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.
Collector: Thank you again, Charles! For further viewing of Charles’ works, the artist’s website is http://wildbankfineart.com
(end of interview)