Love of Painting

Plein air painting by James Perry Wilson, oil on mahogany board 8X10

I had an interesting conversation with a musician in the exhibit the other day.  He talked about how inspired the plein air paintings were to him.  I was telling him that Wilson would go out to his favorite painting sites and paint studies like these in a couple of hours.  I have interviewed several friends who went out with him to paint.  They describe a painter with a singular focus.  He would start to paint with his knees slightly bent and would not move for several hours until the painting was finished.

We talked about how an artist can go into the “zone” where everything drops away and hours can pass without notice.  It seems clear that from the description of other painters and the look of these paintings that Wilson would drop into the “zone” more often than not while painting.  And what I mean by the look of these paintings is  that they all seem to have an intimate quality as if Wilson had made a deep connection with the landscape.

Tetons at Sunset, 19 September 1938 by James Perry Wilson oil on canvas board 12X16

It’s ironic to me that other diorama artists thought Wilson’s high realism and use of perspective grids and photographs deadened his artistic impressions of the places he was painting.  Exactly the opposite seems to have happened.  Because of the verity of the landscape, Wilson’s attention to detail, and the deep connection he seemed to make while there, his dioramas breathe life and spirit like no others.  The musician and I wondered about whether he ever wrote or talked about this spiritual quality people seem to feel looking at his paintings.  I have found nothing and so I hesitate to write about it since it is conjectural.  His apprentice, Fred Scherer told me he had never heard Wilson talk about it, but he was sure that he was thinking that way.  One thing that is clear is that Wilson’s dioramas are really in a category of his own.

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One Comment on “Love of Painting”

  1. Sean Murtha Says:

    I think the critiques other artists gave about Wilson’s dioramas stem (when not simply out of envy of his skills) from the apparent submersion of the artists ego– in other words, seeming lack of artistic expression. The big diorama painters of the day were never able to completely sever themselves from the artistic styles and conventions of the day, and could not understand Wilson’s ease at doing just that. He fully understood what a diorama needed to do, and by removing himself from standing in the way between the viewer and the subject, allowed it to do just that–including the spiritual quality you mention. You look at a diorama by Leigh or Jaques and the first thing you are aware of is Leigh or Jaques (and don’t get me wrong- I love both of their work), but stand before a Wilson and the first thing you see is… the place. Those of us, artists, musicians, etc. who are spiritually moved by standing before nature are similarly affected by a Wilson painting because he has been so successful at absorbing himself into the landscape that HE effectively disappears. I can think of no other artist who has ever achieved that.
    Having said this, I am also aware that, look close enough, and he IS there… it’s a matter of subtlety. Most artists are brashly expressive, whereas Wilson is subtle… in musical terms it’s like the wildly individualistic improvisations of a jazz soloist compared to the subtle (but still recognizably individualistic to the sensitive ear) touch of a classical musician.
    -Sean

    -Sean


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