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Mary Beth Zeman, 973-720-2444


Artwork by Ben Wilson

The late New Jersey artist Ben Wilson, whose career spanned six decades from the Great Depression to the new millennium, is the focus of a retrospective exhibit at the Ben Shahn Galleries at William Paterson University in Wayne from September 15 through November 28, 2008. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Admission is free. A reception for the exhibit will be held on Sunday, October 19, from 3 to 4:30 p.m.

The exhibit, “Ben Wilson:  The Margin as Center,” in Ben Shahn’s South Gallery, presents an overview of the artist’s career beginning in 1930, with special focus on large abstractions created from the 1970s through the 1990s.  “This exhibit spans more than 60 years of Ben Wilson’s life and reveals the artist’s work to be based on thoughtful investigation, discovery, and evolution,” says Nancy Einreinhofer, director of the Ben Shahn Galleries.  “At each stage of his career, Wilson’s approach to the art of the moment demonstrates a synthesis between the influences of that particular period in history and the artist’s own intellectual and emotional concerns.”

Born in 1913 in Philadelphia, Wilson graduated from New York’s City College in 1935 and was quickly absorbed by an art world caught up in the Great Depression and later the war.  He survived the depression with the help of the WPA, and his early paintings were influenced by the social themes that were the topics of the time—war, fascism, poverty, and injustice. By 1950, his palette had lightened and his visual vocabulary had begun to shift toward abstract imagery. The paintings of this period provide a bridge to the mature work that is the main focus of the exhibit.

The large abstract works created from the early 1970s through the 1990s engage the continuing dialogue between the intellectual and geometric components of Constructivism and the emotional dynamics of the later, intuitive Abstract Expressionist movement. He became increasingly experimental; using house paint, sand, and other unorthodox materials in paintings that he worked right side up, upside down, and sideways, dripping, spraying, stenciling, and collaging.  “Here we find Ben Wilson at his creative peak,” Einreinhofer says.  “The visual wealth of these paintings derives from the richness of the palette and the myriad options the artist invents for perceiving plane.  The shifting chromatic intensities hint at advancing and receding positions and combine with spatial relationships that are deliciously ambivalent, resulting in a highly charged and expansive visual experience.”

Wilson’s works were featured in more than 30 one-man shows and numerous group exhibits. He won several awards, including a Ford Foundation grant, and his works are held in the collections of the Newark Museum and the Jersey City Museum, among others.  Wilson taught privately for more than 50 years, and continued to paint daily until his death at age 88 in 2001. He left behind a large body of work and an extensive archive that are housed in Blairstown, New Jersey, where he and his sculptor wife, Evelyn Wilson, lived and worked in a rustic Revolutionary War-era stone house and studio.

The exhibit is one of three shows on view concurrently in the Ben Shahn Galleries.  “Susan Lisbin:  Paintings and Sculpture,” on view in the East Gallery, features a selection of the artist’s abstract works. On view in the Court Gallery is the annual exhibit of works by the William Paterson University art faculty.

This exhibit is made possible in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Ben Shahn Galleries are wheelchair-accessible.  Large-print handouts are available. For additional information, please call the Ben Shahn Galleries at William Paterson University, 973-720-2654.

September 8 , 2008

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