A video by artist CJ Davis, pieces of wood floating away – a day with john wilcox, begins, “My name is John Wilcox, I’m an artist. I lived in New York City 1985 to 1989.” The video likely takes its title from Wilcox’s comment, “…sometimes I feel like I’m floating away, out to the ocean.”
John Wilcox leaves a rich legacy of beautifully rendered, minimal works that display the “infinite space” and the “everything and nothing all at once” of his own favorite artists, Mark Rothko and Agnes Martin. Growing up in Denison, Texas, Wilcox earned a BFA from Colorado College in Colorado Springs. After college he returned to Texas, working in installation at the Fort Worth Modern Art Museum with a number of artists and art world types who, like Wilcox, would soon make their mark.
In the mid 1980s Wilcox took a sojourn to New York where he lived and worked for four years, as stated in Davis’ video. Represented in New York by friend and art dealer, Joe Fawbush, he experienced success, impressing the likes of art critic Roberta Smith of the New York Times. While New York was an exciting and productive place for a young artist, 1985 to 1989 was also a devastating time and New York was an epicenter of conflict with the AIDS epidemic claiming lives and inflaming politics. Deeply and personally affected, Wilcox returned to Texas, living and working in Dallas. His art, represented by Barry Whistler Gallery, is in impressive private as well as public collections including the Dallas Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. In 2010 Whistler presented, John Wilcox: New York City, 1988-89, a touching exhibition denoting the artist’s time and experience in New York.
Sadly, John Wilcox passed away on June 13, 2012.
“I’ve had a fortunate life…it’s almost like someone wrote a book and I’m just reading it. I’m glad I’ve lived on this earth.” — John Wilcox in pieces of wood floating away – a day with John Wilcox, by C.J. Davis
In a beautiful and intelligent essay for the exhibition, John Wilcox: New York City, 1988-89, Dr. Frances Colpitt writes, “As if to counteract the incessant, grueling crush of death, this body of work is characterized by a Zen-like emptiness that is full, bursting with the resonance of a single word floating on a generous white rectangle or a radiant field of accumulated brushstrokes. Wilcox’s expressive process imparts meaning through every thoughtful mark, conveying discipline, restraint, and, above all, humility.”
The body of work to which Colpitt refers is a year-long endeavor by artist John Wilcox who, living in New York at the height of the AIDS epidemic, responded with a series of abstract paintings on canvas and texts painted on paper. In spring of 2010 Barry Whistler Gallery in Dallas showed Wilcox’s New York City, 1988-89 paintings. The entire exhibition was extremely moving in content and form. Each canvas glowed with layered brushstrokes that read collectively as fields of color but individually spoke of touching and being touched. The various texts seemed to operate as punctuation in the exhibition’s entirety, but with intimate consideration, each clearly represents a world of its own.
I was elated beyond words when I assured the loan of Wilcox’s text painting, TENDER for where is the power. Against all its considerable competition at Whistler’s gallery this piece had spoken to me personally and was clearly a perfect fit for the exhibition premise. Maybe all good art seems inevitable, but TENDER, a black watercolor of the word “tender” on two pieces of white paper, joined out of necessity to accommodate the letters “E” and “R” and to establish “tend” as tender’s root, seems to announce itself as such. This precariously rendered painting embodies its subject so absolutely, somehow representing all other incarnations of the word.
“Gazing on this night, heavy with signs and stars, I opened myself up for the first time to the tender indifference of the world.” — Albert Camus, The Stranger