Contrasts of strong dark brushwork against more diaphanous, vaporous forms

Wisconsin Masters Series: Charles Dix (1940-2005)

by Gary John Gresl

City of Gold, Watercolor on board, 30" x 40"
December 10 – January 28

Back in 1976 a co-worker of mine, Barbara, age 70, was just ga ga about the fact that Charles Dix had entered the building. Barb was very impressed by Charles, his work and his success. This was my first introduction to Charles and his work. He had been creating a reputation and mystique among the Milwaukee community since the late 1950’s, and it had been paying off with sales, exhibitions around the state and country, and ongoing publicity. His work had been heralded locally by more than one critic in the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel. He had found his style, been productive and successful in finding venues and patrons. He was a tall good looking fellow, which further enhanced his appeal. I was not sure what had created Barbara’s clear infatuation with him…but she was not alone.

Over the years I would encounter his paintings in galleries, museums, and resale shops. He was extremely productive, and his numerous paintings would often be sold and resold…out of his control. The “aftermarket” was not kind to many of his paintings, as they suffered ill treatment and gathered injury. In the course of time I got to know him and was one of his many friends. His self designed home in Delafield, Moon Walk, was a pleasure to visit, even in the last days and in its diminished condition. Shortly before his early death, he had bought and was creating a new home and gallery environment south of Delafield. He had plans and hopes that would not see fulfillment.

The Charles Allis Museum is having an exhibit of Charles Dix’s work as part of its ongoing “Wisconsin Masters” series, from December 10th thru January 28th. I suspect we shall see the transparent bright colors he used so effectively, the nebulous and fluid forms, the ethereal sometimes outer space themes that kept appearing in his work. Perhaps there will be some of the simply brushed floral forms, the washes of thinly applied watercolor so deftly and intuitively stroked, earthly landscapes and sunsets barely present but pleasurable none the less. Over the many years Charles had developed his own sophisticated language, as do many artists with long histories.

Some of his early work was very bold, exhibiting contrasts of strong dark brushwork against more diaphanous, vaporous forms. A Milwaukee newspaper article from 1967 shows images created by Charles upon visiting Expo 67 in Canada. These are powerful with contrasts of light and dark, clearly part of the Abstract Expressionist movement afoot in the 50’s and 60’s. While perfectly capable of rendering a realistic image, his tendency, love, and ongoing production always tended to the gossamer and aerial. I paraphrase a description of Charles appearing in literature about the Allis exhibit states this: “He was an earthbound astronaut exploring the cosmic universe.” He became an artist during a time when both science fiction and real space exploration were coming into maturation.

In association with the Dix exhibit, the Charles Allis Museum will be holding a panel discussion about the topic of ‘Collecting Wisconsin Art”, the evening of December 13th, 6:00 PM. The public is encouraged to attend and be part of this discussion. Otherwise normal museum hours are Wednesday thru Sunday, 12 to 5. The museum is located at 1801 North Prospect, and can be reached by phone at
414-278-8295.

City of Gold, Watercolor on board, 30" x 40" Cosmic Fires, Acrylic on board, 30" x 40" Into the New World, Acrylic on board, 30" x 40" Reaches of the Sun, Acrylic on masonite, 30" x 48"
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