Dan’s Papers favorite Charles Wildbank returns to the cover with another stunning work of photorealism for our January 28, 2022 issue. We spoke to him about this week’s 2020-inspired cover art, his most inspirational moments of 2021 and his goals for 2022.
What inspired this week’s cover art, “Grand Florale: 2020?”
A moment of inspiration struck me on a sunny spring day of 2020 with all the daffodils opening up in streams of riotous color, almost every variety collected. The garden was breathtakingly beautiful, but all the world was being held hostage in a seemingly perpetual lockdown. In spirit of renewed but cautious cheer, I got this idea of an obscenely profuse floral arrangement to memorialize the year 2020 and contacted my floral designer friend, Andrew Pascoe, whom I’ve collaborated with, on and off, over a span of 25 years. During spring of 2021, I brought my bundle of daffodils over to Andrew’s shop in Oyster Bay and we got to work together in the back of his shop with my camera. There was a catch to this project: I wanted this floral painting to reflect the disturbance of that year 2020. The result is what we have in view on the cover today.
How was this piece created?
The photographs are reviewed and edited thoughtfully on my laptop. Extra features are edited into the floral setup to signify best our dreaded lockdown experience. I’ve added some living creatures, a cat and a bird, as natural enemies for tension among several symbolic items into the arrangement including my COVID face mask in its periphery spread across the edge of its table. In midst of all this sits a bronze statuette of Buddha from my personal collection, as having two faces, happy or sad, like the Roman god Janus. This Buddha is showing to have no ears, so I’d like that to represent my deafness also.
To start this project, a large canvas 10 feet wide and 12 feet long was prepared and heavily primed with two coats of white gesso paint and charted lightly with a grid of 99 squares marked in penciled crosshairs. Without need of scaffolding for this giant canvas inside my studio, I rolled away half of it so that only 6 feet height of working canvas space faces me directly within my arm’s reach in all directions. I would spend months working on this lower first half until completed before I unroll the remaining top blank canvas portion to finish later. The entire painting took me approximately six months, although I admit to sneaking away for a few trips abroad thus giving my aching muscles their deserved break. With the end of the year as my estimated date of completion, I found myself burning the midnight oil as its deadline loomed near. Typically, I’d spend a solid day on just one flower head or two. Most challenging were the endless folds of rose petals with its very subtle hues of varying colors blending together.
In all, my objective for this painting is to convey that climate of fear, uncertainty, doubt and that pending danger having permeated all throughout the year 2020. Contrasting all this would be that soothing effect of the multitude of colorful flowers signifying hope and the diversity of the world’s people. I’d christen this mural as the “Grand Florale” as if a final note to a tragic performance.
What makes this artwork such an ideal fit for a Dan’s Papers cover, and what does this bring your total number of covers to?
What a better way to celebrate that most of us have made it through that dark year 2020 into the new year to this day! … I have lost count of how many art covers I have done for this popular Dan’s Papers magazine. Could this be my 18th cover art? Thank you for having included my art contributions through all these years!
How do you approach capturing the living essence of your painting subjects?
The artistic act of creation can be a blur of intense activity for its creator. In hindsight, I noticed that I took extra care to employ the tools of illusion of depth, and that includes transitions of heavy saturation of color toward weaker hues, sharp focus in certain areas toward soft blur effects, and a play of light against the shadows. All of these visual effects are intended to help guide the viewer, myself included, into the depths of the scene in order that we can become part of that scene in some kind of engaging illusionary envelopment. If its effect is trancelike then it is working to my satisfaction. The overall idea is to instill through illumination the effect of appearance of a gentle sun appearing through the dark clouds after a storm has passed.
What was one of the most exciting or inspirational moments of 2021 for you?
As each day of the year 2020 has passed inside my studio, I became increasingly overtaken and absorbed into this mural. Each passing day, much to my delight, each completed flower would sing out its full color coming into life within my studio in increments. Punctuated into my schedule were my spontaneous trips to Florence, Italy for its art treasures and to Jordan for its geological and archeological wonders at Petra and Wadi Rum. What was satisfying about these trips is that I was able to redeem those credit vouchers from those COVID-cancelled reservations of 2020. It was my fifth visit of a lifetime to Florence, and I got to know this wonderful city more afoot. In Jordan, for the first time, I rented a car and navigated the entire country from the Syrian border in the north, down south, flanked by Dead Sea, down to the Red Sea for snorkeling. Wadi Rum, just a short drive from the Red Sea port, is like the Grand Canyon of Jordan and great for camping. Daily temperatures of 106 by the day would simmer down to more comfortable lower 70s at night. I slept beneath the starry heavens as my canopy through the night observing the Milky Way overhead for the first time. I was alone throughout most of the trip, save for a few meetings with old friends in town by day. COVID protection was foremost in mind as I had wished to be able to pass the COVID tests in order to safely return to my studio to complete the much awaited mural. Needless to stay, the year 2021 has contrasted greatly against the relatively dim sedentary year of 2020.
To top it off for 2021, the “Grand Florale” has been sold quickly within days of its unveiling. I am happy that this painting has found its home in a lovely spacious Long Island home of one of my art collectors, a beautiful family who share a great passion for art and living.
What are some projects you hope to accomplish in 2022?
There are some large mural developments in mind and not unlike the “Grand Florale” mural, I wish to incorporate the archaic with the contemporary, almost appearing as anachronisms. That “Grand Florale” piece has incorporated some of the earlier traditions of the Dutch masters of the Golden Age in 14th century. Upon first glance, my painting would appear like a Flemish floral save for its objects from the 21st century in view. I would liken that to some form of neo-classic realism.
To see more of Wildbank’s works, schedule an appointment for his Jamesport studio or sign up for his “Guestbook” monthly newsletter, visit wildbankfineart.com. Find him on social media @charleswildbank on Instagram and @wildbank on Facebook.