Donald Roller Wilson (b. 1938)
The magical world of oil painter Donald Roller Wilson does not house many people, it is inhabited with a fantastic collection of unusual suspects who, for all their wild, comical, and often mystical eccentricities, remind us with a marked sense of wonder of our own most human desires and foibles. To be introduced into Roller Wilson's magical realm is to be able to honestly say that you have never seen its like; it is, after all, a land of altered scale, clothed animals with multiple personalities, medieval forests, nut farms and visitations from the Virgin Mary in a hovering Cadillac convertible lodged in a pecan treeall blown around by a "strong night wind" in 1938.
To state that the unforgettable and mischievous members of Donald Roller Wilson's menagerie are unique falls feebly short of understatement. Alive with a joyful and playful spirit, the children peer out from their surreal habitats of the canvases with eyes baring their simian, canine, and feline souls, and invite us to share in their reverie. In fact we often catch reflections of ourselves in their eyes. Wilson's bizarre cast of anthropomorphized characters, ranging from single portraits of characters such as Cookie the baby orangutan and Naughty Judy, a cigarette-smoking cat, to elaborately staged tableaux such as the landmark 1974 painting The Man Has Left the Moon Tonight from the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden's collection, explains curator Maia Jalenak from the Louisiana Arts and Science Center.
"Wilson's style prompts comparisons of his work to the Dutch Masters' still-life paintings of everyday objects and magnificent floral arrangements. His paintings are also compared to those of Surrealists René Magritte and Salvador Dali, who were also noted for their realistic depictions of subjects from the realm of dreams. However, Wilson rejects the notion that his work relates to Surrealism. He attributes the olives, cigarette butts, pickles and melon wedges that float through his paintings to a strong night wind that whips through and causes mysterious things to happen," Jalenak continues.
A resident of Fayetteville, Ark., Roller Wilson has recognizable works hung in the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn NY; Chicago Art Institute, Chicago, IL; Whitney Museum, New York, NY; Bank of America, San Francisco, CA; and Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden- Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. as well as numerous corporate and personal collections worldwide.
A Strong Night Wind primarily consists of Roller Wilson's children. "The children are a 'youth group' who represent all of the possibilities of madness in a parallel world to our own. They are a collective refuge where you can get away from the madness of this realm and find insane comfort in their world," explains Roller Wilson from his new studio.
The children of Donald Roller Wilson are an interesting bunch. "Some are bright, some are not. Some are half Jewish, but half Catholic too. All of the children are half boy and half girl. But only in the areas of their mind," explains the artist. If this makes sense to you or intrigues you, then you are starting to perceive the world of Roller Wilson.
Donald Roller Wilson creates his works in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He lives there with his wife Kathleen and a new poodle puppy named Betty. Fayetteville has been Roller's refuge since he taught at the University of Arkansas in the late 1960's. He has just completed a major renovation of his studio there, which houses the many works in progress and the countless props used to exact his magic.
Considering the plethora of objects and characters props and persona in each painting, there is always much more than meets the eye; we are drenched with associations that occur in and out of their contexts. Roller's apes, dogs, cats, house flies, pencils, crowns, are exactly what they appear to be, and then some. He presents the facts, but we fill in the gaps. Each painting presents a complex assortment of information, but we must determine the meaning as a whole.
His narratives provide a "road map" though the maze of joyous information. No matter how one describes Roller, the whimsies, art, fantasy, imagery, and metaphysics add up to a fascinating visual philosophy. "The more you seek to know the answers, the more you realize how much you don't know," Roller says. "As a result, you have to operate blindly on faith. More than anything, my work deals with that pointlessness. It takes all the arrogance out of everything you do when you know that God is so much bigger than you are. And yet everything you are and do and see is filled with God: the trees, the asphalt, and the people fighting over Aqua Net at Wal-Mart. That sounds silly, but silliness is just as important as love, just as important as tragedy. You can make a profound intellectual statement just by basing your efforts on silliness," explains the artist.