The Light Becomes You surveys the most personal and political themes of Paula Wilson’s work- sexuality and connection, nature and culture, technology and vision. The exhibition encompasses Wilson’s expansive multimedia practice that includes video, print, painting, and textiles. When her work unfolds through many layers and operates on many levels, it is characterized by lush patterns, vibrant colors, and illuminous representations. Looking at her role in our contemporary culture, Wilson considers it as a mash-up of traditional and contemporary visual forms. Aware of technology’s role in altering the way we see and alluding to it with prevalent imagery of cell phones, headphones, and virtual reality, Wilson reimagines art historical tropes such as Grecian vessels, monuments, self-portraiture and still lifes. Many of the works play with light as in interior scenes with windows bisecting rooms to illuminate multiple viewpoints. Wilson asks, “ What do we turn our attention to?”, and thereby reveals her own multifaceted reality.
Shown for the first time in New York City, the video, Salty & Fresh (2014), filmed on Virginia Key Beach, the first “colored-only” beach in Miami, “exhibits a creation myth that is cross-pollinated between imagination and history; a mythologized humanism that defies the boundaries separating greco-roman amphorae and the United States’ history of segregation. The emergent scene represents a diasporic collage of asses—face painted—rising from the ocean tide with the character of the artist (The Creator), modifying facial expressions with an oversized brush and palette. From the coast line an audience of picnickers spectate through technological mediation, either ironically ignorant or overly aware of their role as witness to a mythology catalyzing in the water.”
Wilson combines printmaking, painting, sculpture and video in her works and installations. The large scale paintings in the exhibition, Drawn and Window Sill, have videos embedded in the paintings expanding the narratives of the scenes. One of the most prominent themes of the work is connection, with imagery of cell phones, personal mementos, and figures embracing. Wilson lives in Carrizozo, an old railroad town in the high desert planes of New Mexico. Nature and her small town New Mexico environs are frequently represented in the paintings offering dense natural and economic paradigms at play in the work. By wearing only clothing that she makes herself, and jewelry made by her partner, Wilson further asserts artistic control over her relationship with the world.
The exhibition features a new video work by Wilson, Living Monument. The two-channel video presents footage on one screen of the removal of a confederate monument in New Orleans, the General Beauregard Equestrian Statue, in May 2017. The second screen depicts a covert performance by Wilson in which she dances at dawn atop the remaining base of the statue before she was forced to leave the premises by law enforcement. Inspired by the vibrant tradition of second-line parades in New Orleans, Wilson employs the empty base as a pedestal to be acted upon– celebrating, in a hand-painted costume, the life force of the moment.
Paula Wilson received an MFA from Columbia and a BFA from Washington University in St. Louis, MO. Wilson first exhibited with Denny Dimin Gallery in a group exhibition called The Unhomely in 2017. Wilson’s most recent solo exhibitions were Spread Wild: Pleasures of the Yucca at Smack Mellon (2018), FLOORED at Williamson | Knight (2018), Salty & Fresh at Emerson Dorsch Gallery, Miami FL (2017) and The Backward Glance at Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, Omaha, NE (2017). She has been included in four exhibitions at the Studio Museum in Harlem, exhibitions at Skidmore College (2015), Inside-Out Art Museum in Beijing (2014), Postmasters Gallery (2010), Weatherspoon Art Museum, Greensboro, NC (2010), Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (2009), Zacheta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw (2007), Sikkema Jenkins & Co. (2013 and 2006), just to name a few. She has been featured in publications such as Hyperallergic, Artforum, The New York Times, the New York Observer, and The New Yorker. Wilson’s artwork is in many prestigious collections including The Studio Museum in Harlem, the New York Public Library, Yale University, Saatchi Gallery, and The Fabric Workshop.