Guy Wilson: The Body Drawings

Essay by Kerry Kugelman.

In his recent series of drawings referencing and alluding to the body, sculptor Guy Wilson explores and extends the territory of the figure with which he has been engaged over the last two decades. Wilson's ongoing sculptures and installations using cardboard and boxes as metaphors for skin and body have demonstrated his vigorous and sometimes urgent interest in the expressive potential of the figure. Those three-dimensional works speak in a radical formal poetry, conjoining the edges and angles of constructed shapes with Wilson's natural sense of organic form.

It is from this liminal boundary that he explores the tension between constructed social notions of the body, and our own actual experience of being a body in the space of the world. Wrestling with the many aspects of body, as a container for experience, and as the base of much of our identity, Wilson consistently engages the viewer with a lyrical, though robust physicality. This new group of drawings retains the sensitivity and heft of the sculptures and installations, while providing fruitful material with which to revisit the abstractly organic nature of the body.

Working on a field of clothing patterns collaged onto drafting film, these studies focus primarily on various top-angled studies of a human head. It's much more than what it seems, juxtaposing the forms and marks of the templates with the head drawings to yield a constellation of visual rhythm, an investigation of sorts into the metaphor of body and pattern.

The head drawings are arranged within collages of parts of clothing patterns, replete with schematic arrows, cutlines and instructions for division and assembly. There's a compelling tactile quality to the actual physical look of the pattern pieces, consisting of a very thin, almost skin-like brown tissue. Where the tissue forms overlap their gently translucency may be seen, offset by the drawings themselves on the surface.

Overall, the tonality is sepia-ochre, with the heads being done in more of a red oxide color, highlighted with white pastel and pencil. The predominant sepia wash of each drawing, coming from the oil-based glaze the artist has applied throughout, conveys a sense of the serious and the nostalgic, more than a whiff of it from some of the formal resemblance to Kurt Schwitters' Merz compositions, or even older drawings. A nimbus-like form, which is actually a hat template, wreaths many of the heads, sometimes highlighted with radial lines in white pencil.

The ambiguity of the work allows it to float in a more poetic fashion than if Wilson had more didactically imposed an agenda on his arrangements. There's a rich loamy experience to wading into each drawing and discovering what is there. The overlaid patterns and heads presents a kind of map of experience, the projected gaze of the rational mind externalized in an ordering impulse on the world without and around us. Like periscopes seen from above, the heads in each drawing resolve into other metaphorical binary shapes, with occasional suggestions of sensuality.
That it is an older person's head that we see implicates time, and a sense of mortality as well, in the discourse.

In some of the drawings, the shapes seem almost to be a seed-form, more generally organic than specifically human, bifurcated in an intriguing fashion. There is a brief instant of disorientation as those forms are first seen; they resist any quick resolution into a particular identity, yet are still compelling as natural form. Wilson's allusions to the organic, pervasive in all the drawings, find a particular focus in these moments.

However, it is the templates and their cartography of signs that persist in these works. The patterns for clothing resonate as signs of a social fabric, the texture of our collective threads of experience as social beings, so often at odds with aspects of our individual selves. In these drawings, Wilson explores not so much what is seen as what is felt, an interiority draped in the social package that we present to others.

Much of Wilson's large-scale sculptural work has engaged the tension between the body and its experience, our experience, as feeling beings in a world largely ordered by intellect. In this new series of drawings, that continuity, so rooted in the body, remains at the vital center of his art. Although the muscular, Herculean scale of his sculpture is here subordinated to image and pictorial rhythm, the restless, even urgent sense of engagement with fundamental issues persists and illuminates the art.