Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Three-fer: Wilkinson, Wildhorn, Gill

Last week I visited Michael Wilkinson’s studio in Manhattan, and it raised my spirits for days. One of Michael’s specialties is cast-acrylic sculptures of idealized figures, usually on romantic themes. I had seen photos of many of them on his website ( and expected to like them, but hadn’t anticipated the impact of seeing them in person, in three dimensions. Acrylic can be highly polished or sanded to a frosted finish. The outer planes can be angled in such a way that the images molded into it are reflected back at unexpected angles. Change the angle of the light or rotate the sculpture, and the effect is quite different.

Not all artists can talk coherently about what they do. Michael can. I was fascinated to listen to him discuss his aims for different pieces, and the ways in which he manipulated the material to make his intention a reality.

The piece that sticks in my mind is not an acrylic but a bronze: a small work called Sanctuary, which shows a woman leaning protectively over a man. Michael said the idea in his mind was that in a romantic relationship, there are times when one partner is exhausted by the outside world, and the other provides a sort of haven until the partner recovers.

I immediately heard a song in my mind: “You Are My Home,” from the Broadway musical The Scarlet Pimpernel (music by Frank Wildhorn). The words aren’t exactly the same concept as the sculpture, but they’re close; and I still get goosebumps when I think of the first time I heard that song performed on stage, with a dozen vocalists and an orchestra. So the Sanctuary sculpture gripped me not just visually, but via an auditory memory. (You can hear an excerpt from the song on iTunes by searching “You Are My Home.”)

Thinking of all the times in the past years that I’ve wished I could see the Pimpernel live on stage again reminded me, in turn, of an essay I recently read in A.A. Gill’s Previous Convictions. He pointed out that seeing a play live, on stage, is fundamentally different from seeing the same work on film. (Mind you, I wouldn’t want to live without film, even if I could afford to see a Broadway play every week.)

"Film performance is a vanity, it’s done for a mirror, it’s passed through a hundred hands. The audience is an abstract. There’s no middleman between you and a stage. Every time you see Olivier perform Othello on film it’s the same. You make no difference. What I saw onstage was unique. … You can see the same play again and again and it utterly changes. Every performance leaves a footprint, but it also leaves the text pristine and untouched. As I grow older, plays grow old with me. Their meanings change, the emphasis is different."

The same is true of sculpture: seeing the original work is very different from seeing a reproduction; and seeing it under different circumstances (whether it’s simply a different time of day, or the fact that you’re a year or two older) can make an enormous difference in what the work says to you. So if you’re lucky enough to live in a town with art galleries, museums, or artists’ studios, take an hour or two to drop by for a visit—not as a “chore” to prove you’re cultured, but for the chance it gives you to see something beautiful and, perhaps, to learn something more about yourself.

Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan, which was marketed as a guidebook to New York City sculpture, includes long sections on looking at art and figuring out why you react to a certain piece as you do. For beginners looking at art, see my blog entry on introducing kids to art.

The sculptures are Futurity and Sanctuary; art and photographs  copyright (c) Michael Wilkinson, all rights reserved.


Lind Cordair said...

Quent Cordair Fine Art is proud to represent Mr. Wilkinson. Many of his beautiful sculpture are on display in our Napa, Ca. gallery and on our website at

Mr. Wilkinson's sculpture is a beautiful depiction of life as it can and should be.

Philosophical Mortician said...

Regarding the landscapes of NYC, I personally believe that the best site to view Manhattan from the boroughs is the Kosciuszko Bridge - unfortunately there is no walkway.

Philosophical Mortician said...

Regarding the Manhattan skyline, I personally believe the best view of the skyline from the boroughs is from the Kosciuszko Bridge. Unfortunately there is no walkway.

chris miller said...

"The piece that sticks in my mind is not an acrylic but a bronze: a small work called Sanctuary"

Me too -- I wish he worked this way more often.