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Donald Roller Wilson

 (born 1938)
Donald Roller Wilson is active/lives in Arkansas.  Donald Wilson is known for super-surreal whimsical animal-monkeys and floral painting.

Donald Roller Wilson

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Donald Roller Wilson
The magical world of oil painter Donald Roller Wilson does not house many people, it is inhabited with a fantastic collection of unusual suspects who, for all their wild, comical, and often mystical eccentricities, remind us with a marked sense of wonder of our own most human desires and foibles.  To be introduced into Roller Wilson's magical realm is to be able to honestly say that you have never seen its like; it is, after all, a land of altered scale, clothed animals with multiple personalities, medieval forests, nut farms and visitations from the Virgin Mary in a hovering Cadillac convertible lodged in a pecan treeall blown around by a "strong night wind" in 1938.

To state that the unforgettable and mischievous members of Donald Roller Wilson's menagerie are unique falls feebly short of understatement.  Alive with a joyful and playful spirit, the children peer out from their surreal habitats of the canvases with eyes baring their simian, canine, and feline souls, and invite us to share in their reverie.  In fact we often catch reflections of ourselves in their eyes. Wilson's bizarre cast of anthropomorphized characters, ranging from single portraits of characters such as Cookie the baby orangutan and Naughty Judy, a cigarette-smoking cat, to elaborately staged tableaux such as the landmark 1974 painting The Man Has Left the Moon Tonight from the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden's collection, explains curator Maia Jalenak from the Louisiana Arts and Science Center.

"Wilson's style prompts comparisons of his work to the Dutch Masters' still-life paintings of everyday objects and magnificent floral arrangements.  His paintings are also compared to those of Surrealists René Magritte and Salvador Dali, who were also noted for their realistic depictions of subjects from the realm of dreams. However, Wilson rejects the notion that his work relates to Surrealism.  He attributes the olives, cigarette butts, pickles and melon wedges that float through his paintings to a strong night wind that whips through and causes mysterious things to happen," Jalenak continues.

A resident of Fayetteville, Ark., Roller Wilson has recognizable works hung in the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn NY; Chicago Art Institute, Chicago, IL; Whitney Museum, New York, NY; Bank of America, San Francisco, CA; and Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden- Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. as well as numerous corporate and personal collections worldwide.

A Strong Night Wind primarily consists of Roller Wilson's children. "The children are a 'youth group' who represent all of the possibilities of madness in a parallel world to our own.  They are a collective refuge where you can get away from the madness of this realm and find insane comfort in their world," explains Roller Wilson from his new studio.

The children of Donald Roller Wilson are an interesting bunch. "Some are bright, some are not.  Some are half Jewish, but half Catholic too.  All of the children are half boy and half girl.  But only in the areas of their mind," explains the artist.  If this makes sense to you or intrigues you, then you are starting to perceive the world of Roller Wilson.

Donald Roller Wilson creates his works in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  He lives there with his wife Kathleen and a new poodle puppy named Betty.  Fayetteville has been Roller's refuge since he taught at the University of Arkansas in the late 1960's. He has just completed a major renovation of his studio there, which houses the many works in progress and the countless props used to exact his magic.

Considering the plethora of objects and characters props and persona in each painting, there is always much more than meets the eye; we are drenched with associations that occur in and out of their contexts. Roller's apes, dogs, cats, house flies, pencils, crowns, are exactly what they appear to be, and then some.  He presents the facts, but we fill in the gaps. Each painting presents a complex assortment of information, but we must determine the meaning as a whole.

His narratives provide a "road map" though the maze of joyous information. No matter how one describes Roller, the whimsies, art, fantasy, imagery, and metaphysics add up to a fascinating visual philosophy. "The more you seek to know the answers, the more you realize how much you don't know," Roller says. "As a result, you have to operate blindly on faith. More than anything, my work deals with that pointlessness. It takes all the arrogance out of everything you do when you know that God is so much bigger than you are. And yet everything you are and do and see is filled with God: the trees, the asphalt, and the people fighting over Aqua Net at Wal-Mart. That sounds silly, but silliness is just as important as love, just as important as tragedy. You can make a profound intellectual statement just by basing your efforts on silliness," explains the artist.

Source: Kent Whipple, Art Professional

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Donald Roller Wilson
A resident of Fayetteville, Arkansas, Donald Roller Wilson is a painter who describes his work as a "by-product of his thoughts."  According to him, he spends his "days and nights pondering the meaning of life, the state of the universe, and the Home Shopping Network. . . .More than anything, my work deals with pointlessness.  It takes all the arrogance out of everything you do when you know that god is so much bigger than you are.  And yet everything you are and do and see is filled with god: the grass, the asphalt, and the people fighting over Aqua net at Wal-Mart. . . .You can make a profound intellectual statement just by basing your efforts on silliness."

His canvases, painted in lush colors in realist style, are inhabited by animals, many of them monkeys, florals, children, and also floating objects such as olives, cigarette butts, pickles, and melon wedges that he attributes, not to a surrealist style, but to a "strong night wind that whips through and causes things to happen."

In the late 1960s, he taught at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and has remained in that town ever since. He is regarded as a local celebrity, and his home and studio are on the local map of "famous residences."

Kent Whipple, Essay, A Strong Night Wind: The Art of Donald Roller Wilson

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Donald Roller Wilson
Donald Roller Wilson was born on November 23, 1938 in Houston, Texas.  His family moved toWichita when Wilson was in fifth-grade.  In addition to his classes at the Wichita Art Association, Wilson completed two degrees at Wichita State University and taught classes there. 

Wilson was an art professor at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville from 1967-74, and that is where he continues to live.  Wilson was Frank Zappa's visual coordinator during the 1980s and 1990s and produced the cover art for several of Zappa's albums.  Wilson uses some unique items in his paintings, such as dogs and cats, chimpanzees, dill pickles, wooden matches, olives, asparagus stalks, and even cigarettes.  He paints in oils in very polished realism using the same techniques of the Old Masters.

Exhibitions: Wichita Art Museum, 1966; Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, 1969; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 1970; LaJolla Museum of Contemporary Art, 1974; Florida State Univ. Fine Arts Gallery, 1979; Mid-America Art Alliance, 1988; Tacoma Art Museum, 1997; Wichita Center for the Arts, 1998; and many more.

Collections: Emprise Bank Collection; Wichita Art Museum; Brooklyn Museum; Chicago Art Institute; Whitney Museum; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; New Orleans Museum; Arkansas Arts Center.

Susan Craig, "Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945)"
Wichita Eagle-Beacon (June 24, 1979); Wichita Eagle (Sept. 6, 1998);, accessed Apr. 22, 2009.

This and over 1,750 other biographies can be found in Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945) compiled by Susan V. Craig, Art & Architecture Librarian at University of Kansas.

Biography from Auctionata, Inc.
Donald Roller Wilson (American, b. 1938).  Houston born and Fayetteville, Arkansas-based, Roller received his BA and MFA at Kansas State University.  He is best known for his vivid portraits of finely clothed animals in an old-master setting. The characters he created include Cookie the Baby Orangutan, Jane the Pug Girl, Jack the Jack Russell “Terror, Loretta the Actress Cat, Miss Dog America, and Patricia the Seeing Eye Dog of Houston.

His works are both collected by celebrities like Robin Williams, Meryl Streep and Elizabeth Tylor as well as major museums including the Brooklyn Museum, Chicago Art Institute, Whitney Museum, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

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About  Donald Roller Wilson

Born:  1938 - Houston, Texas
Known for:  super-surreal whimsical animal-monkeys and floral painting