I am an artist and I’ve been working…
It is infrequent at best, unlikely at least to be introduced to a legend in the making. Recently I had the good fortune of being introduced to an indelible character who is on this path.
Edward Walton Wilcox is the proverbial “triple threat” artist. Edward works with unconventional materials in painting, drawing and sculptural mediums. When previewing his website (www.edwardwaltonwilcox.com), I was initially distracted by some of his more controversial works that echoed the “poke of the finger in the eye” Dadaist movement of the early 20th century, which aimed to ridicule the art world and later influenced the evolution of surrealism and pop art. But controversial pieces aside, it was a pleasure to delve into the works of a modern master whose art pieces live as visual parables.
PD: I know you are originally from West Palm Beach, Florida. Why live in Paso Robles?
EWW: I graduated from University of Florida and grew up in West Palm Beach with a great, traditional family. I met my wife of 25 years in college. As a burgeoning artist, I thought Florida was a cultural vacuum. This was pre-Art Basil. We decided we needed a more cosmopolitan environment. We visited New York and gave it a 10-day trial, then decided on Los Angeles a couple years later. We loved the dry air; we bought a home. My wife energetically helped market my art with almost immediate success and sales. We stayed for 10 years. We had vacationed in Paso Robles many times and thought the locale was better for raising our family.
PD: Your work has a dark edge. Is this the product of early struggles?
EWW: In the early days, I searched the sofa for change like many people, but I had a great family and support. My father taught me to build things in the garage. Things fell apart in Florida that prompted our move to L.A. That episode did not necessarily influence my art or give me a dark approach because I have always been fascinated by Gothic revival style and Victorian drama. The fact that Victorians abhorred a vacuum of space was curious; they filled every corner. I loved the Flagler mansion and its embellishments. It is full of dark landscapes and sepia. Early on, my style was novel because I was not an abstract expressionist like everyone else. I told dark stories, but I came from a happy home. I’m almost the polar opposite to the art I create.
PD: Your bio mentions a fascination with the line between beauty and repulsion. Why explore the nightmare?
EWW: I am often apologetic about my work and dislike cocktail party descriptions. Professor John Ward suggested we look beyond humor and contrast. I can’t articulate it well except in paint. “Laughing Stock” was a painting I based on the medieval punishment of putting a sack over the head of a thief. I painted it shortly after the 2008 crash because, while my work had been good and steady, it all stopped. I felt like a fool for not anticipating the loss. I felt it was potent message many people could identify with.
PD: You are a “triple threat” artist proficient in painting, drawing and sculpture. Do any of these disciplines feel the most important to you?
EWW: I’m as comfortable painting as building a sculpture. I have as many power tools as paint brushes. My dad could build and repair anything. He taught me to build things, and it’s made me confident to trust my instincts. For a show in L.A., I wanted to build a fantastical windmill as a centerpiece among the paintings, so I just did. The gallery agreed, and it was sold to the CEO of Nike.
PD: I see you are listed as using primitive materials (wood, glass, pitch, gesso, glue). Are you intentionally trying to achieve an Old World appearance?
EWW: I choose the materials that I learned to use in art school. I had an innovative professor who taught us to learn and use basic materials like stretching canvas, etc. The early masters often used unconventional materials, and I gravitated toward them as I learned new techniques to tell my stories.
PD: Your techniques are solid and your intentions are evocative. How do you incorporate your story with these works?
EWW: Many of the early masters used parables as illustrations of morals or truisms. These parables prompted contemplation. My sculptural triptychs are all based on parables as are many of my paintings.
PD: Let’s talk about “Devil in My Boat” (sepia-toned lone boatman on flat water with moody sky). This piece is reminiscent of Winslow Homer’s control of atmosphere, Turner’s drama and Andrew Wyeth’s line work. In fact, Wyeth used a similar perspective, often isolating specific parts of the scene (e.g., “Night Mare,” a skeleton watercolor from 1973) and monochromatic palette with extreme tonal range.
EWW: “Devil in My Boat” (18 by 24) is a parable depiction of one man struggling with his owns demons. “The Weeping Widow” (30 by 50) is also a parable illustration. These paintings tell a story that can be interpreted by the viewer much like my sculptures.
PD: I sense a derivation of the Dadaist movement in some of your works. Are you trying to poke fun at the meaninglessness of modern art or just being controversial?
EWW: I’m aware of the duality of meaning and interpretations in some of my works, such as the gun cases. There is a dangerous irony that not everyone may appreciate. I built these with a sense of humor. This was well before the rash of mass shootings. One, “A Little Paranoia Goes a Long Way,” resonated with L.A. collectors and critics. These may be seen as a joke in poor taste, but to me, it illustrates and tells the story of my own duality.
PD: Is there any significance to the medieval religious triptych panels? A fascination with Eastern Orthodox Christian imagery?
EWW: I have been and continue to be inspired by gothic revival art and images. A great example is William Randolph Hearst, whose home is a living collection of disparate art and imagery.
PD: What do you do to challenge yourself to achieve and deliver a next or higher level of art?
EWW: As my wife will attest, I’m not a planner. I create by intuition and instinct. The only times I really plan are while preparing for an exhibition!
PD: You mentioned having great success at Tooth & Nail Winery showing and selling your work. Why do you think that is?
EWW: Tooth & Nail has a rock ’n’ roll style brand and attracts some visitors who may be drawn to more extreme art, plus they draw great crowds. It’s been great for me!
Patrick Dennis’ column appears the monthly and is special to The Cambrian. Find him online at www.patrickgallery.com.