June 18 - July 10, 2022
June 18 • 4:00-6:00 pm
I’ve had to shift from what I’d like to do, to what I can do. I cannot use my right hand anymore, which was my natural way to make marks. Now I must use my left hand and it is an entirely different investigation. I put marks on the paper in black charcoal and try to manufacture from that first mark of black. It doesn’t really matter what I put up there to begin with; it’s that I’ve got something to work against. That’s what my left hand has learned to do: to embellish what is there, work against what’s there and incorporate what’s there. It is an investigation rather than trying to draw a specific thing.
— Stephen Wilder, 2022
In the past year, as he lost the use of his right hand, Stephen Wilder had to use his left. His work is, in this way, all new. But it flows from ideas that are constant with him. Wilder’s work navigates space as it always did. His delicacy with these silvery, fragmented forms is new; his insistence on structure remains. Stephen Wilder makes what Dave Hickey recognized as “baroque space.” Wilder’s baroque space is a convention he absorbed in European museums. Against a broad (and hence somewhat flat) landscape space, bulky, narrative figures twist and gesture to tell their story. Max Beckmann learned this organization from studying Rubens. Rubens mastered this idea by looking at Tobias Stimmer, who wrote the source book of baroque composing in 1576. Even when Stephen Wilder, in this show, draws the most delicate and simplified images, the back plane crowds in behind the stage, like a curtain of forms. Out front, near us, the big figures, or blocks, or bones, contest with one another to tell a story. Often, critics and admirers speak of Wilder’s ferocity, flying spirits, and angst. All that is here. But even in pure landscape, Wilder evokes big action as well. One of his collectors, Sandy Funk, has written of the Wilder landscape she owns: “Freedom. The waterfall/river, rafting Montana, trekking Chile, watching from a scenic oversight (plane/bridge/switchback) over a Colorado pass—all that spatial adventure compressed into a surface."
— Mary Vernon, 2022
For a long time, Steve Wilder has called upon a range of voices in his work—indeed, drawn with and from other voices. Voices and avatars pulled from history, from other cultures, from the tensions within our own culture. While the early drawings might seem to probe at an archaic orientalism (Egyptian Elegy), or myths of male-centered creation (Golem), or our confused gender politics—attacks at values received, loved, questioned--these new images question more personal concerns. Not the capricious attacks of a young man, from the tenuous edge of loss they recognize our need and love for tradition, craftsmanship, the comfort of objects, the sound and slide of material on canvas or paper that forms an image. Forced to challenge the very core of his abilities, these drawings look to the simplest of means to again find voice. Wilder’s Avatars, based on simple Kachina figures turn these questions in himself towards all who now must doubt their knowledge, their ability, their hand and mind. Fierce, frustrated, and fragile, they document the continual fight between our visions and our inabilities, whether physical, social, political, or just the day to day of life. Our need to eek out from the hiss of charcoal on paper and the sweep of the hand those hours a week that will move us from where we are to where we could be, and bring us peace.
— Jay Sullivan