Tim Wilson (b. 1970) is a Brooklyn-based visual artist originally from Richmond, Virginia. His solo exhibitions include Something Rather Than Nothing at Sardine in Brooklyn, New York, PG-13 at Schroeder Romero in New York, and See Me, Feel Me at 31 Grand in Brooklyn, New York. His works in group exhibitions have been presented at Recess, The Ulrich Museum of Art, and Peres Projects among others. Wilson received a B.F.A. from Virginia Commonwealth University and an M.F.A. from Yale University School of Art. He is currently an artist in residence at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Process Space on Governors Island.
The hope for my work is that it will provide myself and the viewer an intimate space for reflection on ones being in the world. These ideas are conjured through a simple, yet coded mix of color, form, process, and representation. This ongoing methodology functions as a visual analog to those thoughts—a discursive mutation of process, driven by the tension between intuition and intentionality.
Specific to this project, the nocturnal scenes of 17th century French Baroque painter Georges de La Tour beckon an inward contemplation on mortality and enlightenment. Lit within, these paintings serve as a transcendental 'hearth' for the viewer. The stillness of the simple planes and their economy of means gives way to highly meditative works. In my painted renditions however, the chiaroscuro illusion is substituted for the blunt physicality of color relationships that Josef Albers’ palette provides in context to the optics of looking and the language of seeing. This curious paring speaks directly to a contradiction in the materiality of painting and the presence of sensory awareness to that of metaphysical perception and allusion, which paradoxically, feeds back into the expectations of both quoted histories.
On the notion of paradox, ontological questions like, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”, burn particularly bright in my thinking. For me, consciousness is a byproduct of material processes. I see painting as a model for those physical conditions governed by natural laws that seemingly give rise to a sense of self and notions of free will. I'm attempting to mimic that unfolding and at the same time, create thought through painting material. In doing so, my work attempts to be what it represents and represents it simultaneously—a sort of onomatopoeia in painting language that seeks to find meaning in nothing.
Q&A with Tim Wilson
Questions by Jo Megas
Could you give us some insight to your process?
I suppose this varies from project to project. I see my practice in painting as an open system that builds upon discoveries and anomalies that occur during a kind of rule based process which oscillates between the highly representational and a process-driven abstraction. I’m always folding this ever-emerging collection of variables into each other in order to generate new work. So on the surface of things, this could be considered a conceptual based practice, and it is, however, I self-identify as a painter’s painter invested in a deep understanding of painting’s history and forging a dialogue with other painters through the work itself. I think the best painting can be is when it acts as a sort of call and response to other painters—as if sending coded smoke signals to those who speak the language.
You have mentioned Josef Albers as an influence in terms of color. Could you tell us more about your palette and about how his color theory appears in your work?
I think Albers’ obvious contribution is concerned with the relational context of color. Quite literally, the interaction of color—that being the title of his book after all. While this is something that painting has always been aware of, he made it the actual subject of his work and has articulated it so clearly. But also that he stressed practice over theory. That the making and the doing is the thinking in a way. That the complexity of color and their relationships to others is something that is learned and expanded upon, not only by making paintings, but also by looking at them.
That is to say, the larger our “memory bank” of color becomes, the richer our experience of them will be. Like the learning of a language, it becomes a visual intelligence.
Your artist statement outlines how your work pursues questions pertaining to being. Can you please tell us more about how your work relates to ontological issues?
I guess the notion that life itself has emerged through a complex open system is what strikes me. Like Carl Sagan said, “We are the universe trying to understand itself.” As I see it, we are all the result of material processes that have self-organized in such a way that has allowed self-consciousness to emerge. Metaphor seems to be a consistent aspect of this. Our vision itself is not really the actual world but merely an analogous interpretation of our limited access to to it—seen through the minds eye—a metaphor. Add language to that and it becomes a metaphor once removed. This kind of ongoing feedback loop is what I’m trying to mimic in my work and continually looking for new ways to articulate. And in doing so, mimic the creative process—that an artist’s single brush stroke contains a multitude of decisions within a microsecond. For me however, I’m trying to simplify the terms, in the way that Albers’ was doing with his squares, so that the paintings are more explicitly analogous to thought.
Are you thinking about Heidegger when you’re pursuing those questions?
Certainly in terms of paintings as objects, with all their thingness, complicated by the fact that they are also images. I was making a body of work a few years ago where I was seeking to remove my hand and imagination from the process. I don’t believe there is such thing as invention per se, but merely a reconfiguration of things already in existence, whether in real space or “of” the mind. Empirical information in the present, in conjunction with a remembered past, create an image of possible futures. But nevertheless, they are constructed on prior data. So in an attempt to model that in painting, I assembled without preconceptions, disparate materials and found objects that for me act as stand-ins for the medium of paint itself. Results, that reference our two-dimensional understanding of the three- dimensional world, they were then filtered through the lens of photography. Thus, the paintings that derived from the photographs were at once emblematic of those forms, the two-dimensional images within them, and of the photograph itself.
Though the paintings emerged out of a complex system of various modes of representation where symbolic, iconic, and indexical representations are folded in on themselves—a treachery of images and the thingness of things, it is from this interplay of différance that the art object emerges, contrary to my initial intention, wholly by my hand and from my imagination. And so by default, what I think we call “invention”.
Do you work exclusively with oil paint?
Yes, for the most part. Occasionally I’ll use acrylic for the underpainting.
How do you decide on titles?
To me, titles are necessary red herrings. Like the problem of language, they will always exist outside of the works themselves. They can only be signs that point to other signs. In a way, they are just an arbitrary numbering system. I have a series paintings of depicting fabric seen at the macro level. The light and scale shift in the paintings make them appear as cosmic Hubble Space Telescope images. Instead of titling them; Fabric Painting 1, Fabric Painting 2 etc, I chose to title them all after soap operas; One Life to Live, Days of Our Lives, Young and the Restless, etc. So while they do effectively number the series, despite what I just said, they also color their meaning somehow. For my show at Sardine last year, I paired a group of large-scale abstract works with a group of small tightly rendered still lifes. The easily readable flower paintings have these long winded poetic titles like, Breaking My Heart with Endless Strategies of Conversion to the Same Ends or The Sad and Willful Abundance of Unacceptable Circumvention. Where as the abstracts have single syllable, guttural like sounds as, Chat, Thunk, and Split. So again, while they effectively categorize the groupings, they also give clues to the intentional contradictions within the work.
Is there a particular class that you still think about that you took during your time at Yale?
I was really fortunate to be able to take two philosophy courses with Karsten Harries. One concerning art, love, and beauty—essentially, the history of aesthetics, something that I often feel is taken for granted in art schools, and another on Nietzsche. Interestingly enough, Karsten studied with Josef Albers as an undergraduate at Yale in the 1950’s and is featured in Anoka Faruqee’s documenty on Albers’ life as an educator, in which she interviews many of his former students who have gone on to become artist and thinkers of note. Very much worth a look.
What is a work of art that you found compelling that you have seen recently?
I was in a Rome recently and visited the Pantheon for the first time. Looking up at the shaft of light shinning down through the oculus onto the puddles of water below from rain earlier in the day, I was literally brought to tears. I couldn’t help but imagine visitors making pilgrimages there almost 2000 years ago—seeing this spectacle and thinking to themselves, “Surely God must exist.” Though sadly, back at home in New York, looking at the towers that continually flood the skyline, I think to myself, he most certainly does not.
How do you structure your studio days? Do you have to be in a certain headspace to work?
I usually spend my mornings cleaning up from the day before. But if the paint is still open I can jump right in. Otherwise , I like to spend a lot time mixing color and forming the palette before it ever reaches the canvas. This always changes of course, in the moment. But rarely do I pre-mix for more than one session at a time. Though this all depends on what I’m working on. I guess I do need to be in the right frame of mind. However I’m a firm believer in just showing up and doing the work. Something will always come out of it. I guess I subscribe to a Philip Guston kind of work ethic in that regard. If nothing else I can always just prepare surfaces, which comes automatically to me and find completely satisfying—a productive form of procrastination.
Do you like to collaborate with other artists?
I never really have. But I’m not against it.
How do you feel like your art has developed during your time as an artist in residence at Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Process Space on Governors Island?
This is where I developed and completed the La Tour/Albers series. So it was quite fruitful. Speaking of headspace, taking the ferry daily to and from the island became a meditative routine that only added the experience. The limited access to the island also reinforced a certain required discipline that I enjoy.
If you’re working on a piece, what does your studio sound like? Do you prefer silence, music, or podcasts?
When I’m working in unknown territory and concentration is key, which is where I am at the moment, I’m in complete silence. In the same way that it would be hard for one to listen to an audio book and NPR simultaneously. When I’m doing more familiar, meditative work, the studio sounds predictably like Brian Eno.
Thank you so much for sharing your work and talking with us!
To find out more about Tim and his work, check out his website.