The use of everyday settings as a springboard to examine the qualities of color, light and composition marked a departure for modern artists in the 19th century and has been a hallmark for contemporary realists since. Jerry Wilkerson is firmly imbedded in this tradition, as his one-man show titled “Past Tense” at the Atrium Gallery indicates. Aptly named for its many references to art history and nostalgia, Wilkerson’s exhibit of paintings, drawings and hand silkscreened quilts displays an increasing facility with color and light and a sophisticated eye.
More than ever before, Wilkerson’s work and attitude seems aligned with the concerns of the Impressionists. A strong colorist, the artist uses his by-now-familiar pointillist technique to achieve a luminosity and richness applied to common objects. In the modern idiom, Wilkerson treats the subject abstractly, redoing compositions using the same objects to explore different spatial relationships and colors. This show focuses on simple still life works composed solely of fruit or a single object and on “refrigerator still lifes.”
Wilkerson’s treatment of an object is deceptively simple. Viewed straightforwardly and handled delicately, the subject becomes at once prosaic and poetic. Often luminous, as in “Light Bulb” or “Golden Pears,” these objects take on a life and vitality that seems almost spiritual.
The newer “refrigerator still lifes” are very interesting. Seemingly random views of the inside of a refrigerator, they take on an intimacy and become disarming portraits. Poignant, but far from sentimental, compositions such as “Easter Morning” and “K.F.C. with Olives” are both beautiful and personal. To this reviewer, they seem a welcome blend of abstraction and con- tent. Mixing a quirky combination of food products, often including carry-out boxes, the detail of the packaging often makes humorous commentary, as in “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.”
All the works in the exhibit make some reference to the past, often with a direct nod to art history. This nod is not always reverent, as we see in “Lobster After Marsden Hartley,” or in “Soup Can After Warhol,” but Wilkerson is actively acknowledging and exploring his influences in a way that is both interesting and witty. Included in the show are tributes to Van Gogh, Cezanne, Hartley and Warhol. In addition to his art history, Wilkerson examines his cultural history and uses the medium of quilting in two pieces in the show. Dis- playing a wonderful mix of traditional- ism and contemporary design, Wilkerson mixes simple images in sophisticated colors and traditional patterns to achieve a personal statement.
Do still lives run deep? Asked if he was trying to make some kind of statement about food, or Chinese food, or take-out food, or if he just liked to eat the stuff, Wilkerson drawled, “Oh, well, yes, I eat everything I paint.” Like his work, Wilkerson is deceptively simple and just plain funny.
This is Wilkerson’s 12th one-man show in St. Louis. He also exhibits in New York, New Orleans and Kansas City, Mo., regularly. “Past Tense” will continue through Jan. 9 at the Atrium Gallery in the Old Post Office, 815 Olive St.