Dazzling technique brings Wilson work to life, almost

June 22, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

Will Wilson is an artist of almost consummate technical ability. He can do a trompe l'oeil painting, such as "Back to the Drawing Board" in his current show at the Baltimore Life Gallery, and make it look so real you think you could go up and pull those thumbtacks right out of that piece of wood.

In "Painting" (presumably a self-portrait, since Wilson's name is on the easel the figure holds), he surrounds the central face with various creatures from birds and mice to bees and butterflies, snails and a snake; everything is rendered in extreme detail, down to the single hair, a prodigious tour de force. In "Pumpkin," we are given every bump on the pumpkin, in "School of Fish" it looks as if we see every page of the books that occupy the picture along with various sea creatures. In "Eve Sans Adam" the woman pictured wears a veil in which every tiny thread is delineated, and at the same time the artist achieves the illusion that there's space between the veil and the face behind it.

Wilson is not quite so dazzling when he renders people. The thumbs of the angel in "Sanctuary" join the hands oddly; the baby in "Ages of Man" is just a little bit too rubbery to be real, and there's something not quite convincing about the neck of the old man in the background; the wrinkles on the face, especially around the mouth, of "Florence" look a bit like makeup rather than real flesh.

Otherwise, however, Wilson's technique never falters, and it has no doubt made him a highly popular and successful artist.

It's easy to respond to this sort of thing; it requires an ability plain to see, and that ability is what the pictures are all about.

Which is precisely what's wrong with them. This is an art that presents technique in the service of itself.

Technique is what you admire about Wilson's art, but unfortunately it's just about all there is to admire; it's the real meaning of his pictures, whatever their subject matter, and so you leave them feeling empty.

Here and there Wilson drops this perfection of rendering in favor of something a little looser, which can also be more rewarding. The hand of the woman in "Eve Sans Adam" is not painted in anatomical detail; rather, it's painted to convey the gesture it makes, which tells you something about the person making it. The iris, and the jug behind it, in "Iris" possess a certain air of mystery and romance.

This is the first of the Baltimore Life Insurance Co.'s art shows at its new headquarters in Owings Mills. Ten years ago the company began presenting exhibits at its former headquarters on Howard Street in Baltimore City. George Fondersmith, who has overseen the shows since their inception, says that there will be, as before, six shows a year, open to the public at regularly scheduled hours.

In Owings Mills the exhibits are hung in two halls, one on the second level, inside the main entrance to the building, and the other on the first level a floor below.

ART REVIEW

What: Paintings by Will Wilson

Where: Baltimore Life Gallery, 10075 Red Run Blvd., Owings Mills

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 9 a.m. to noon Fridays; through July 29

Call: (410) 581-6600

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