John Wilcox painted diligently up until his death, from AIDS, 2 years ago. Now, his brother has converted the small studio in Exposition Park where Wilcox lived and worked into a gallery to show his paintings – and celebrate his legacy. KERA contributor Joan Davidow paid a visit.
- The studio-gallery at 824 Exposition Avenue No. 9 will be open Saturdays in May through June 7 from 1 to 5 p.m.
- John Wilcox paintings are also on view at Barry Whistler Gallery in Deep Ellum.
Listen to the report that aired on KERA FM:
John Wilcox lived a reserved, private life as a committed artist. After he died, his brother David decided to pay tribute to his work in the same quiet, respectful way John lived.
David Wilcox is taking a year sabbatical from his child psychology practice in Boston to tell John’s story. He’s collecting his brother’s writings and cataloguing his work. And he’s inviting friends from the art world to curate shows of John’s work. Barry Whistler, the artist’s gallerist, curated the first exhibition, and David plans to select the next one.
Critic and UT Dallas professor Rick Brettell curated the current exhibition of intimate works from the early 1980s. Imagine full canvases of broad fields of one minimalist color, maybe imbedded with a simple floating image or a single word. John Wilcox tediously spent months making his paintings; he delicately painted, one stroke at a time, to get broad fields of color, rich in their layering. Texas minimalism with a twist; simple paintings with hidden secrets. The more you look, the more you see.
David Wilcox recalls finding work he’d heard about but never seen. It was shown in New York at Fawbush Gallery, but never before in Dallas until the recent Dallas Art Fair.
I’m thinking of one piece, “Bluing.” It was in this little tiny storage room; And I’ll never forget it was hot, in the summer, I pulled other paintings back & looked at it & was astounded by its simplicity & complexity. Again, that kind of duality John always had.
One large canvas on display in the gallery is called “Sane.” It depicts a spiraling orange shape floating in a field of shimmering bright blue.
Brother David found notes and a photograph in one of John’s sketchbooks. “I also found a Polaroid of a little flue handle for the fireplace in the bunk house and it’s a spiral shape just like this. So John had taken a very simple object and used that to build on in making this painting. And the reason they have these flu handles shaped like this, in a spiral metal fashion, is to dissipate and diffuse the heat. I think the title of this work, it’s all about, how do I stay sane? How does anyone stay sane? We have to diffuse the heat of life.”
This new attention makes John Wilcox work come alive in ways that sadly never happened in his lifetime. He was a quiet man, and very private. I sweetly recall how John appeared at Dallas Contemporary, wanting to volunteer regularly so he could mix with people. He helped me install exhibitions and sweep gallery floors.
That privacy extended to his long struggle with AIDS. He didn’t speak about it; he just kept painting. Another young artist the disease took from us far too early. His career ended at what should have been its midpoint. But his brother David is making it possible for John Wilcox’s work to live longer in the public domain and maybe inspire others to initiate the public exhibition he deserved.