York Wilson Paintings
Nov. 23 - Dec. 31, 1968, New York.
In a day of emphasis on extreme youth, extreme novelty, minimality and
ephemerality there is both comfort and exhilaration in discovering that some painters of
riper years have caught a second wind full of freshness and the salty flavors of ripened
Conspicuous among them is York Wilson, a Canadian capable of consistently
distinguished work on a very large scale and best known in his own country as a muralist.
Wilson began his career at a time when the avant-garde in Canadian art
consisted of the Group of Seven. He learned two things from them, that colour may be an
instrument of great resonance in itself, and that a sense of place can provide an
ever-renewing source of invention. But he has always differed from them in another
essential characteristic. Where the Group of Seven were engaged in an assertive and
sometimes chauvinist adventure of discovering the face of their own land, Wilson is by
nature a world citizen. Based in Toronto and New York but long working also in Mexico and
Paris, and no stranger to the more exotic Far East, his well-trained responsive eye is no
mere reporter of things seen.
What we are now seeing in his recent works is the consequence of a sharp
change in the mode of his imaginative reorganization of the visible and felt world about
him. Several years ago in Paris we found him busily experimenting with two lines of
thought. Of these the productive new territory lay with small-scale collages of
brilliantly coloured papers in which an increasingly large number of parallel lines were
contained within ragged shapes.
This is the preoccupation, but altered again, that is now dominant. A new,
compelling order has emerged. The small scale of the experiments has survived only in a
related series of prints. The majestic amplitude of this recent and current work is in
part a return to the problems of the muralist always concerned with the necessity to keep
large surfaces fully active but in part also the consequence of learning that modern
tapestry techniques in France and his new approach to design and colour were singularly
well adapted to each other.
The elements of Wilsons new style are deceptively simple: groups of
broad parallel lines in overlapping shapes; strikingly rich but never strident
the matte surfaces of vinyl acetates. This is neither hard edge nor op. Although there are
no references to the data of normal visual experience, these paintings are highly
evocative. The colours and rhythms are in all of Wilsons work. There is a wide range
of spatial sensation, ranging from flat silhouette through a system of planes working with
or against each other at subtly varied angles in shallow space all the way to finite
microsystems suspended in a dark but almost palpable infinity.
The sheer visual pleasure of these canvases is rewarding. The colour
stimulates the eye and the senses. The grand resolutions of balances in their designs
retain the dynamic stimulus of the underlying tensions. They can be looked at repeatedly
with undiminished satisfaction, for they have the pulse if not the appearance of living
things. They say that life and meaning have not and will not be driven from the world by
technology and cruelty. Their rigor is unsentimental and tonic. Above all they invite the
imaginative and positive participation of the viewer.
Theodore Allen Heinrich.