Things of Nature and the Nature of Things

Bemused & Befuddled , 1990, oil on wood, 5" x 4", Courtesy of Chazen Museum of Art
Through August 20, 2006
Chazen Museum of Art, Mayer Gallery

One of the most important twentieth century artists from Wisconsin, John Wilde, is be featured in an exhibition opening at the Chazen Museum of Art which opened June 10. Wilde was a University of Wisconsin art professor whose surrealistic style brought a flourish to an exacting technique. He became one of the most notable artists in the Magic Realist school of painting, garnering attention far beyond his native Wisconsin.

Wilde’s still lifes, allegorical landscapes, and portraits, covering the 1940s to recent work of the 1990s will be represented in Things of Nature and the Nature of Things: John Wilde in the McClain Collection. A scholarly catalogue written by Lisa Wainwright, Dean of Graduate Studies at the Art Institute of Chicago, will also be available.

Wilde’s gift for drawing and painting diverged from the style of regional artists such as John Steuart Curry and evolved into an aesthetic characterized by beguiling, intensely detailed images. He was particularly adept at mixing the discipline of taxonomy with icons of the subconscious. A Milwaukee native, Wilde obtained a master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin, focusing on Max Ernst in his thesis. He began teaching art in 1948 at the UW, finishing his career there in 1982 as emeritus professor.

As part of the Magic Realist school of painting, Wilde associated with Chicago artist Gertrude Abercrombie, New York artist Marshall Glasier, and Dudley Huppler, Sylvia Fein, and Karl Priebe from Milwaukee and Chicago. This group fused natural imagery with darkly imaginative and idiosyncratic surrealistic images, including the prevalent use of the female nude.

In Wilde’s images, the fantastic becomes entirely plausible as the magic of superior craftsmanship that encompasses all of his work overwhelms the viewer. Added to a mix of surrealistic and existentialistic themes is the orderly display of flora and fauna found in Wisconsin landscapes -these are the primary components of a typical Wilde.