The Art of Ellis Wilson

The Art of Ellis Wilson

Albert F. Sperath
Margaret R. Vendryes
Steven H. Jones
Eva F. King
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 80
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  • Book Info
    The Art of Ellis Wilson
    Book Description:

    From the tobacco fields of western Kentucky to the streets of Harlem, from the Gullah Islands off the South Carolina and Georgia coasts to the all-black republic of Haiti, painter Ellis Wilson (1899-1977) examined the scope and depth of black culture.

    One of Kentucky's most significant African American artists, Wilson graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1923. He spent five more years in the city before moving to New York, where he lived for the rest of his life. Aside from his participation in the WPA's Federal Arts Project and a Guggenheim Fellowship, he was never able to support himself fully by painting. Yet his work has long been praised for its boldness and individuality. Black workers were a favorite subject: field hands, factory workers, loggers, fishermen, and more.

    Of his 1940s series of black factory employees, Wilson stated, "That was the first time I had ever seen my people working in industry, so I painted them." Over time his documentary style gave way to one that emphasized shape and color over pure representation. Despite exhibitions in New York and elsewhere, Wilson considered a small show at the public library in his hometown of Mayfield in 1947 to be "one of the high points" of his life. This catalog accompanies the first major retrospective of Wilson's paintings.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6047-4
    Subjects: Art & Art History, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Preface
    (pp. 1-2)
    Albert F. Sperath
  4. Everything of interest and beauty
    (pp. 3-12)
    Margaret R. Vendryes

    “I WANT TO PAINT ALL THE TIME—everything of interest and beauty!”¹ This was Ellis Wilson’s exasperated plea to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in 1939. At midlife, Wilson knew that he loved painting above all else, and winning the Foundation’s fellowship offered the opportunity to paint all the time.

    After enjoying over a decade of faddish popularity in the 1920s, black American artists faced diminished sales and exhibition venues. Nonetheless, they continued to create art and push for their due in a depressed American marketplace. Although the United States was in recovery from the decade-old stock market crash,...

  5. Ellis Wilson, a Native Son
    (pp. 13-22)
    Steven H. Jones and Eva F. King

    ELLIS WILSON’S early experiences in the small western Kentucky town of Mayfield were to have lasting influence on his evolution as an artist. The community in which he spent his childhood shaped his early personality and value system. Throughout his career he would paint scenes of the everyday life of black people, and his portrayals would reflect black cultural themes of family, work, and religion—institutions that had been so important to his family, and consequently to Wilson, in Mayfield. Wilson’s artistic interpretations were filtered through the lens of his early experiences in his hometown.

    Although no formal history on...

  6. Curator’s Essay
    (pp. 23-24)
    Albert F. Sperath

    MY BACKGROUND AND EXPERIENCE as a curator is not traditional. I am not an art historian but rather a studio artist who began curating exhibitions because of my goal of becoming an art museum professional. The Ellis Wilson retrospective is my first effort at organizing and selecting work from one artist on a national scale. The experience has been exhilarating and exhausting.

    Ellis Wilson is a lesser known artist whose work—literally and figuratively—has not survived as well as some of his more famous peers. Some of the materials he used were of poor quality or incompatible in conservator’s...

  7. Reproductions
    (pp. 25-66)
  8. Catalogue Raisonné
    (pp. 67-76)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 77-78)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 79-79)