Gallery America

S6 E3 | FULL EPISODE

Jason Wilson: Painter of Quilts

Surrounded by quilts growing up, McAlester artist Jason Wilson paints abstract art that he likens to quilts. His creativity requires a detailed, time-consuming process to build geometric-puzzle pieces that seem to defy dimension. As this episode of OETA's Gallery America shows, Qu'aint – an Oklahoma collective of quilters – are now turning Jason's paintings back into quilts in surprising ways.

AIRED: October 01, 2020 | 0:27:44
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TRANSCRIPT

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Next on Gallery America, a McAllester artist paints with

geometric hard-edged style to make his grandmas proud. I hope

they would be proud of what I've accomplished. And I hope to take

this even further. An artist from Ohio uses surprising

materials to patch together. His abstract quilts and a Louisiana

artist uses symbols and books to create a distinctive style of

painting.

Hello, Oklahoma, I'm Robert Reed. Welcome to Gallery

America. The show that brings you the best of art in Oklahoma

and around the nation. If you haven't noticed it's quilt

season, everyone loves quilts, right? I grew up with quilts. My

mom made them. I always felt extra special when I'm bundled

up in one. But the first artist we're meeting today, a painter

and McAllester really, really grew up with quilts so much so

that he was surrounded by quilts growing up and they sparked a

lifelong obsession. That's led to a distinct style of painting.

That's booming in Oklahoma and beyond meet Jason Wilson. When I

create my paintings, I want them to be perfect. I want there to

be no distractions. I want the edges to be really hard edge. I

don't want you to see paintbrush strokes. I want it to be so

clean and so precise that it's just like, wow, that's a

painting.

I'm Jason Wilson. I have, uh, been an art teacher in

the state of Oklahoma. Uh, for 31 years, I'm now a professional

artist trying to be and see what happens

with that. I'm known kind of as a painter of quilts, I embrace

that. I think it's part of the legacy that I hope to leave.

I've always had art in my life. Growing up as a child. I

remember going to my grandma's house. The quilts would be

hanging, uh, from the, from the ceiling. And I used to be

fascinated the designs and the patterns in those quilts and

especially the 3d ones. Ma Wilson was my great grandma. She

was in the paper a lot for her quilts. She made quilts for, uh,

several of the democratic, uh, presidents and governors, but

only the Democrat. She was quite a character. She'd tell you

exactly what she thought. This quilt at least 55 years old.

And, uh, and it was made by Ma Wilson. Why do I keep the quilts

that I have for my grandmas? I cherish those because now they

become a part of me because of the art that I have developed

out of the style of seeing and being inspired by their quilts.

When I start a painting of my traditional style, I will draw

it to scale on a piece of grid paper. It kind of goes back to

the technique and quilting where they did quiltings by blogs, but

I do it on grid paper. Then I get the canvas and I start

bringing that up to the canvas.

It has to be so precise because

if you, if you get it

off lines, won't match. I had my students through the years would

tell me, mr. Wilson, that's cheating. You're using tape. I

can do that. And I'd say, here, go do it about two days later,

they'd bring it back up. Okay, mr. Wilson, you can do that. I

can't quite handle it. And it took me years to discover this,

to figure it out. You know, this brush here was the big secret

because I learned to varnish those edges, basically.

I decide

the colors after I have the, uh, grid drawing, I will draw it to

the canvas and then I will set it aside. And I may wait three,

four weeks before I start, because I'm trying to figure out

the color scheme. And it's weird because then you start painting

in your head at night. And so those colors end up kind of

coming from your dreams because you go to sleep and you're

dreaming about this piece. And those colors sometimes end up

being the colors that you use in the actual painting. It's

tedious, but I enjoy it and not everybody does. So a lot of

times people think that it's computer generated and sometimes

they think that insults me. But to me, that's a compliment that

I can, I can get it that clean. That's the part that scared me

the most after the wreck.

In October, October the 7th I was

in a very serious car accident. I was on my

way to work. And, uh, I was in head on collision. I had three

fractured ribs, a fractured sternum, a severe head injury

with a severe concussion. My ankle was bent completely in two

and crushed. I was scared that I wouldn't, I wouldn't be able to

return to what I loved

In this world, we can't control

anything. It's just chaotic. But when I am creating net painting,

that's the one thing I can't control. I remember going into

the dining room and sitting down and developing a grid painting

because I wanted to know that I could still come up with an

idea. So I sat down and I drew this piece out, uh, on the grid

paper. And it ended up being the first painting completed after

the wreck it's called fractured.

I know that some of my paintings

are very busy and they can, that can be part of the reaction they

provoke. I think a lot of our does need to be seen from a

distance because from a distance is when that visual movement

happens. That's kind of goes back to the perceptual art

people, see what they want to see in it. Sometimes the ones

that I think are, I don't like that, the first one's a sale

because somebody else will see it and they love it. I had

always thought, well, I've, I'm, I'm doing art inspired by my

grandmas and great grandma's quilts and the patterns I see of

other quilts.

I wanted to bring together a group of professional quilters

who would take the paintings that I had painted inspired by

quilts, and then would do quilts inspired by those paintings. And

so I've been dreaming about this for a long time. And so I put a

deal on Facebook, if you're a professional quilter, and you're

interested in, in going down this journey together, where

you're doing quilts inspired by my paintings, and I'm doing

paintings inspired by your quilts, just let me know. I was

wondering, who is this person? So I looked him up. And when I

saw his paintings, I knew right away, I wanted to make quilts

based on his paintings.

I just kind of went Gaga. I let his use

of color. I really liked the strong geometric sense that I

had. I said, Oh my gosh, this guy is basically just a painting

quilts. It's a neat group of people because all seven of them

are different. And that's what I wanted. Qu'aint is Q U for

quilting. And the aint part is for painting. We don't copy it.

We just do an interpretation of his painting. Well, I took the

basic components he had here of the stripes and the cross bars I

wanted to with this piece show, not only what was going on, but

highlights in, in darkness. So the boom power came from from

actual comic book, but also the way that this, this, uh,

drawings I've put together,

is very much what you would see in a graffiti out in

the street. We've been calling it the invasion quilt, as soon

as I saw this, cause I was like, Oh, I don't know what I'm gonna

do. And then I saw that and I was just like that's it. And, uh,

it was just like, this is like a spider bot.

If Ma Wilson come

in here, she would be astounded. The colors. People always

already look at painting as a fine art. And we'd like to see

them see quilting more as a fine art and not just a craft. The

people who put those together really took the time to think

about how the colors work together, how the patterns work

together and to create something beautiful. We have, they'll see

on the wall, how beautiful or they are together. Maybe to make

people look a little closer and we might just step up and show a

Houma, first of all, show the United States and who knows,

maybe show the world. But, uh, the Midwestern art quilts and

art can be like, I haven't seen anything like quite yet. And I

think that's pretty good because I think it's going to give us,

uh, something unique to offer the, the art world. This is kind

of just a dream come true. To be honest with you, that we finally

have gotten to this point. And I look forward to continuing

because we still want to go

further. I often think what would my grandmas think about

this? I think that they would enjoy seeing what I've done and

I hope they would be proud of what I've accomplished. Now I'm

in national shows, I'm in several publications. I've been

in my first book I was published in this year. Uh, it's just, it

blows my mind where I've gone since 2014. It's just amazes me

that, that the journey has been as successful as it has been.

And I'm enjoying every second of it. I love it.

Did you enjoy

that? Well, good news. You can see Jason's artwork and the

quilts from quaint right here at the vault and Paul's Valley,

Oklahoma through November. Meanwhile, keep up with Jason's

artwork and his Instagram account at art by Jason Wilson.

Also, we have a bonus video of the quilters from quaint that

you can only see online, check it out at our Instagram account

@OETAGallery. Now who's up for more quilts. Here is an Ohio

based artist who stitches together, stunning quilts using

something very different details from photos. He's taken, have a

look.

I'm originally from Toronto Canada. I came to the

United States to go to graduate school. I met my wife there in

South Carolina. We moved to Illinois and then back to Ohio

because it's closer to home. So kind of a classic story. Really.

I've always been interested in patterns, you know, shapes,

squares triangles. So when I send it to make a

photo quilt, a quilt made a photo sewn together. I start

with an image. So this, this is an image of, um, the North

market. So I'm going to use this photo and I'm going to make it's

mirror image for the bottom half of the quilt. I'll cut these two

inches off. And then the next layer, I'll cut a one on one or

three quarters and a little bit off of here. And then I March it

down like this. So by the end, by the top row, I'm using these,

this, this is my foreign square. So the effect, this creates is

from the top to the bottom, that the, the source image shifts

slightly and changes and these lines, which are at odd angles,

um, really lend this dynamism. They, they intersect in really,

uh, interesting ways that create diamond shapes and points and

spikes.

She'll post they're made with fabric. And so often, you

know, the story is, uh, this is my grandma's apron and this is

my aunt Myrtle's dress that she wore to Sunday school. And for

me, I can capture memories through photographs. I can, I

can identify patterns or places or things, and then use them in

much the same way, make a quilt out of those instead about a

fabric. And so it's all about, you know, exploring the city,

finding interesting viewpoints, finding things that reach out to

me as a, as a really dynamic image. And then I cut

them up and sew them together and see what happens.

When I was in Illinois, I started working on a

pattern called log cabin, which is sort of a square with the

strips all the way around that. Just repeat and repeat and

repeat, which kind of gives the effect of a log cabin. And I was

in the land of Lincoln when I came to Ohio a little over 10

years ago. Um, you know, I was thinking and exploring, I found

this Ohio star pattern. And so the, the Ohio star pattern it's

called the nine patch quilt. There's a group of patterns

called that because there are three squares by three squares.

And so this one, uh, four of the squares have triangles that sort

of form an X. And so the thing I like about these is you get

these where these four triangles come together, you get these

sort of kaleidoscopic diamond spots, and then there's this

pattern that sort of repeats a square triangle square, but we

put an X to another block it's square, triangle square. So

right. When you think you've discovered the pattern square

triangle square, that's not a triangle, that's another square.

And it it's to my eye. It's complicated enough that you have

to sort of look twice to really figure it out. And I don't

always feel like when I'm looking at it that I've figured

it out. One thing I really try to do with my work is, is to

create objects that you

can appreciate both up close and from a distance. So from a

distance, it almost looks like a carpet or wallpaper or

interesting shapes. And then you get a close and you go, Hey,

there's a person there. They're walking down an aisle. Is that

the North market? And you kind of look and go, that's the North

market. I love fabric quilts. I make fabric quilts, my wife and

I make fabric quilts together. But for me, there's something

about photographs and sewing them together. And I guess maybe

it's the, um, the resolution, the clarity you can get with a

photograph that really sets it apart from fabric. I think my

work is sort of about noticing the beauty around us and, uh,

you know, sort of stopping and pausing and appreciating it in,

in, in a way maybe we haven't before.

Last, we go to Louisiana

to meet an artist with a studio that is just jam packed with

little symbols and keepsakes and heirlooms and Oh yeah, James

Joyce novels. These are the passions of artists, Heather,

Ryan Kelly, and she often merges all of them into a single piece

of artwork that she's exhibited around the world. This is her

twist on a traditional style of painting called the neatness,

which is like a still life made with little symbols. It's quite

interesting. Have a look.

Vanitas painting is a convention of

painting that uses objects in a symbolic way. Vanitas symbols

would include things that are

fleeting, like a flower that will quickly fade or a soap

bubble, maybe even things like money or beauty or all of those

things that are transitory and temporary. And so the paintings

were really meant to be like a moral Prague to you to focus on

what's important. And I'm interested in vanitas painting

just because it has this whole tradition to it. But also I'm

interested in developing my own vanitas symbols objects are

important to me. As you can see from looking around my house,

the objects are like protagonists acting out the

ideas for me. And so I'll have objects that I've either found

or have been given to me and I'll use them in my paintings to

work out ideas that I'm thinking about. And the other category

besides object painting or paintings that are related to

the writings of James Joyce and for the last 20 years or so,

I've been thinking my way through Finnegan's wake, which

is a complicated and rich source as a point of departure. Really,

it all started when I was a freshman at Southern Methodist

university, my literature class, we read portrait of the artist

and Dubliners, and I loved those books. And I remember one day my

teacher had said, well, if you liked portrait, then you'll

probably like Ulysses. And if you like Ulysses, then there's,

Finnegan's wake. And he said, it's almost impossible to grasp

and get your mind around. And so those words stayed with

me for years and years. I finally did come around to

reading Ulysses and I loved it. I heard my grandmother's quirky

phrases in it, my Irish grandmother, right in my, and

all her scatological logical sense of humor and her fear of

thunder, all of that was present in Ulysses. When I was reading

Ulysses, my first instinct was to do these drawings. There were

related to the text, but they're not exactly illustration.

Ulysses plays with styles, most novels. There's a story that

goes forward and their characters and all of that. But

Joyce's work is a very predetermined in a way it's

about itself. So the series of paintings allowed me to play

with artistic styles and reference different time periods

in that little series. And then when I kind of worked my way

through Ulysses, I thought, well, then there's Finnegan's

way can. So I turned to that and I've been caught in the web of

Finnegan's wake. That's a remarkable book and Finnegan's

wake even more. So is about itself. If you know about

Ulysses or Finnegan's wake, you'll get a certain kind of

content from the work. But I think it's important for the

work to stand on its own. Illustration tends to be very

dependent upon the text, and you have to know the text in order

to appreciate it. But I'm interested in making works that

have a resonance in themselves on the very first page of

Finnegan's wake there's a hundred

letters, thunder word. And so I did a series of prints based

upon the 10th. Under words, that cycle of Prince is in the

collection of the New York public library and the Harry

ransom center over at the university of Texas. I was able

to show some of the workspace upon Finnegan's wake last summer

in Antwerp at the Royal Academy of art connected to the

university of Antwerp. And then the summer before I started work

in Toronto, also at a choice conference there, I like to work

with oil just because it's an expressive medium. It gives you

some time to play. You can model the surfaces in a way that's

harder to do with acrylic. This painting is based upon a couple

of sources. A very early memory of mine is I was born in new

Haven, Connecticut, and I was sitting on the driveway in the

winter time. And there was snow on the driveway. I was probably

three or four years old, quite early. And I remember moving

away the snow and seeing the rocks of the driveway beneath

the snow that was there. And just the appearance of that I

thought was lovely. It struck me as a child and that memory is

still with me. There are Milagros in the painting and

there little votive elements that are associated with Mexican

religious worship, and they're often attached to a statue and

so forth, but the eye and the ear are referenced to Finnegan's

wake because it's something that you need to read it with your

eyes, but hear it with your ears while you're reading it. It's

very, almost physically interactive of a book. The

rabbit doesn't have necessarily symbolic over toured, but I

liked just the appearance of the rabbit. Also there's a little

book Mila grow that references the many books that I love to

read. Finnegan's wake at that painting is a vanitas painting.

It has a clock in it. Oftentimes there are time pieces that are

referenced as subject matter in vanitas paintings. The clock in

this piece is one that was from my family, but also there's a

hand of blessing that is on my studio wall. And there's a vase

that belonged to my grandmother. So there's a lot of family

history. That's pulled together in the painting on the right

hand passage of the pain. There's a black and white

passage. That's based upon a photograph of Phoenix park.

There's an obelisk in the background and a water in the

foreground. The penny that seems to be a purse is called her

devotions. And it has a lot of religious medals and ribbons.

And there are Milagros on the surface of the purse or this

bag. It's a woven kind of a sisal bag, I believe is the

material. And it's inside of my closet in my room. It's almost

like a shrine inside of there. And so it's a very faithful

rendering of this bag.

I've been working on a series for a long time paintings of

books that are Trump lawyer and the term Trump lawyer means a

full year. I, I render the books about twice life size, but I try

to render them with as much information about the surface as

possible. So this book is something I've found. I actually

probably found it in the trash pile and it was utterly

destroyed. The cover is torn. The binding is coming off of it,

but it has this beautiful kind of form to it. And so I rendered

the book in all of its kind of sad condition. And that's part

of the series. In addition to painting, I make artists books

and what artists books are, is simply artwork. That takes the

form of the medium of a book. This one is a hard hardcover

accordion book called a battle. I initially made a collage and

this is a digital version of that. But the accordion as a

wonderful sculptural form of a book, it can be held in your

hand and read almost as a, uh, as a codex book, or it can be

set up on the table and viewed as a sculpture. I have blank

books. This is a book that is related to Finnegan's. Wake

story. Yellow is actually shown in Antwerp last year. There's a

box of books called the mid and heap in relation to Joyce. So

most of the work that I've done regarding

Finnegan's wake, there's a section of paintings, but a

large portion is related to artists books.

You can see more

of Heather's artwork by visiting her website, Heather Ryan,

kelly.com, and to see all the past episodes of Gallery

America, visit our website oeta.tv. Don't forget. You can see

bonus footage of our time with acquaint quilters by going to

our Instagram account @OETAGallery. Thanks so much to Susie

from the Vault here in Paul's Valley for having us and thank

you for joining us on Gallery America. I'm Robert Reed. And

until next time, remember, stay arty Oklahoma.

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