Jerry Wilkerson paints his food as painstakingly as Julia Childs prepared hers, tempting our aesthetic appetites with oversized images of the food we commonly eat. Painting with dots (individually applied dabs of unmixed colors), he creates delightfully upbeat works such as a 3-foot-square painting of an apple, an onion and a giant-sized rendering of a lobster dinner.
Not only is Wilkerson’s subject matter easy to relate to, but the man himself is pleasantly relaxed and unpretentious. In a recent interview, the local artist discussed his current show, which is on view through June 10 at the Carol Shaprio Gallery, 329 N. Euclid. The exhibit, entitled “A Ten Year Survey,” features major paintings and drawings from 1973 to 1983.
“Each time 1 do a painting it’s a basically the same, but then I do it a different way.” Wilkerson explains. “This work has really kept me interested for 10 years. There’s a lot of different things I can do with it…I do self-portraits using food.”
Wilkerson’s art is engagingly humorous. It provides an uplifting experience for artist and viewer. “Painting food is fun,” muses
Wilkerson. “I like the textures and colors and working with the shapes and forms.
“People can relate to my work in some way. Some people say to me, ‘Who’s going to buy pictures of food? A lot of people do. They buy one and end up coming back for more. They like the dots. They like the food. They like the humor.”
Wilkerson initially captures the viewer’s attention by depicting images chosen for their popular ap-
flatness and those hard edges.”
A 5-foot-square painting of three puppies frolicking outdoors with a red ball marks Wilkerson’s first “paint-by-number’ work. The flat surface colors are duplicated directly from the paint-by-number kit but the artist chose his own tones for the dots. Those dots are essential for transforming dull coloring book imagery into an artistic design of modeled surfaces.
When Wilkerson decided to use his own subject matter, he turned to food. “I primarily paint things I like…I like working with everyday things that are around me. he explains. The artist first depicted magazine pictures of food, and now he sets up culinary still lifes and photographs them himself.
Change and innovation in Wil-
very technical process.” He continues, “I put my colored drawing into the Xerox machine, and it is photographed. Next the machine separates the colors through the use of filters. I transfer that to a black and white copy. Then I experiment with the composition- adding dots and eliminating dots.”
Fate brought the artist and the machine together. “I happened to be at the Brady Drake Center when they delivered the machine,” Wilkerson recalls. “They were training a man to use it and I overheard the demonstration. The man quit, and no one knew how to use the machine except me.”
The machine now influences the artist to the point of dictating his palette. “The colors of my drawing pens are determined by the colors used in the Xerox machine,” Wilkerson admits. **They’re printer’s colors and they are not really set up for artists. In
their primary colors red is shocking pink, blue is sky blue, and yellow is a high chromo yellow. My paintings also basically start
with these types of colors but I mix them and use a brighter range.”
Wilkerson often designs his works by using a mixed-media approach-combining aesthetic ingredients into collage form. “Self-
Portrait with a Coffee Cup” is a mixed-media piece composed of drawings and color copies of drawings mounted on a 40-inch-by-15-inch rectangular board. One sees an open pack of cigarettes, a coffee cup (a copied image borrowed from an earlier drawing).
[missing text] -peal and recognition. Beyond that, he holds one’s interest by his skillful transformation of mundane,
commonplace objects into works of art.
Philosophically akin to the 1960s’ Pop Art movement, Wilkerson elevates everyday imagery into aesthetic experiences. Just as Claus Oldenburg converted banal objects into sculptures by changing their textures (he made hard things soft and soft things hard), Wilkerson alters the scale of foods to create his art (small things become large). Blown up larger than life,
the portrayal of a sales check and two fortune cookies served at the end of a Chinese meal, results in a captivating still-life painting.
Stylistically, the dots link Wilkerson to the French Impressionist movement. One hundred years ago, Georges Seurat developed a system called Pointillism by which thousands of uniformly sized dots were applied to a canvas in pure colors that blended together when seen from a distance. Wilkerson adopts the same calculated and demanding method of working.
The “Ten Year Survey” of 25 acrylic paintings and felt pen drawings reflects the evolution of Wilkerson’s style. Prior to 1973, he painted interior scenes with a “paint-by-number” approach- breaking up the composition into areas of flat color. This next led to his actual use of paint-by-number pictures.
“The paint-by-numbers was someone else’s subject and I wanted to do more with it,” Wilkerson said. “I blew up the image,
[Wil]kerson’s art of the past decade was more apparent in his technique than his subject matter. Works now begin by painting dots onto a bare canvas instead of applying dots over flat painted areas. Different color values of light, medium and dark dots form shapes and shadows. Transparent glazes are used to tone down bright areas of white.
“All my work starts out as drawings in life-size,” says Wilkerson. “When I paint I go to a much larger scale. The paintings take a long time to do and they are hard. They’re physically and mentally difficult. I put down one dot at a time.
“Usually it starts off very mechanically-laying down colors. After awhile it starts changing. I do more shadows. I start working with other colors. Close up, it’s just dots, but when you back up, you see some kind of form and darks and whites.”
The time-consuming, laborious nature of Wilkerson’s art limits him to three or four paintings a year. He also produces several
drawings each month. Working on a few pieces concurrently, one painting may take more than a year to complete.
While influenced by the traditions of Impressionism, Pop Art and even Realism, Wilkerson nevertheless is an artist of the ’80s. He has ingeniously incorporated contemporary technology into his creative process through the use of a color copying machine. It is as integral a tool in his work as is his paint brush.
has managed to artfully blend diverse influences into an eclectic style reflecting his background and professional training. Wilkerson studied commercial art at Lamar University in his hometown of Beaumont, Texas. While obtaining a masters of fine arts degree at Washington University, he majored in painting but also worked in electrical sculpture.
“I have a commercial art back- ground,” remarks the artist. “My dad owned a newspaper. I worked a lot in layout, so I have a working knowledge of dots and halftones.’ Ironically, the color copying machine is so compatible with Wilkerson’s artistic style that it produces halftone images (breaking colored lines into dots). “But since I work in dots I do the half- toning myself,” he adds.
Presently Wilkerson resides in St. Louis but his paintings and drawings are exhibited in galleries throughout the country including New York, Chicago, New Orleans and Arizona. His work is part of the permanent collections of the St. Louis Art Museum and Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum.
What lies ahead for the artist? His plans focus on a 1984 New York gallery show of drawings. Currently he has returned to work on an early sculpture (a fig newton pyramid) and is photographing promising subjects for future paintings such as escargot, standing rib roast and chili dogs. One thing the viewer can expect- when Wilkerson prepares a new visual menu, he will provide food for thought!