William Adjété Wilson

Wild, witty, and whimsical The title is not mine, but I wish it where, for it describes William Wilson's art perfectly. "Wild" illustrates the African part of William Wilson's work, coming from his Togolese ancestors. "Wit" is France's contribution, for William Wilson was born and educated in the Loire Valley. "Whimsy" is his own gift. It is what makes William Wilson's art so outstanding and so appealing. Whimsy gives elegance to Africa's extraordinary vitality, warmth to France's intellectual humour by using a fantasy that is ever changing yet always personal. At first glance, there might be nothing in common between pastel drawings, book illustrations, acrylic paintings, and "reconverted" chairs. However, it is immediately evident on looking at these different forms of art, that they are all the work of one artist. What are the main points in the formation of William Wilson's art ? The question should be asked for it is evident that such a original artist could not have the usual artistic training. In fact, he had little training at all and has often said that he became a artist in spite of himself. However, one may discern four major events in his artistic development. The first happened in 1972. When William Wilson left Orléans for Paris to study anthropology and philosophy, he discovered all the cultural opportunities of a big city. At the same time, he met a painter, Bernard Kagane, who although he had no influence on William Wilson's work stylistically, was important because he familiarized William Wilson with the idea that art was not something from outer space, but an everyday occurence. Soon after, he began making sketches but with no intention of being an artist as he was involved with many activities : fashion, journalism, music, etc. The sketches were almost psychoanalytic-related to his personal search for a synthesis of his bi-cultural heritage. The next major event took place in 1976 and was also a meeting, but in this case it was a meeting of minds. William Wilson discovered the art of Victor Brauner. One must remember that in the 70's in Paris, Brauner was rarely shown in museums or art galleries, having fallen into that purgatory which often imprisons an artist in the years following his death. What WAS being shown was Conceptual Art which emphasizes a more intellectual approach to art and suppresses color, form, feeling and may be art altogether. This artistic "school" could not possibly offer much to William Wilson. Brauner was another matter. Here was a 20th century artist who painted his own imaginary world just as the artists of the Middle Ages, Breughel or Bosch did. It was following this discovery that William Wilson began to draw large scale pastels. Pastels seemed a logical choice after pen and ink drawings as they introduced color and maintained a more spontaneous and direct contact with the paper's surface than would a brush dipped in paint. The choice of pastels showed that William Wilson was already an individualist in the art world, as the technique was rarely used in those days. However, William Wilson was still a little uncertain as to what the outcome would be. The outcome became evident in 1983 when a third important event took place in the form of a three-day exposition of his pastels in a studio lent to him by a friend. The public reaction was such that William Wilson felt that living as an artist was maybe possible. The possibility was helped in 1986 when William Wilson received the coveted price "Prix Médicis Villa Hors les Murs" which allowed him to stay for a year in New York in 1986-87. This is the fourth and last important event to date. Important in many ways. The price itself was a confirmation to the artist and the public at large of his undeniable talent. At the same time, being on your own in New York can be a humbling yet enriching experience. Humbling because the sheer size of the city is so colossal that one tends to feel a bit small. But New York can also be exhilarating. One feels that everything is possible. It was during his stay in New York that William Wilson produced his first easel acrylic paintings, his first book illustrations which took the form of a "Journal de Voyage" and just after his stay, the first work in three dimensions, which started his famous "hundred chairs" series. This series is based on the double heritage as is much of William Wilson's art. The use of waste, re-cycled and non-artistic materials is one of the major discoveries in 20th century Western art in general and sculpture in particular. But it is also an african attitude where ingenuity and fantasy transform waste materials into useful objects as well as artistic ones. Since 1988 while continuing to do paintings, book illustrations, prints, and chair-sculptures, William Wilson has ventured into many different worlds. The theater with set and costume designs for the "Compagnie Bagouet" of Montpellier; the opera "Histoire du Soldat" by Strawinsky and Ramuz; video-clips with Rita Mitsouko and Mory Kanté; publicity campagnes with Rodier Clothes and Arche Shoes. It is amusing to think that William Wilson, who says he feels more at home with medieval artists than those of the Renaissance, is really a Renaissance man-an artist who refuses to be imprisoned in one artistic discipline, who believes than a artist must be free, yet possessed by his own magical fantasies. To William Wilson being an artist means not necessarily being associated with an artistic "school" or group, not being classified by nationality or origin. It also means being free to say and prove that "anything" is NOT art, but on the contrary that art implies a certain rigor and perfection. Art as practised by William Wilson is a language immediately understood by all. Using a superb draftsmanship, great inventiveness, disarming humour, and a dash of mischief, he presents in a world of his own the common preoccupations of mankind-solitude, fear, uncertainty as well as wonder, hope and a sort of desperate joy in living. The idiom is highly personal, but the language and the sentiment expressed are universal. An authentic artist such as William Wilson is an individual, with the liberty to draw on and use all artistic traditions and forms. William Wilson's enormous talent is creating an art which with its wildness, it's wit and it's whimsey, has become a part of the artistic heritage of us all. Calla Denjoy


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