|Title||A witness to the Rub|
|Artist||Joseph Olisaemeka Wilson|
|Dates||June 17 – July 30, 2023|
|Reception||4:00 pm, June 17, 2023 (Sat.)|
Asia Art Center (Taipei) | 1F, 128, Lequn 3rd Rd., Taipei City 104050, Taiwan
Joseph Olisaemeka Wilson: A witness to the Rub
To die; to sleep.
To sleep, perchance to dream – Ay, there’s the rub.
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have suffered this mortal coil.
Must give us pause – there’s the respect
That makes Calamity of so long life.
—Hamlet, William Shakespeare
Asia Art Center is pleased to present a solo exhibition of ten large works by Brooklyn-based artist Joseph Olisaemeka Wilson. The presentation surveys Wilson’s practice over a few years, showcasing his development in composition, material experimentation, and meditations on his own subconscious. In these storied soliloquies and individual snapshots, we find characters tossed into the throes of action against inaction, decisiveness against hesitance. The visual theme of magical intermediacy and the cathartic, gestural moments just prior to a major resolution emerge not only as a characteristic trait of Wilson’s storytelling but as a pivotal theme in the “whips and scorns” of painting. Wilson, often feeling “witness” to the hardships of his Everyman heroes and their trials and tribulations along the path to mythdom, attempts to materialize the transitory phase in which these characters become aware, or reconcile, their natural inner sufferings, contemplating their next move and battling their subconscious on their quest to inner peace. The inaction, therein lies the trouble. “Ay, there’s the rub,” Hamlet recites.
For Wilson, these sentiments are true of the act of painting as well. The underpaintings are often guttural and gestural, demarcations of the changing tides and harmonies of his subconscious. Here, errors can be made and obstacles can obfuscate. An avid golfer, Wilson is not new to these events. After a beautiful shot to put himself just yards away from the hole, an unforeseen and unfortunate bump, or “rub” in the green could impact all that he has worked for. The same can be said for the beginnings of a painting. Out of this calamity and ritual bloodletting, a reconciliatory pause leads to translating, or sculpting these obstacles. This process invigorates his characters with unruly resolve outside the bounds of their mind: a dreamy musical detente for a fiddler; a silencing gestalt for the band as they come together as one. A sleepy and hypnotic psychosis for a DJ. These musical works are allegories to the back-and-forth dealings with the simple question: “to be or not to be.”
A few characters, like Hamlet, struggle with the throes of time and the pinning needles that encapsulates the rub. They search, seek, and dive into the depths of their contradictory thought processes only to stumble back into the white-eyed, vicious loop of the “rub.” Wilson cannot remedy these pangs but can only become witness to the “hard times.” In Hard Times, a young boy and his make-shift bug-net drift aimlessly and surrealistically across a seafoam sky aboard a delirious fox. The net, far too small for its mission, becomes a white flag of defeat. And yet, there’s a hopefulness in the boy’s attempts as he quite-literally emergers from the aforementioned gutter of shadows and underpainting. While we wither at the fardels of the boy’s undiscovery, we understand the pleasurable balance between the darkness of sleep and the illumination of the dream. At times, the characters and the paintings evoke a sense of confusion, anxiety, and tepidness, as noted in “Hard Times.” In The “Blind Prince,” the drunken and unkingly man stares blankly at the viewers. As he puts on the crown, he enters into a dominion unholy and unfit for his noggin. Awry and yet seemingly unequivocal in action, the prince succumbs to a pale, sickly vice; an enterprise, while not lost in determination, diminished by the very essence of the cowardly moment.
This dividing basin is metaphorically referred to in Across the Great Divide: four men of the traveling Super Sound band evacuate a civilized island where they once played steady blues and basic rhythms on a quest to pursue deeper, foggier complexities. The now-weightless men carry little as they trapeze across the waters of the great divide. The scenery is vague and vast, untethered and wild as the sun casts a fiery orange glow along the treacherous cliffside waters. This panoramic view of four men flying just between the looming clouds is the pen-ultimate novelty from Wilson as he, himself, attempts to sculpt or adventurously ascend into new painterly territories. This work reminds us of Thomas Cole’s The Ox-Bow, an epic painting that glimpses into the rapidly changing lands of America. Cole, who was no guest to the rub in which we speak of, once said: “amid those scenes of solitude, the mind is cast into the contemplation of eternal things.” And that is perfectly reflective of Wilson’s characters: caught in the crossfire of acting upon their conscience or return to the echoes of contemplation.
Therein lies the rub to which Wilson pays homage and witness to in varying degrees of storytelling detachment and painterly dominance. Part of his development in Wilson’s oeuvre is using personification, literary assemblage, and allegorical whimsicality. The precarious rub, an earthly gesture and heavenly emotion, attends to the mellow and grounding hues of resolution and bold lines of action in which Wilson’s painting respectfully evokes.