Todd and Joe area couple of super-awesome dudes, and really into the whole art and music thing; good people to go to a show like this with.

For the Free Alcohol [ism] show, I took the stairs up to the fifth floor. This equates to essentially ten flights of stairs, and the pitch of the stairs is pretty steep. Needless to say, I was glad that we were able to catch the freight elevator this time.

We followed three long, dark, and cavernous hallways down to where the show was being held.

We quickly came across the location where Amanda's performance piece would be later that evening, and read her artist's statement (see below).

I looked up, and Todd had put on some 3D glasses that were hanging from the ceiling.

The performance pieces were a bit later, so we had time to peruse the rest of the show. Sorry, I don't have names for most of the artists, but here are a few examples of some of their work, most of which was pretty great.

Here is a statement from one of the artists-- I'm pretty sure it was for either the work directly above or directly below.

Left to right: little creepy trailer dude, the author, and Joe Smith.

Conceptual artist Donnie Weldon, featured artist/curator Amanda Faye Cain, artist/musician Jesse Jacobi.

Marianne Audrey Burrows
Destitution: an installation

Regrettably, I forgot to take a photo of her artist's statement, but you will be able to read some of her thoughts that she had written on two large pieces of paper that were part of the installation (see below).

Marianne's installation occupied a fairly large area, sort of a room adjoining the main room. My first impression, seeing the bed on the floor surrounded by empty beer bottles and other detritus, was that one could argue that the piece was pretty derivative of British artist Tracey Emin's famous/infamous signature installation titled My Bed. However, on further inspection, there was really a lot more going on with Marianne's art; not to mention that it ultimately became the set for her performance piece.

Marianne writes:

While waiting for her performance to begin, I wandered off taking another look as some of the other work. Engrossed, I suddenly became aware that the performance was in progress. By that time, dozens of people were crowded around the area where it was taking place. I had some trouble finding a vantage point where I could see what was going on. Live music was provided as part of the piece, performed by a quartet of musicians on trumpet, bass clarinet, electric guitar, and drums, providing some sparse, eerie atonal sounds that seemed to really set the mood. (The music could probably be described as avant garde jazz, for lack of a better term.)

As part of her performance, Marianne shaved off all of her longish hair in front of the audience. Regrettably, I missed most of that part. By the time I got positioned to shoot some photos, she was collecting her hair and affixing it to a dummy/large doll that was now lying on the bed.

When she was done with the hair, she stood up facing the audience, and let loose with a chilling, blood curdling scream, and quickly departed the area. Pretty intense.

We had a chance to have a nice chat with Marianne a bit later on, and she proved to be very friendly, which is always nice to see.

photo by Todd, on Joe's phone

Amanda Faye Cain

Again, wandering around the large space, I missed the beginning of this performance as well, but did manage to see most of it. There were some cardboard boxes on the floor. Amanda pulled some candles out of one of the boxes, set them on the table, and proceeded to pour some kind of goopy liquid onto the table. She got on her hands and knees and crawled around the table, drawing a circle around it on the floor; she then stood up and drew a circle on the wall. Another darker liquid was poured around, and she started to light the candles.

She reached into a box and pulled out a large candle in the shape of a life-size human head, placed it on top of the other candles, and proceeded to light it.

Suddenly, a young man jumped out of the crowd, grabbed her, and wrestled her away from the table. Fortunately, this was not a crazed fan; rather, it was part of the performance. (We later learned that the young man was her boyfriend, and the candle had been cast from his head.)

Amanda then reached into another box, where she found a 9" x 12" envelope containing a number of photographs, which she then nailed to the wall.

The photos were mostly faces/heads, a couple bodies... they looked pretty messed up. I spoke with Amanda later on, and she said that the photos were sent to her by a friend. She knew basically what they would be about, but this was the first time she had actually seen them. The photos are actual crime scene/morgue pics, and are exceptionally gruesome. Creepy as hell.

Blasting the wax head with a propane torch, she looks upward for several seconds, very still. What's going through her mind?

Amanda torched the head right in the eye for a few moments, and then that was it.

I found Amanda's performance piece to be fascinating, very intense. There were a lot of people watching; few left. The audience appeared to be mesmerized, or at least really drawn in to what was going on. Todd told me, "That seemed really ritualistic, like some weird tribal shit or something..." I spoke with Amanda after the performance; she shared with me some of the details about what the piece was about. I'm not sure if her explanation was really to be shared, or if she would prefer to let people derive their own meaning, so I will leave it with that.


Over the last few years, I have been doing a lot of re-assessing of what I think art is really all about. I have always leaned heavily towards art that is very skill-based, but at the same time, have also leaned towards the strange, the surreal, the bizarre. To many art critics and art historians, we are way past the need for or even the presence of any demonstration of skill in works of art. This line of thinking goes back for many decades-- pure abstraction was de rigueur by mid-twentieth century, and the philosophical origins go all the way back into the dawn of the modern era in the nineteenth century. I have written about all of this a number of times on this blog, so I will not rehash that material at the present time. Suffice it to say, even though I still mostly prefer artwork that involves traditional skills (but not necessarily traditional subject matter!), I have to admit that I am becoming increasingly interested in some of these newer forms of art. The Free Alcohol [ism] show was really the first time I felt like I was buying in to installation art, and I think that this is really the first time that I have fully experienced and bought into any performance art. Congratulations and many thanks to Marianne Audrey Burrows and Amanda Faye Cain for putting together a great show, and for giving me the opportunity to increasingly open my eyes and mind to this type of art.

Todd and Joe, on our way out after the show.

One last thought... As a musician who has played a lot of improvisational music over the years, I see definite parallels between performance art and jazz (this would be real improvisational jazz I'm talking about; not some of the commercial non-jazz crap that is unworthy of the name). In both cases, the art is essentially ephemeral, a fleeting moment in time and space. Sure, you can take pictures or make recordings, but folks, trust me-- to get the full impact, you really gotta be there.

All photos are by the author, except where otherwise indicated.