THE INDEPENDENT VOICE OF THE VISUAL ARTS
By Michel Ségard
Aspect/Ratio/Projects is a small gallery in one of Chicago’s newest gallery districts in the vicinity of Chicago Avenue and Ashland Avenue. The intimate storefront space is ideal for tightly focused shows. Adam Daley Wilson’s show “Already Gone,” consisting of only seven large pieces, was just such an exhibition.
One aspect of this show that made it interesting was that the pieces use a printed image on canvas as the base for five of the works, which are then overpainted in oils with phrases composed by the artist. The technique of overpainting photos is not new, but this reviewer has never encountered works this large and done in this way. The pieces vary from five to nine and three-quarters feet wide! There is just enough wall space in the gallery to hold them. In fact, during showings, the gallery desk has to be removed and put in storage to allow two of the pieces to be seen unobstructed.
Adam Daley Wilson lives and works in Maine, and his work is strongly influenced by his bipolar 1 mental condition. This condition shows up primarily in the choice of phrases Wilson uses in paintings. Many are simultaneously profound and ambiguous. And three of the works are acerbically aimed at the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, both in background imagery and in the choice of phrases overprinted on them.
Wilson has penned a few paragraphs for each of the pieces in the show. His writings are just as interesting as the paintings, and in fact, make inseparable pairs. Unfortunately, the writing is only available as a handout or online. It is the feeling of this writer that they should have been somehow posted next to each painting. That would have made comprehending the work easier, because the full substance of each piece cannot be understood without also reading Wilson’s comments.
Adam Daley Wilson, Notions of Secular Barely Made Sense, 2020. Oil on new media. Photo courtesy of Aspect/Ratio.
The first work in the exhibition is called Notions of Secular Barely Made Sense. It is the smallest piece in the show measuring only 40 by 60 inches. A poetic image in pink and violet-blue of impending storm clouds is overwritten by the phrase “ALL THIS FOR THAT.” In the paragraph accompanying this painting, Wilson wonders: “…how cognitive conceptions of reason and science could possibly account for the beauty that is present even in nature’s most simple of moments…” The opposing concepts of impending violence and natural beauty are all distilled in a four-word phrase over an image of clouds.
Adam Daley Wilson, You Could Not Be A Less Relational Self, 2020. Oil on new media. Photo courtesy of Aspect/Ratio.
The next piece, just to the right of Notions of Secular Barely Made Sense, and making a kind of suite with its neighbor, is a larger painting of an ocean horizon called You Could Not Be A Less Relational Self—nothing but blue water and blue sky in very soft focus. It contains the phrase “I COULD NOT FORGET YOU MORE.” This piece is about remembering and forgetting, or as the artist poignantly puts it: “…sometimes we actively try to forget or remember another—and sometimes, against our will, we are powerless to determine what remains and what fades away.” Again, the duality of this message monopolizes the work, even as the out-of-focus background image creates a disturbing unease. Did someone drown; was a doomed love affair “put to rest”? There is a subtle anxiety that emerges when trying to reconcile the wording with the image.
Left: Adam Daley Wilson, We Could Have Been Lovers But Then You Were Gone, 2020. Oil stick on canvas. Photo courtesy of Aspect/Ratio.
Right: Adam Daley Wilson, You Chose to Disremember So We Have Moved On, 2020. Oil stick on canvas. Photo courtesy of Aspect/Ratio.
The next two pieces in the show do not have a photographic background. They are about obsessive cacography. They also are the only two vertical pieces in the show, each standing seven feet tall. Neither of these two painting have decipherable writing, in spite of the fact that they are all script. For We Could Have Been Lovers But Then You Were Gone, Wilson writes:
…it seems we have intentionally decided to forget the purity and virtue of the laws of nature, and what they could teach us about equality and justice; we seem to remember the laws of physics and chemistry only when they further our next earthly desire.
This thought is illustrated by the layer upon layer of writing that successively obscures the layers underneath until nothing is readable. Curiously, this piece is reminiscent of the early works of Christopher Wool and has the feel of graffiti—taggers after tagger trying to out-polemicize each other.
The other piece in this duo, You Chose To Disremember So We Have Moved On, is a depiction of the consequences of the previous compulsive writing. This piece has the feeling of an unearthed fragment from an ancient lost civilization. Our artifacts have faded and lost their meaning, suggesting the eventual demise of human civilization. Nature has moved on, not caring one bit. Wilson puts it this way: “The sanction for our decision to misremember is not punitive; this is natural law; the sanction is simply consequential causal fact. The rest of nature will move on.”
Adam Daley Wilson, Hold Me Back From My Humanity, 2020. Oil on new media. Photo courtesy of Aspect/Ratio.
The last three pieces in the exhibition, shown next to each other along one wall, are about the Catholic Church. Hold Me Back From My Humanity juxtaposes the Catholic Church and the Mafia. Its primary phrase is “AN INCREASING ROT NOW TWO THOUSAND YEARS” painted over a fragment of Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit showing a part that depicts rotting fruit. It also has the phrases “EVEN GODFATHERS HAVE CODES” and “YOU ONLY HAVE TO BE SILENT” inscribed over the image. Wilson daringly states in the writing for this piece that:
…the Catholic Church meets all the legal elements to be indicted by a grand jury in federal court, under our RICO statute, as a corporate enterprise engaging in systematic racketeering and organized crime.
As the next two pieces will show, there is no love lost between Wilson and the Catholic Church.
Adam Daley Wilson, Third Portrait, Jesus Christ Dead Savior, In His Insanity of Peace, 2020. Oil on new media. Photo courtesy of Aspect/Ratio.
Third Portrait, Jesus Christ Dead Savior, In His Insanity of Peace is the second of this trio. Here Wilson proclaims:
We challenge your long cherished narratives. We now reclaim our own voices. We will now participate, in all of it, and we will no longer be silenced by your stigmas. Because—as the primary voice of this story declares—do not forget, it is past time you remember, look at the evidence worldwide: It is not we—those you diagnose and dismiss as mentally ill—it is not we who have the true illness of the mind.
This is the manifesto that combines Wilson’s contempt for present social structures and the struggles of his “mental illness.” The piece is inscribed with “JUST WHO HAS THE ILLNESS OF THE MIND” as a question over a fragment of Guerrillero Heroico, a 1960 photograph of Che Guevara by Alberto Korda. Note how similar the face is to many contemporary Western depictions of Christ. Two other phrases stand out: “LOOK AT WHAT WE LOVE” and “LOOK AT WHAT WE HAVE CREATED.” The illegible writings beneath the painted messages accentuate the perceived madness of the situation.
Adam Daley Wilson, I Am Unholy Mary, 2020. Oil on new media. Photo courtesy of Aspect/Ratio.
I Am Unholy Mary is the final piece of this trio. Wilson’s written narrative starts out with:
…the Christ child—not he or she but All, not one gender or race or sexual identity but All, not just intersex or transgender but Everything—this Christ (they/them) simply desires the most basic of human relational needs—freedom to declare their identity and a mother’s unconditional love.
In this sentence, Wilson puts into stark reality the injustice and hypocrisy of the Church by exemplifying its injustice to the LGBTQI community. The image is a detail from Raphael’s Sistine Madonna and the main phrase is “KNOW SHE KNEW AND CONSEQUENTLY JOINED.” Wilson’s interpretation is that “…Christ was crucified not only as an adult, but also as a child, systematically. Each time, Mary knew, watched, allowed, and thereby joined.” According to Wilson, she was neither a virgin nor holy because of her complicity of silence. But this image, bathed in yellow, the color of cowardice, evokes an innocence of ignorance.
This last trio brings to mind Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. The Christ figure in both Heinlein’s novel and in Wilson’s religious trio of paintings is simultaneously all-knowing and naïve about their narrative and its outcome. And consequently, He is despoiled by the depravity of humanity’s officialdom and Man’s lust for power and position, challenging the supremacy of God himself.
Wilson’s design style is fairly straightforward and unremarkable, resembling traditional advertising design in many ways. But that is what makes his works hover between art and propaganda, especially with the Catholicism trio. And this ambiguity is what pulled me in to read his descriptions and explore the deeper meanings of the work.
It is rare that one encounters an exhibition with such depth of social commentary. Wilson’s method of showing how opposing forces merge and overlap is more a philosophical bent than an artistic one. But it brings a complexity and gravitas to his work that is too often lacking in contemporary art.
Michel Ségard is the Editor in Chief of the New Art Examiner and a former adjunct assistant professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is also the author of numerous exhibition catalog essays.
The entire show, including Wilson's text accompanying each piece can be seen at
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