Surrounding Reality: A Brief Look on the Work of Graeme Wilcox

The question of how people appear in an urban context lies at the basis of the latest works by the Scottish artist Graeme Wilcox (°1967, Ayr). Like a voyeuristic passer-by, he continually lets himself be amazed by Glasgow’s city life. It is the place where he works and lives and where he was trained. After finishing his studies at the Glasgow School of Art (1989-93) he started his career as an artist with an articulated preference for figurative painting. In his canvases a special role is reserved for the human figure, always shown in action or subject to a certain mood.

 

The persons portrayed in Wilcox’s paintings in no way symbolize the artist’s own inner mood. His work is rather objective in nature and proceeds from observations of everyday life. The artist doesn’t attempt to hide social reality. Isolation, protest and temporality are some of the contemporary themes touched upon in his work. Through notes, photos and sketches, Wilcox registers this endless stream of urban impressions. They serve as aide-mémoires and are often used as a point of departure for new paintings and drawings. Rarely will the artist transfer his impressions directly to the canvas or drawing paper. The fleeting texts and images merely serve to evoke an atmosphere in order to convey them to his models.

 

The use of dark and earth colours intensifies the tactility of everyday life, a pictorial strategy reminiscent of the Realist style. These artists, active from the middle of the 19th century, distanced themselves from the contemporary norm to idealize images of the upper class. Representations of monarchs and dignitaries were no longer the centre of attention and there occurred a shift of attention to working class life. From an art-historical point of view, Wilcox’s oeuvre can also be linked to the tradition of Street Photography. Between about 1890 and 1970 many fine-art photographers tried to capture the hectic rhythms of the metropolis. Always armed with a camera, they let themselves be immersed in their daily surroundings, just like flâneurs. The urban fabric was their cherished territory, where they paid special attention to coincidental events. Unusual compositions and blurred visual motifs are characteristic for these rapidly captured images, colloquially known as snapshots. It is striking that Wilcox’s paintings and drawings simulate these photographic features. It is not uncommon for them to only render figures fragmentarily and to suggest movement through certain body parts. The scene often has a flat and undefined background.

 

Another new development in Wilcox’s artistic practice is the tactic to place the action outside of the canvas’s boundaries. The artist combines this strategy with the portraying of figures from the back. This way we feel connected with the picture’s characters while at the same time we are sealed off from them. Hereby we are given the opportunity to create our own story.

 

Like no other, Graeme Wilcox knows how to translate the current zeitgeist in a plastic way. His style shows an a predominately personal interpretation of several art-historical precedents like Realism and Street Photography. In blurring the boundaries between painting, drawing and photography, Wilcox succeeds in extending the tradition into the present. Even though the artist only uses static media, the rhythm and colour make for dynamic compositions. As viewers we briefly witness a bygone moment.

© 2020 by Benedict Vandaele

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