Profile: Tyler Wilkinson, Manifest Gallery Artist in Residence
Tyler Wilkinson, Manifest Gallery’s first Artist-in-Residence, greets visitors to his studio at the rear of the gallery during every opening, an act of hospitality he clearly enjoys aside from its requirement for his year-long role. Tall and slim, Wilkinson has a ready smile, extremely short dark hair, dark eyes behind round, black-rimmed glasses, and an air of pleasure at being where he is.
In the studio visitors find an easel holding an unfinished painting, possibly objects for a still life set up on a make-shift table so that in daytime light from the north window falls pleasantly upon them, other paintings in various stages of completion either hung or propped against the walls, and cartons holding paint cans and other supplies scattered about. Order, perhaps not readily apparent but real, is in place. “Well-kept is important,” Wilkinson says. “It’s a constant effort. While not everything is in perfect order I know where everything is; that’s the key. It starts to reflect your practices.”
Asked what his studio visitors want to know, the artist-in-residence says “It varies, but the most common question is why do I spend so much time doing this and what do these things mean to me.” These are questions likely to be asked of anyone devoted to a particular line of work. The answers are easy for those who, like Wilkinson, love what they do.
What he does is figurative painting.”You can connect more strongly there.” He draws a deep breath. “Since the first figures were drawn on the cave walls of Lascaux in southern France mankind has been obsessed with the human experience. Figurative paintings transcend reality, evoke innately human happenings. Figurative art is very powerful when well done.”
Wilkinson has been at his new gig for several months now; because it is new to him and also new to Manifest we have held off talking with him until he and the position itself are fully in place. Aside from the studio, Wilkinson has free access to regular life drawing sessions at Manifest Drawing Center in Madisonville, teaches a Manifest class for pay, and can submit entries to Manifest shows with entry fees waived. Deadline for submission of applications for the 2013/14 Manifest Artist-in-Residence slot is soon: April 9. Notifications will be made by mid-May; the residency begins by July 1.
The class Wilkinson is teaching is the first he’s designed himself. “Previously I had only done demonstrations, under someone else. This has been a real joy,” he laughs, “getting paid to talk about things I obsess over. I really love teaching.”
Twice a week he attends Drawing Center classes as a student to work from nude models: “It’s skill building. The nude is one of the most beautiful things. In my own painting practice I only work from life, mostly with the clothed figure.. My second job here hasn’t provided enough for me to hire models, they’re expensive.” (The second job is at Coffee Emporium, with a shifting set of hours.) “My real passion lies in working with the figure, getting to know the model. It’s not the same as the relationship with a friend but can be very special. I think a good relationship comes through in the painting.” He does hope to do some work with models before the residency is completed. “I keep pushing myself to observe better, transcribe my feelings better, to paint with greater clarity. It’s always on my mind.”
Tyler Wilkinson has come to the big city (Cincinnati) from tiny Stanford, Kentucky, but came by way of France. During his senior year at Center College, an hour away from Stanford, he studied abroad for three or four months, based in Alsace Lorraine but with access to Paris. “The museums! The Musée Rodin! The Musée d’Orsay! I could melt there. . .surrounded by masters. . . it’s pretty sublime.”
Asked about his own classical influences, he says “They change by the month. Right now Vermeer and Velasquez. . .I want to distill from both. . .I think of them as like Apollo and Dionysus,
order and impulse. I want to be the center between them.” Other artists he is particularly interested in just now are Antonio Lopez Garcia, “a hero to my kind of artist;” Euan Uglow, a British artist who died in 2000 but specialized in nudes and still lifes; Elmer Bischoff, instrumental in the 20th c. California Bay Area figurative movement; Edgar Degas, “that wonderful, poetic line;” Edourd Vuillard, the Post-Impressionist/Nabi artist; and Giorgio Morandi, painter of endlessly inventive still lifes.
In Wilkinson’s own studio, some of the canvases are up to five pictures deep. When he’s dissatisfied with a painting he covers it over and begins a new one. “It’s a bit embarrassing, but it’s much easier just to work on top.”
Part of the ease is that he builds all his canvases and stretchers himself, so re-use is a plus. “It takes some time but is a passion of mine and requires a special set of skills. Preparing the linen is a two-part process, sizing it with rabbit skin glue to protect the fiber, then a lead-based primer. . .the pre-made are excellent but expensive and not as good as mine, made for me. It pleases my romantic side, in that it’s similar to the way Rembrandt, for instance, would have done it. I’m in conversation with those artists when working in a similar way. I can understand more about how those paintings are crafted. It’s all there, but you have to figure it out.”
We ask how old he was when he knew he’d be an artist. “Oh, it was when I was a child,” he says. His much-admired older brother liked to be out and about but “I stayed home to draw and paint. We had an encyclopedia and I would take down the “P” volume to look up ‘painting.’” Stanford itself is “a really charming little city, an hour south of Lexington.” He has been lucky, he says, in his family. “We’re a big family, my parents divorced with I was three and remarried and so we were all in the same county, about 15 minutes away from each other. Growing up I was always within arm’s reach of someone. We’re simple people, nothing too flashy, but there’s a lot of love.”
At nearby Center College, nationally recognized for its liberal arts curriculum, Wilkinson had the good fortune to study under Sheldon Tapley, a widely admired figurative artist. “Sheldon is hard to put into words,” he says. “He’s an amazing teacher, and an amazing draftsman in his own right. He goes above and beyond to share the excitement of the things he’s learned over time. He has more to give than you can receive, such a loving and generous teacher.” The two remain in touch. “I always want to know what’s in his studio and he in mine.”
And how has he found Cincinnati’s artistic community? “It’s been really wonderful for me as an artist and as a person. Coming from a small town, this is my first time to live in a big city. The arts community is vibrant, something new and exciting always going on. The first week new friends took me out to meet artists. Now, we draw together at Manifest Drawing Center twice a week, and afterward go out to a bar to talk. There’s a wonderful community here, a special place for this kind of painting.”
Word has recently come that Wilkinson is accepted into Indiana University’s master’s program in painting, and he will leave the Manifest studio and the house in Norwood ,which he now shares with a couple of roommates, to begin two years in Bloomington. He is immensely pleased. “The Indiana University program has a really earnest passion toward painting, not the emphasis on concept and philosophy that sometimes overwhelms other schools. At Indiana, you’re there to paint.”
Painting is exactly what Tyler Wilkinson most wants to do.
“The only thing more impressive than Ty’s talent is his generosity and good nature, and that is saying a lot because he is an amazing talent!”
~ Emil Robinson
Editor’s note: A group of area painters,most of whom went to UC as graduate students together, and who paint mainly in a narrative figurative manner, spend a lot of time at Manifest Gallery, help with its shows, and participate in its drawing classes, after which they often have a beer and a burger. Emil Robinson, whose studio and apartment were, until recently, in the same building as Manifest itself, has this to say about Ty, with whom he spent a lot of time during this past year. Other artists who know Ty and speak highly of him are peers including Robert Anderson and Dan O’Conner, til Dan left for The Appalachian Trail. Both Wilkerson and Robertson were undergraduate students of painter/draughtsman Sheldon Tapley of Centre College.