In From The Cold - David Wilson
Most of my work is an attempt to portray the human experience as found within the metropolitan landscape. As an urban dweller for the past 30 years, I’ve come to enjoy the way a city concentrates so many elements of humanity inside a physical and psychological space. For me, it’s mostly a good experience. Living in such proximity with one’s neighbours requires a certain degree of communal empathy. One’s perception of personal need or importance is overridden, and a city can only exist when it achieves a sort of tenuous balance. It’s this centuries old experiment in human nature that always and endlessly draws me in.
Each of my paintings imagines an urban centre that may or may not exist. None of the images are literal. They’re meant to act as a surrogate for the thoughts that run through my head as I work. These ideas are often reflected in the title. Some derive their names from the music I’m listening to (Wish You Were Here, Dreams); others reflect the way an image speaks to my own experience in the moment (More Than I Thought I Would, I Like to Ride in the Back Seat With You). And within those images, if one looks closely, a jumble of symbols and text speaks to those thoughts and ideas, like a record of my psyche during creation.
As my days and hours were increasingly absorbed into this new exhibition, thoughts often turned to the volatile time in history we find ourselves in. Loss, climate change, COVID and its variants, and most recently the Russian invasion of Ukraine all morphed into a sort of wintery cloud of thought. As the work progressed and spring drew near, the notion of renewal began to loom over my time in the studio. Within each painting there is an opportunity for the viewer to find shelter and escape the weight of winter. Whether it’s an umbrella, a doorway entrance, the warmth of a speeding taxi, or the comfort of a high-rise apartment or office, the viewer is presented with an opportunity to step in from the cold. This is the guiding metaphor that emerged as I got deeper into the work.
Spring acts as that great time of transition, from the quiet cold of winter into the season of growth. Earth does not think of us as it cycles through its seasons, yet we set our calendars by it. And within our urban canyons and leafy suburbs, all densely populated and trafficked, we are held together with the finest filaments of our own creation. Copper wire and PVC; blacktop and concrete; wood and glass; it’s a delicate web, and it’s prone to decay. Without great care this construct falls quickly into disrepair, entirely reminding me of what it means to be human. As we navigate the many perils of our present moment, this desire to step out of the cold and into the promise of spring propels much of my work. And it’s not lost on me that this annual promise does not always bring about regeneration; not while I watch and read about the plight of those souls in Ukraine whose towns and cities are being reduced to dust. We in the West are the fortunate few.
While the familiarity of the seasons can be vaguely comforting there is always the reminder that, as they change, it will be one less season I will experience in my lifetime. Still, somehow, that ever wonderful promise of April and May is enough to soften the annual reminder that life is much too short. It’s telling me that I have been given yet another opportunity to step in from the cold.
Witnessing the creative process unfold is truly something to behold. And it’s all there to see in filmmaker Peter Jackson’s new Beatles biography Get Back. The doc is (a long) eight hours of never-before-seen footage and audio material, capturing the making of the band’s 12th and final album, Let It Be.
The three part series can feel a bit tedious at times, but its length allows the viewer to truly immerse themselves in the complexities of the creative process. It’s a portrayal of the time investment truly required to pull something wonderful out of the ether. Through found materials Jackson portrays an alchemic creative process of trial and error, of give and take, in which the Beatles allow themselves to become entirely vulnerable as they struggle under the weight of their collective genius, ego, and fortune.
At times it’s almost painful to watch these four brilliant musicians grinding their talents into each other and then pulling themselves apart as they attempt to honour and realize their own creative impulses. Pushing through the film, one gains a true sense of the tremendous and exhausting effort put forth into the album’s creation. The final hour of the series brings both the Beatles and the viewer’s significant investment to a spectacular conclusion, where only through punishing effort does their genius truly arrive.
Sitting through the three episodes I found my thoughts turning to how these young men in their twenties had already achieved so much and still had more they could have done together. The Beatles were in the prime of their youth. Their combined talents begged for further greatness yet here they were, unknowingly closing in on the end of their time together. It almost felt Sisyphean, as I found myself wishing for them to achieve even more, all the while knowing it would never be so. In the hindsight of history it seemed all too tragic to watch.
Which all leads me to the passing of my little dog Andy a few days before Christmas. He had bravely struggled with his health for the past couple of years. Andy had a number of illnesses that required a substantial effort on our part to keep him fit and alive. In February 2021 he suddenly lost his vision but held fast to his passion and joy for life. Then in the last couple months he lost much of his interest in eating and the decline became even more marked. He began to have difficulty walking and hearing and increasingly spent his time largely in sleep. Andy’s days were clearly numbered and as a family we made the agonizing decision to let him go before another tragic condition befell him and ended his life on a note of misery. His final days with us became a beautiful time of taking him to some of his favourite places and giving him all the attention he desired. He was a happy dog. And then we said goodbye.
As we move into 2022, loss is clearly nothing new and in the last couple years our planet has collectively found itself imbued with it. Yet watching great and beautiful things drawing to a close has once again proven to be a deeply profound experience for me. Be it the Beatles in their last days working together or the expiration of my old friend Andy, I’m again struck with a sense of urgency to not let life pass by too quickly. As we move through our lives it is increasingly clear to me how important it is to let one’s gaze fall upon things that truly matter and to be present with those you love. And to let them know you love them. Nothing lasts forever and once it’s gone, it’s truly gone. As I step into the coming year I’m hopeful that the work I create will touch upon that fleeting and empyrean nature of existence. Because life is simply much too short not to.
Life seems to be accelerating these days. I recently celebrated another year on this earth, underwent an intense medical procedure and just this week watched my beloved dog quickly lose his vision. The past month hasn’t been easy for me personally but it has been heartbreakingly more difficult to watch my dog lose the ability to see his world before him along with the ability to communicate with us visually. His world has changed and as a result, so has mine.
As a visual artist, the assumption of sight is established in the very definition of my profession. Art is meant to define the world the way it is perceived and understood by the artist. As a result, I spend a lot of time looking and thinking in visual terms before I put any marks to the canvas. The creative process involves exploring those various ideas that arise via the application of thought, memory and meaning that eventually culminates (I hope) in a tableaux of visual expression. All the senses contribute to the end result of a finished work but the one that reigns supreme over all is the ability to see. And therein lies my own sense of loss for a little friend who can no longer see the world he lives in, or the ones who love him most.
If we learned anything in 2020 it would be the world can, and does, change very quickly. Too quickly at times. And as my wife so cogently stated, in the midst of a crisis, the world seems to stop. It’s an all too familiar experience we have encountered over the past 10 years or so. And here we are again as the world has stopped for our little family as we adjust to having a blind dog in our home.
As we all adjust to this new development in our lives I cannot help but be grateful for the sight I have and the ability to utilize it to my advantage. I believe we have all collectively learned during the time of COVID, we really don’t (maybe even can’t) appreciate all that we have until it is taken from us. After a year of adjusting to the world we all now live in, once again I find I want to live my life a little bit differently and resolve to be increasingly more mindful of the moment I find myself in and the work I do. Life is too short not to.