Thursday, September 11, 2008

Donald Roller Wilson's Painting Technique

It doesn't take but one decent glance at a Donald Roller Wilson painting to realize the meticulous technique involved in his renderings on canvas. Roller is truly a master of manipulating oil paint to achieve a photorealistic look. What's so amazing about how he does what he does is the fact that the scenarios he paints are so far-fetched and even borderline absurd, but he renders them with such life-like technique that you can't help but to find yourself believing in them. That is the mark of Roller's genius. I was able to dig up some quotes from Roller himself, cited from Wilson's older book "The Dreams of Donald Roller Wilson". I found a good one regarding his technique, and I wanted to share it with you here:

"I feel that there is always a danger that my work is too clear to be seen -- and I know that sounds like a paradox. But quite often it has been my experience that when even a 'trained eye' roams over the surface of my work, it is blinded by the technique -- doesn't see the message."

Trust me when I say, the message comes across loud and clear.

Roller actually paints "from life", using various props that he arranges like a retail store window display. He assembles these scenarios in his studio, and then trains a single light on the arrangement, giving it the dramatic shadowy look that it has (much like a Caravaggio painting), where it literally reminds you of a scene in a dimly lit stage play (Roller even adds curtains to many of his arrangements). As far as the actual painting technique goes, he literally follows in the traditions of the Old Masters. He paints on high quality hand-woven linen canvas, which is itself gessoed several times, sanded between applications, and then primed with three coats of white lead paint, which according to his website, takes one month's drying time between the applications. Being the type of person that I am, I would have a VERY hard time being patient enough to see a process like this through to completion. Once he takes care of the gessoing and priming of the canvas, he then creates an underpainting with oil paint thinned out with turpentine. It is from the basis of this underpainting that he gets a feel of the balance of light and shadow, as well as mass, for all of the different elements of his painting. The drying time for the underpainting phase is yet another month, and then he gets down to business, filling in the painting with oil paint, and then glazing it with transparent colors, which creates a depth and richness to the coloration of the painting. After this, he finally tops it off with a varnish to seal the painting and protect it.

So as you can tell, a lot of time and patience goes into each painting that Roller cranks out...much more patience than I ever believe I could develop. At the end of it all, the deliberateness of the technique is yet another testimony to the quality of Roller's work.

Here's another one of my absolute favorites, entitled "The Last Zeppelin Destroyed in the War, at Friedrichshafen":

Sorry for the smallness of the image, but it was VERY hard to find anything that had a decent resolution. This painting was done by Roller in 1976. It measures 87" high by 60" wide, so it's a pretty sizable canvas in real life. I have never seen it in real life, but I'm sure it would be breathtaking at that size. You know I have to include the text that underscores the title of this painting as well...which, like many of Roller's titles, reads like a nursery rhyme or a limerick:

The head of state has left his hat,
A queen has come to rule;
Her silver ship returning to the moon
She brought a drink a cow once sipped
When tricked inside a room;
Her hollow ship is silver--lined with tombs

Until next time...continue to enjoy the works of Donald Roller Wilson!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Donald Roller Wilson -- A Strong Night Wind: A Sad Day for Me

I didn't want to begin my new Donald Roller Wilson blog post on a sad note, but I have to do it in order to get to what the point of this post is all about. It is with great sadness that I write these words, and I wasn't even aware that it was going to be such a heart-wrenching thing until about twenty minutes prior to sitting down at the computer to write this.

Back in 1994, I bought Donald Roller Wilson's book, "A Strong Night Wind". This was no easy task, seeing as how I only made about $125.00 a week working in a grocery store deli, and the book was $65.00 at Books-A-Million. I remember that I had to actually put in an order for the book, and none of the clerks even seemed to remotely know what (or who) I was talking about. I will never forget the first day that I actually took the book home from Books-A-Million--it was almost like a parent bringing their newborn baby home for the first time. I had to jump through all kinds of hoops to even FIND the book, and now it was in my hands!

I just remember sitting down that night and staying up until I don't know how late, looking at all of the pictures of Roller's paintings in amazement. For those who are still somewhat new to Roller, his world of imagery is a world that you can easily get caught up in, no doubt. You truly feel like you are IN the paintings--it's hard to describe. I don't know if it's a form of escapism or whatever, but there's something actually comforting about Roller's paintings, even though they can be kind of whacked-out and strange. Here's another example of Roller's work:

I had to include the title for this one (It tells its own story):

The Daughter's Shoes

Mrs. Mystery's daughter's shoes
Were smoking late last night
(Some toeless platform sling backs without tongues)

When morning came, Patricia woke
And knew she couldn't wear them
(From all the heat, they'd burn the ladder's rungs)

So she held still - she didn't climb
And Mrs. Mystery waited
(She held the breath which strained inside her lungs)

Mrs. Mystery's daughter's shoes
Went up in smoke last night
(Some soulless platform sling backs without tongues)

The Reason My Day Was Sad

Okay, back to my story. So I have Roller's book, A Strong Night Wind, and I have had it since I was in college back in '94. This is a book that I can truly say is a treasure to me. I think this is true partly because I had to work my butt off to get it (remember my extremely broke budget at the time), and plus it's just an amazing book in every respect. Well, I had packed up this treasure along with Roller's other book, "The Dreams of Donald Roller Wilson", into a cardboard box, to prepare for our move into our new home. During all of the shuffle of moving and getting things settled, I had left a bunch of boxes in the garage, with the intention of putting them in other places later. The Roller box was among those in the garage.

Well, not too many days after, our water heater (which is in the garage) busted, flooding the entire garage. Unfortunately, the Roller box was on the floor of the garage, and was affected by the deluge, even more than I thought at the time. In the midst of us cleaning up the water, getting a repairman to replace the water heater, staying at a friend's house in the meantime, etc., etc., the Roller box just sat there, and actually just dried out all on its own. I really didn't think that too much damage was done, until tonight when I finally pulled A Strong Night Wind out of the box.

I am terribly sad to say, the book got pretty messed up by the water damage. Many of the pages are stuck together, and almost all of the pages have that "wavy" look, of having been water-logged but then drying out improperly. It was truly a very sad moment for me, because I never wanted anything to happen to that book. Thank God it wasn't completely destroyed or anything like that, but it was definitely a HUGE bummer to me.

I said all that to say, I love A Strong Night Wind, and I'm going to begin to include some excerpts from the book, as they give a lot of insight into the thought processes that Donald Roller Wilson uses to develop his amazing paintings. Look for more details in future long until then.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Who is Donald Roller Wilson?

I was looking at my first post about Donald Roller Wilson and it hit me that I didn't even really explain who he is, where he came from, or anything like that. Forgive me for jumping the gun! It would have been much better for me to give at least a brief bio of Roller at first before jumping straight into my "critiques". So, for the record...

Donald Roller Wilson was born November 23, 1938 in Houston, Texas, and the world hasn't been the same since. He holds MFA and BA degrees from Kansas State University, and served as an associate professor at Nebraska State University from 1966-67. Roller was also an art professor at the University of Arkansas from 1967 to 1974. He resides with his wife Kathleen, who is an artist herself, in Fayetteville, Arkansas, far from the hustle & bustle of ANY type of "art scene", yet he has still managed to attract all kinds of attention from the art world. He has also garnered several high-profile celebrity collectors such as Robin Williams (who contributed an introduction to Roller's book, "A Strong Night Wind"), Carrie Fisher (who wrote the foreword to "A Strong Night Wind"), Jack Nicholson, and many others. As diverse as his clientele is, it's amazing how the average student of art knows very little about Roller. Many art books that profile current American artists give him no mention; this is frustrating to those of us who have been trying to find out more information about this phenomenal painter. I know from personal experience...I have scoured the internet and all kinds of publication records looking for a "trail" of some sort that can give a full picture of Roller's body of work. Believe me, I'm still on the hunt...this blog is a part of that hunt, as I will post here whatever information I can find out about Roller, whether it be past exhibitions he has done, or even the style and techniques he uses (which, in my mind, are mind-boggling). Take a look at this painting, entitled "Kathleen, Encouraged and Convinced Through Faith":

So stay tuned, whoever out there is reading this blog...I hope that this blog will one day be a repository of Roller-ish info. I just believe that he deserves far more recognition than he has been getting, even though it has been quite a lot. Sorry if I am a little biased...I just think that Donald Roller Wilson is one of the most imaginative and original artists of our time.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Donald Roller Wilson -- The 1st Post!

Donald Roller Wilson: An Artist Beyond Compare

Welcome to the first post of my blog about Donald Roller Wilson! If you've never heard of Roller, or are not familiar with any of his artwork, then you've definitely come to the right place. It amazes me how many people still haven't been made aware of Roller's awesome paintings, when in my mind he is one of the most innovative American artists of all time.

Nobody does it quite like Roller. He's hard to categorize, because his work is so unique that it truly deserves its own category. If I had to take a guess, I would probably place him in the surrealist category, as well as borderline photorealism. His technique is absolutely flawless, and his ability to render the hyper-real imagery of his own crazy world is something that I personally have never seen in any other artist's work to the degree that I see it in Roller's paintings.

One of my favorite paintings is entitled "The Man Has Left the Moon Tonight". Take a look:

I would like to have that photo in the center of the page, but I haven't figured out how to tweak Blogger yet to do it (LOL). At any rate, this painting is one of the first ones I saw of Roller's; I actually came across it at my local library on the cover of a book called "The Dreams of Donald Roller Wilson", which as it turns out, is a very rare out-of-print book now. From that point on (and that was high school--I'm 33 now), I've been hooked.

I'd love to write more about this painting, and I actually think I will in an upcoming post, but for right now I have to run--gotta take my 2-year-old to the park. In the meantime, stay tuned for more posts about Donald Roller Wilson.