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Boston's Martha Richardson Fine Art exhibits a sneak peak into John Wilson’s creative process

Celina Colby | 5/10/2017, 10:56 a.m.
An intimate, informative retrospective of John Wilson’s sculptures and drawings opened at Martha Richardson Fine Art in Boston on May ...
John Wilson’s preliminary study of Gabrielle. Image: Courtesy Martha Richardson Fine Art

Preliminary study of MLK maquette

Preliminary study of MLK maquette

Gabrielle in bronze

Gabrielle in bronze

An intimate, informative retrospective of John Wilson’s sculptures and drawings opened at Martha Richardson Fine Art in Boston on May 4. The artist is known for his large-scale bronzes of African American heads, including “Eternal Presence” on the lawn of the National Center for Afro-American Artists in Roxbury. This latest exhibit of his work reveals both Wilson’s creative process and his deep devotion to the black body.

Wilson conceived his famous head sculptures in the 1970s, well before the commissions came rolling in. Inspired by Buddha sculptures in the Museum of Fine Arts where he studied, he envisioned a monumental piece that would speak to the African-American community in Boston. His sculptures are bold, proud declarations of love for African heritage and traditions.

Passion and persistence

Behind the gallery desk sits “Gabrielle”, a bronze bust of a woman with natural curls and a fearless expression. Accompanied by “Gabrielle No. 8,” a charcoal sketch, the bust radiates the energy of a warrior. Wilson’s earliest head pieces were of his daughter’s friend Roz, and in the current show, “Roz No. 10” is one of the only pieces in color. These images of women hold a particular poignancy. While Wilson’s head of Martin Luther King, Jr. is stoic and reverent, the female busts convey passion and persistence, the feelings that must have driven Wilson throughout his career.

The preparatory sketches are dynamic works in their own right. Wilson’s expert use of tones and shade create a sculptural depth in the drawings that elevates them well above mere brainstorming. “Roz,” a black pastel and charcoal work from 1973, shows the young woman from behind, her feet firmly planted, her hands on her hips. Her head is turned to the side, displaying the profile that spawned a thousand brushstrokes.

On the web

For more information about the John Wilson exhibit at Martha Richardson Fine Art, visit: http://martharichardsonfineart.com/exhibition/

Some of the sketches are site-specific visions of Wilson’s sculptures. “Martin Luther King, Jr. Park,” a black crayon drawing, depicts a lone man confronting the large head in a barren, wintry park.

A longtime admirer of Wilson’s art, Richardson began working with the artist in 2010. Despite Wilson’s passing in 2015, the gallerist remains close with his family. This tight bond with the artist allows her to curate his work not just as an art expert, but also as a friend. The gallery will display Wilson’s works through June, 2017.