Disability can be an unmotivating factor in people’s lives. But there are those whose afflictions only become stepping stones for tremendous success. For revolutionary visual artist and painter Charles Wildbank, that bittersweet tragedy to triumph story begins with his deafness and ends with a colorful career in the fine arts.
Charles is a Long Island-based artist who has risen to prominence for his stellar work. His signature paintings include a variety of seascapes, florals, still life creations, and portraits. He has created commissioned and exhibited works that now frequent various institutions and personal art collections all over the country. Despite being deaf since birth, Charles has flipped the script of his life story and diminished his incapacity to nothing more than a small bump on his road to the halls of artistic greatness.
All his life, Charles has revolved around visual art. He grew up frequenting museums and art collections worldwide, absorbing energy and inspiration from various significant artists. He has also brushed shoulders and learned from some of the global art scene’s most prominent names, including people like Andrew Wyeth, Audrey Flack, Neil Welliver, and David Hockney.
In 1969, Charles culminated his painting career by gaining a fellowship into Yale University School of Music and Art at twenty-one. He finished cum laude at Pratt Institute the following year with a degree in Fine Arts. For a season, he taught in New York and Montreal, focusing on special education. By 1979, he had his first exhibition in Locust Valley, New York. Since then, Charles has morphed into an award-winning and internationally celebrated art figure. He has appeared on The Discovery Channel in an episode called “Deaf Mosaic.” He and his work have also appeared on various magazine covers throughout his career.
Charles Wildbank is the creator of “Sight Over Sound,” his brand of art that comes alive and activates all kinds of emotions through visual senses. His latest releases include a wide variety of large paintings that brings seascapes to life. His depictions of the oceans and waves seem to jump out of the canvas and leave audiences anticipating a crash of cold seawater all over exhibit floors. His work is so life-like that it makes a whole new world come alive before art enthusiasts everywhere.
Charles unveiled his latest masterpiece recently, which depicted various refugee children surrounded by chain-link fences in his video “A Message of Hope”. He released this series as a grim reminder about the racial divide that the world faces amid growing globalization. Charles was also the master behind the commanding murals of Queen Mary 2, which also featured some vibrant pastoral scenes of America and Great Britain.
Also characteristic of Charles Wildbank’s best work is the mural “Emergence”, which draws inspiration from Dr. Masaru Emoto’s work. The Long Island-native artist evokes emotion and energy through his supercharged version of water molecules and waveforms on canvas through the series.
Through his dedication to the fine arts’ highest evolutions, Charles Wildbank has created a new dimension of reality for art lovers, collectors, and enthusiasts all over. He hopes to continue pushing the boundaries of his work and establishing his name as one of New York and American art icons.
To learn more about Charles, visit his website at wildbankfineart.com.
Read our exclusive interview with artist Charles Wildbank with one of his big collectors.This blog feature reveals some of Wildbank’s intimate reflections of his 50 year career as a versatile artist..
Collector:Could you give us a little introduction about yourself and where do you work?
Wildbank: My full name is Charles Bourke Wildbank and I’ve been creating and selling art for 50 years. I resumed teaching morning painting classes during weekends out of my studio in Jamesport last summer and have repeated classes this year with an increasing number of enthusiastic students. I wish to continue working on large mural contracts as well as residencies and grant programs. I never expect to retire.
Collector:That’s interesting, 50 years! What made you change your mind about teaching again after becoming a full time artist?
Wildbank: After graduating Pratt Institute BFA and Columbia University with a Masters Degree in Education, I taught the deaf for a number of years in Montreal and New York. I’ve arrived at a point that I wished to paint full time as teaching then had taken up much of my time except during summers. I had painted on and off during my teaching period but it was not enough time to produce a satisfying amount of art output. Lately, as my skill has improved, I now have some spare time on weekends for teaching and the demand for painting lessons was on the rise.
Collector: What was it like at beginning of your art career? Any hestitation? Any fears?
Wildbank: My art career essentially launched full time during 1979 after leaving my teaching position. Not knowing where to begin, I started off trying out a local art gallery, Country Art Gallery in Locust Valley, NY. Sales started coming in. Following that, I followed the footsteps of my artist friends trying out the store windows along Fifth Avenue in New York City. I admit I’ve had to overcome any initial shyness as I walked in making cold calls with curators and window designers. I was met with a delayed or positive response. One designer exclaimed he could take a holiday now that my art completes his window design of the week. This involved renting a truck from my Long Island studio to Manhattan for this. A year later, a window designer from Cartier’s phoned me signalling an “okay” to display my art in one of their salons. I painted a large 8 foot diamond for its opening.
Collector:How do you usually work?
Wildbank: I like to work in tandem with the advancing technology and instead of previously working with Ektachrome slides and a lube lens, I’ve taken to working with a laptop as an easel companion. At times, I work even with an ipad or iphone as the image resolution has greatly improved over the years. The digital devices have the advantage of its sliding enlargement feature for better viewing of image. I maintain an album of images with camera as sketch notes for eventual painting use. I like to use different applications including photoshop for image editting before I paint. Lately, I’ve gotten a bit creative playing with these new tools. My paintings have taken on a hyper and more surreal appearance over the years. I would take reality to another level asI let imagination take upon a freer reign. Occasionally in between projects, I receive large portrait commissions which I enjoy so much.
Collector: How has your practice changed over time?
Wildbank: I’ve had many periods since, starting with florals, very large flowers. This was followed by still life, classic automobiles, fantasy art, marine life, landscapes and some surrealism, all in tune with the demand. Portraiture has been an all-time passion since my youth and is there to stay. The earlier works were executed mostly in acrylic paint by means of airbrush. My recent works are done in the traditional paintbrush style, I guess because I like the natural brushstrokes more. Visitors can come on weekends or by appointment and view a sampling of every category and period in my Jamesport studio.
Collector: Which current art world trends are you following?
Wildbank: I do not follow any trend. All my art comes from within. It so happens that my art would match a current trend and the closest matching trend would be photorealism or hyper-realism under the heading of contemporary art. My brushstroke style has remained consistent throughout recent years, regardless of media be it acrylic, oil or digital means. I use photography and just recently, some digital applications on computer in most of my current work and ultimately they end up in actual paint on canvas.
Collector: How do you choose your subjects for your portraits? Any refusals?
Wildbank: Portraiture is a living experience for me based upon actual contact with people in my life around me and some of whom I know personally. It started off with my siblings willing to pose for me, all of them as live models since family time was unlimited then. If I encounter a famous person, I usually approach them with a request to portray them. Most of them have gladly obliged. One was Beatle John Lennon with his wife Yoko and baby during 1975 when I accidentally stumbled upon them during a stroll in Central Park West. Another was Pavarotti painted directly from the television screen. It was very well received with a letter of praise from him. Also, I ran into David Hockney in a New York restaurant and ended up making polaroids with him in his studio that following day. I have created a large oversized portrait pair of him at his art table and am proud to have 3 of his signed polaroids taken that day. It was a real treat to have been able to view his work from that period at his recent retrospective showing at the Metropolitan Musuem of Art. Refusals? I’ve asked 2 art dealers to pose for me as I found them quite eccentric. Politely, they have declined and I’ve just moved on.
Collector: Are any of your family members artists as well?
Wildbank: Yes, I have one sister, Mary Bourke, who is a professional painter and is represented by Greenhut Galleries in Portland, Maine. Her work is very different from mine in that her work is a sort of contemporary folk style with coastal and portrait themes. Many of my siblings including my mom all have this art ability and the rest are very good musicians.
Collector: Why do you do what you do?
Wildbank: Since childhood, it was as if making my thoughts aloud, whatever is foremost in my mind. This was a skill I’ve honed when trying to communicate without words since I was born deaf. After my speech ability has improved during my preteens, I nevertheless continued drawing. In turn, this skill has evolved into charcoal and pastel drawings followed by painting in acrylic and oils. Whatever is foremost in my mind, I set out to paint it. It gives my statement its satisfying significance, especially in public places where I can share more freely.
Collector: What art do you most identify with?
Wildbank: The list is long as I love them all. Not in any specific order, I love the works of Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Monet, Andrew and Jamie Wyeth, James Rosenquist, Salvador Dalí, David Hockney, Ron Mueck among many. The works of David Hockney stand out as my favorite and I recently incorporated one of his artworks into my painting, “Fans of Hockney”. It shows a portrait of a pair of long haired brothers, whom I met from a crowd at a Hockney Met retrospective exhibit standing in front of one of Hockney’s paintings at the Met, a portrait of its curator Henry Geldzahler. What the portrait now shows is a synthesis of two realities, a flat image plane with a separate living plane merged into one picture. One of the brothers portrayed is wearing a lapel badge for admission to the museum. Visitors can view this large portrait in my studio this season.
Collector: What memorable responses have you had to your work?
Wildbank: About 20 years ago, I received an introductory email from an art agent from Amsterdam mentioning that I was discovered through my art website. I was invited to do a pair of large murals almost 20 feet high for Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 oceanliner. It was such an interesting experience working with the ship’s architects whom I have never met in person all along the project, all via email. The murals’ themes were agreed upon and tests were given for the art works required as flameproof. I had to search the internet for a canvas that was flameproof to satisfy the ship’s insurance company, by submitting a small sample by snail mail to London. I found the flameproof canvas, a synthetic called Trevira (TM) and ordered over 12 by 40 feet long shipped to my studio in a roll from Nurnberg, Germany. Paints had to be acrylic versus oils as well. Upon the christening of the ship, I was invited to view the result of their hanging when the ship arrived in New York harbor. I took my parents along for this event and they couldn’t be prouder.
Collector: Have there been phases or cycles to your work where for perhaps years you found yourself drawn to specific themes, colors or styles? If so, why?
Wildbank: Yes. While I was painting the pair of murals for the Queen Mary 2, I couldn’t help feeling the beckoning from the sea. Ever since, I’ve been painting ocean waves on large canvases, some as long as over 12 feet long. Given enough marine blues, I ventured upon other colors of the palette. I’ve tried hot pink, aqua, and even gold waves. In the latter, I added some decorative motifs from Klimt’s famed paintings from early 1900’s. I did that largely because I felt emotions come in waves of color. Emotions can be expressed serenely, monotonously, or even flamboyantly. As to why, I say, “Because!”
Collector: How does your work comment on current social or political issues?
Wildbank: I would say some of my recent work has taken upon social and political issues, particularly “The Tempest”, a large life sized mural 8 feet long. In due respect to our world concerns with climate change and its dire signs happening, I composed a nightmarish dream scene at sea. It is turbulent, dismal, and ominously painted. It depicts an anthropomorphic figure leaping across the surface of the stormy sea and present are weaponry in form of Kung Fu spinning blades flying about as if to attack the figure. In distant background is an iceberg and waterspout on the horizon. The painting is all water element save for an empty prayer bowl. The painting has some optical 3D effect by means of color shifts in some of the objects. I have another much smaller one, “On a Last Note”, showing a piano as wreckage afloat among flaming seas. The piano is missing one key and this has as its correspondent our world’s interdependency on all lifeforms. Sheet music pages are strewn throughout. Images are powerful in that they can speak volumes at a only so much a fleeting glance.
Collector: On a final note, could you explain to us the use of “creative tools” in your work?
Wildbank: Since I apply much careful editing on some of my photographs, I have taken to experimentation with the tools within the photoshop application where shifts in color and forms can be applied. Objects and background can be manipulated or enhanced in varying degrees. Another project that I completed this year, “Emergence”, is over 12 feet long and is much more serene while somewhat abstract. In doing so, I’ve retained some of the realistic elements while subjecting the forms with such significant distortion for that desired effect. I wanted to capture the emotional cadence of the rise and fall of the ocean waves into a rhythmic whole. I’ve also taken the forms a bit further into mirroring the sea surface in form of a pair of sails floating into the horizon. For me, it is reminiscent of a cherished moment captured on a sunny afternoon in Maui, Hawaii. On that day were hundreds of surfers kitesurfing en masse like a flock of exotic birds overhead. This mural can also be viewed by public in my studio.
Collector: Thank you for sharing with us your amazing talent. Any word of advice to our readers?
Wildbank: In closing, I would like to mention that my art is a gift from self to others and is what happens to be my driving force. Where words might fail, I paint. My work is meant to heal, and by healing, I mean to affirm my faith in humanity. The furthest shores take time to reach and I only hope to arrive, spirit to spirit.
After decades of creating art for private and corporate collections out of his Jamesport Long Island studio, artist Charles Wildbank has shifted toward a greater exposure of his art into public spaces. These spaces range from hotel, corporate or hospital lobbies, yoga and fitness studios, restaurants, conference rooms, atriums, parks, cultural centers, terminals, and real estate stagings whichever can accommodate the large scale he offers. He hopes to accommodate large cities outside New York such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, DC, and Miami over the next few years.
On Friday, May 25, Artist Charles Bourke Wildbank will open a major exhibition in the spacious Barn Gallery of Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport in the North Fork, WILDBANK 35 Years of Art in the East End. The show is scheduled to run through June 24, 2012.
Charles Wildbank’s connection to Long Island’s East End dates to the late 1970s, when he first visited Westhampton Beach, and he has continued to paint in the area ever since. His connection to the countryside and its beaches goes back to his roots in the Manhasset Bay and Roslyn Harbor areas as well as the lakes of Maine. Early in his career Wildbank completed his major in painting and photography at Pratt Institute, using a camera as a “sketchbook” for his paintings and portraits. Deaf since birth, unable to speak throughout much of his youth, Charles’ talent was discovered through his copious pencil sketches rendered for the purpose of communicating his requests for anything he wanted: candy, lost objects, places to visit, animal pets, etc..
Subsequently, Wildbank gained a reputation as a portrait artist through his supportive family and their friends. This solo exhibition will reveal new works in the context of his early work. With 35 years of painting in the East End, Wildbank is arguably one of the most beloved and possibly the most collected artists in the Hamptons. Early works include a large double portrait of David Hockney, plus a surprise extra, an unearthed watercolor portrait of his grandfather painted at the age of 15.
New paintings include magnificently detailed photorealistic portraits presenting larger than life visages of the humanity he silently observes in the world surrounding him; a startlingly giant sleeping infant, a dreadlocked farmer looking beyond himself and the canvas, a young girl attempting a bubblegum challenge as if to puncture the echoing silence of the gallery. Flowing from these highly detailed photo-realistic paintings, more new works: massive abstract murals of ocean waves. ‘I left out the horizon in these sea abstractions to express the expansiveness I feel when I am watching the ocean,” said Wildbank. “Though I cannot hear the waves of the sea, watching it, swimming in it, thrills me beyond any horizon.”
The switch from photorealism to abstraction in the hands of any other artist would seem incongruous, but in the case of Charles WIldbank, it is magnificent. If the portrait series demonstrates Wildbank’s finely detailed perspective, then the wave series zooms his lens in even closer; all the way to the atomic level of water into new horizons.
Wildbank’s new work in this show moves fearlessly from the disciplined realism of the portraits and still life to the exhilarating freedom of his abstract waves. Both the new and the earlier works in this solo show, seduce the viewer to look closer, and, in the words of Charles Wildbank, remind you to “see everything beautiful.”
The exhibition opening will be celebrated on Friday, May 25, at a reception from 4 onto 7 p.m. in Jedediah Hawkins Luce Barn Gallery, on South Jamesport Avenue, a half a block south of 25A Main Street in Jamesport.
Recent painting by Charles Wildbank is a commission for a collector in the Florida Keys. This canine painting “Best Friends” posed a challenge in that it depicts a pair of English Setters, one of which has long been deceased. It is a comfort that the two are reunited on canvas reminiscing of their glorious days together.
The scope of artist Charles Wildbank’s art commissions is never confined within any one genre. He has painted murals for the Queen Mary 2, portraits of celebrities, surreal seascapes, portraits, florals, still life and classical automobiles. His art can be viewed at his latest webpage http://wildbankfineart.com
Recently, a small treasure has resurfaced since the family moved out of their big Long Island home, The John Philip Sousa House in Sands Point. It is a miniature needlepoint portraying Charles Wildbank’s parents which Charles painted onto a needlepoint grid from a snapshot taken in the Bahamas during the 1960’s.
Though small this needlepoint turned out, the features have managed to make it past the confining limitations of needlepoint to a pleasing result showing its perplexing pre-digital pixelation. Hardly did Wildbank realize until later during the 1990’s that he would be artistically involved in the digital age in his now digital painting through Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter.
Wildbank continues his portrait work to this day. He hopes to have a large exhibition of his super portraits this summer 2012. Please visit his latest webpages at http://wildbankfineart.com
Wildbank’s visit to Palm Beach and the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo last month was met with success. Art fans can now enjoy one of his sea life paintings of seashells, “Star of the Sea” in the reception desk area of the Ocean Reef Club Hotel. This clip shows an inside look as Charles applies paint strokes to the canvas including some of his other beach scenes. Currently he is working on another large wave painting, a part of his Wave series due completion the end of this month. Please return to this blog for more details soon and check out his new webpage addition http://wildbankfineart.com
New portfolio format has a built in dimension information (size) and detail (zoom) navigation links for each painting. Viewers will have improved ease of visualising a particular painting in its architectural interior surroundings. Also enclosed at bottom of portfolio page is a link for a complimentary e-brochure containing more information about artist Charles Wildbank. Many of the listed artworks are current and available to art collectors direct from Wildbank Studios in the wine country of eastern Long Island’s North Fork.