York Wilson
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Retrospective '65
Introduction by Robert Ayre
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York Wilson Retrospective (1965)

Organized by the Sarnia Public Art Gallery

After his travels in Mexico, Morocco and the Canary Islands, as well as Italy, Turkey and Greece, and his sojourn in Paris, York Wilson has returned to Toronto. The one-man shows at Galerie Agnes Lefort and Roberst Gallery, Toronto, which welcome him back to Canada also gives us an opportunity to have a good look at him. He appears regularly with the Royal Canadian Academy, The Canadian Group of Painters and the Ontario Society of Artists, has been in three biennials and frequently turns up in the Montreal Museum's spring show, but he hasn't had a solo here for 12 years.

Much has happened since his last appearance at Watson's in 1952. At that time, he was just at the opening of his new life. He had turned his back on Toronto and a successful career as a brilliant advertising designer and illustrator and had gone to Mexico as the first step in the long pilgrimage into art for its own sake.

This does not mean that he cut himself off from the world and climbed into the ivory tower. In 1954, he was in Montreal, painting the mural for the Redpath Library of McGill University; three years later, he painted the two big murals for the Imperial Oil headquarters building in Toronto and in 1959 came the mural for the O'Keefe Centre for the Performing Arts.

The figurative is important in all of these, even today you can frequently trace the original subject from which the composition has been extracted - the buildings of Neuilly, for example, the boats of La Rochelle and other harbours; and I remember, though it isn't in the present show, the canals and gondolas of Venice.

The deeper he goes in the study of form, colour and light, the more he departs from the scene before his eyes in order to distil its essence as he remembers it. You will not see the domes, pinnacles and pigeons of St. Mark's in "Splendor of Venezia" or the gondolas and the palaces: what you will see is a gorgeous mass of color above a high horizon and its reflection below. Taos, recollected half a world away in Paris and a long time after, is remembered as a dry, desert place in a handsome design of brown stains and shadows without depth. Parc Montsouris is a fresh greenness.

Places are jumping-off places. Many of York Wilson's paintings - like the big blue presence of "King Christoffe" or the "Toccata in Orange" - have no reference to place at all. We don't need to be reminded of anything else. The painting is the experience.

It is not a momentary excitement but an experience that lasts. Colour and mood captivate you immediately, but you do not apprehend their full quality, and the subtelty of the form relationships, without long contemplation. That is as it should be, for York Wilson is not an action painter, throwing paint on the canvas like a Hofmann or an Appel. He is not so much the man of passion as the builder, the researcher who takes time and thought to compose. But the vitality , the eager response to what he has seen, the delight in what he is doing, keep the whole thing alive.

Robert Ayre

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