The following, submitted November 2004, is from the artist and from the artist's website.
William Adjete "Fred" WILSON was born in France in 1952 to a French mother and a Togolese father (West Africa). He is currently living in Paris, France. He grew up in Orléans and reached university in Paris at age 19 to study philosophy and anthropology (1971-1975).
In 1972 he had his first travel in the Gulf of Guinea, and he began, step by step, to discover the history of his African family on the west coast of Africa from Ghana to Nigeria, especially the Wilson-Bahun-Lawson families from Aneho (Togo) from on side and to the so-called " Brasilian" or Agouda , the d'Almeida- da Silva families from Ouidah (Benin).
In 1973 he began art, as a self-taught artist. Wilson works in pastels, oil, sculpture mediums and does illustrations. His first show was in Paris in 1977. Since 1983, he has held many shows in Europe and the US.
William Wilson uses many different medias and methods: Pastels, paintings, sculpture and assemblages, drawings and collages, photographs and videos, prints and illustrations.
On a grant from the French government, he spent six months in New York City and then was invited in the "Yaddo" artists colony in the summer of 1986 for two months. In 1986 he received the "Prix de la Villa Hors les murs", a grant to spend one year in New-York and California. In 1987 he received a six weeks United States Information Association (USIA) grant to visit eight cities in the United States.
In the 1990s, Wilson had several shows in California including San Francisco and Los Angeles. In 1994, he had a three-months road tour of the Southwest states, visiting numerous natural parks, which resulted in a large series of pastels that he exhibited in Paris in 1994 and San Francisco in 1995.
Illustrations by Wilson are in the New Yorker
magazine as well as university publications connected with Africa and French-African art and literature. He also created 13 books for young public, and he holds occasionally workshops and lectures.
In 1997 he was commissioned by the United Nations to illustrate the 50th Anniversary book of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
1998, 3 month residence in Kyoto (Japan), studying Japanese temples gardens.
2000, 8 weeks in Mauritius, working on the tropical sea life.
2004, Commissioned to create a stone-garden ( 500 m2 ) in the artist colony of A.I.R. near Pondichery (Tamil Nadu. India).
2007-2008-2009, 6 sojourns in Abomey (Benin) working with the families of traditional Tenturiers
to create the series: L'Océan Noir,The Black Ocean, O Oceano negro
. 18 pieces of appliquéd telling on 3 different aspects, the history of the Gulf of Benin and the consequences up to nowadays. This series was already showned in 16 places, museums and other institutions. In France, Belgium, the Usa, Israel, Suisse, Italie, Mali, Benin.
April, 2009: A book-catalogue was published in April 2009 by Gallimard in Paris. As the author of the text, the images and the lay-out, WW is giving the main clues in his attempt to understand more about the heritage of his ancestors' history.
It's through the art that William Wilson intends to built a testimony of his destiny: singular and universal as well.
Currently William Wilson is working on a series of large collages of African textiles (wax, bazin etc)...
Following is text from a catalogue of a touring exhibition of Wiliam Wilson :Otro pais Escalas Africanas, Spain 1994-1995-1996
William Adjété Wilson is a dandy. His paintings, his sculptures, his all work is there to demonstrate the fact. But let us not misunderstand the term; there has always been too much of a tendency to attribute a certain affectation to the dandy, a certain superficiality and cynicism.
This is a mistake. William Wilson is a dandy in a sense that all his work revolves around an aestetic of life which he has forged over a number of years. We should not forget that William Wilson is both African and European at the same time. He stands at the crossroad in that contradictory journey from North to South.
And to complicate our biography still further, William Wilson became a graffiti artist, a street painter and a hoodlum. He has maintained a healthy distance between himself and the world and art, as it is known in the West, an action no doubt dictated by his Togo origin. As a consequence, his painting could be summed up as a dialogue between two heritages which it may be impossible to reconcile.
William Wilson as a dandy tends to ignore both the one and the other, seeking a third way, a third voice, which is his own. Of course, in the smiles of his characters, in the grotesqueness of the forms he paints, in the colors he loves, one might be tempted to look for and find references. It is a useless task. His work is born of an instinctive gesture which is deceptive. Everything is calculated, studied, with the aim of finding a language of the absurd which cannot leave us, voyeurs that we are, cold and unaffected.
The stunts are faultless. Look for the African and you will find the Frenchman drenched in the history of art. Not the history of yesterday, but that of today, here and now, of which the artist is one of the principal protagonists. Look for the European and it is the African who pops up; witness his depictions of legends, his myths from another age, his primitivism which Picasso taught us to distrust. In all this, apparent superficiality, apparent cynicism.
These two elements reveal a profound understanding of the world which forces us to seek further and beyond, that is to say, beyond cliché and easy mythology, beyond the realm of received ideas. This is because in the artist's work, the truth always exists elsewhere. In another place whose features the artist himself has not even finished exploring.
This other place, this journey which compels us here, constitutes a valuable testimony, one which we cannot do without. The very fact that Wilson stands at the crossroads of that old debate between modernity and tradition, Africa and the West, means that his work is also there to force us to question the too obvious evidence and a priori reasoning to which we are to a lesser or a greater extent accustomed. This interrogation goes to the very heart of the art which is being produced.
This hybrid art, rid of all the old demons of History.
By Simon Njami, writer, contemporary art critic and curator,
William Wilson has a passion for art and its impact on societies. Born in France, with a mother from Orleans and a Togolese father, he went
to Africa, to discover the land of his ancestors.
A radical shift occurred; his own history emerged and gave him the idea to transcend the painful legacy of
slavery thanks to the various media (pastel, painting, sculpture) which he learned how to master as an autodidact.
Most of his very colored works are metaphors to denounce the slave trade and look back at the history of the African continent so as to show that our past is of primary importance
for dealing with the future.
A didactic work, enabling to understand objectively the concepts of identity, as well as cultural and popular mixing, L'Ocean Noir (The Black Ocean) is an installation made up of 18 hangings in applied fabrics, embroidered textile collages made in Abomey. These frescos tell the history connecting the artist's African ancestors with his European ancestors through the centuries.
The highly symbolic significance of William Wilson's travel between his various cultures is enhanced by the fact that these 18 hangings were exposed in many prestigious museums worldwide. The set of hangings traces the history of triangular trade, from its genesis until its abolition, from the 15th century up to the 21st century.
CMOOA (Compagnie Marocaine d’Oevres et Objects d’Art)