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 John Henry Wilde  (1919 - 2006)

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Lived/Active: Wisconsin      Known for: paintings of surreal fanciful images, illustration

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Ad Code: 3
John Wilde
from Auction House Records.
Eggshells and Marbles
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Part of the Wisconsin Surrealist movement in the 1930s and 40s, John Wilde was a Surrealist painter with focus on life and death through grotesque, doll-like people in "otherworldly situations".  Many of his paintings have old bones, mutated female creatures, and dream-like landscapes, and frequently he painted himself into his work.  He also did detailed, colorful and eerily glowing still lifes.

His association with Surrealism began when he was a student at the University of Wisconsin and became a friend of Marshall Glasier, that Wisconsin Surrealist leader and his art teacher.  He joined Glasier at salons at his home where artists gathered to discuss European modernism and other avant-garde topics.  Wilde's painting was also linked to Magic Realism and its New York exponents Paul Cadmus and George Tooker.

Wilde had a six-decade career as a painter and with the exception of serving in the Army during World War II, lived his entire life in Wisconsin.  He was born in Milwaukee and studied art at the University of Wisconsin with Glasier and with James Watrous from whom he learned classical techniques of drawing and painting.  From 1942 to 1946, Wilde was a military artist, doing drawings for venereal disease prevention and maps and terrain models for intelligence.  After the war, he returned to Wisconsin where he earned a Master's Degree and wrote a thesis on Max Ernst.  From 1948 to his retirement in 1982, he gave art lessons from his studio.

In 2000, the Milwaukee Art Center included his painting in an exhibition titled "Surreal Wisconsin,"and his work was featured in "Surrealism USA", a 2005 traveling exhibition of the National Academy Museum.

Ken Johnson, "John Wilde, 86, Painter of Surreal Comic Images", The New York Times, 3/18/2006, Obituaries, A28

Biography from Spanierman Gallery:
John Wilde, creator of very detailed, enigmatic and fantastic paintings, was born in Milwaukee in 1919.  A fourth-generation Wisconsinite, he studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  After serving in World War II, he pursued graduate studies in art history before returning to fine art.  In 1948, he joined Madison's art department and, for the next thirty-four years, taught drawing, retiring in 1982 as a professor emeritus.

Wilde (pronounced WILL-dee) paints idiosyncratic subjects with trompe l'oeil artifice, putting him in the stylistic company of a number of post-World War II American artists like Paul Cadmus, Jared French, Henry Koerner, Bernard Perlin, Charles Rain, Priscilla Roberts, Honore Sharrer and George Tooker who painted a version of Surrealism that came to be called Magic Realism by Alfred Barr in 1942, then curator of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Coming Into My Place is an example of Wilde's artistic point of view.  It depicts animals and reptiles running madly around a ranch-style house with a naked woman straddling the roof.

While clearly expressing the condition of his own inner life, Wilde's paintings of blue vegetables, orgiastic rites and howling animals may also tap the Wisconsin portrayed in Michael Lesy's photo-book, Wisconsin Death Trip (1973), and Mark Borchardt's 1999 film, American Movie. Wilde's world re-creates, and attempts to deal with, the disturbances of societal foundations (and his own psyche) so prevalent, disconcerting and publicized in modern times.

Wilde's meticulous drawings recall the concise graphic sensibility of Renaissance artists like Antonio Pisanello, Albrecht Durer and Hans Holbein.  His miniatures and larger-scale oils also relate to Flemish, German and Italian Renaissance painters, including Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Matthias Grunewald, Simone Martini and Fra Angelico.

Ultimately, John Wilde's work centers on his own imagination and self-scrutiny.  In 1998, he remarked, "My main concern is simply myself: I am the actor on the stage being depicted. Most of my painting is scene painting. I paint a proscenium arch and depict activities happening on that stage."

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