Hugo Wilson is one of the UK’s most promising young artists. He came to international attention in 2010 at the Busan Biennale, and in 2011 and 2012 respectively was offered 2 solo exhibitions at Project B Gallery Milan and Nicodim Gallery, LA. Wilson works across media including drawing, painting, installation and sculpture. He is decidedly contemporary, even avant-garde in his pursuit of discovering meaning in today’s world. However, he is clearly affected by history – not simply the chronology of the past, but the complicated story of art’s relationship with religion, science and the politics of Church and State.
Even when committing to a particular medium such as drawing, Wilson seems to find himself at an intersection with another field. It might be a scientific, Darwinian classification system, archaic medical experiments or the discovery of previously unknown cloud formations, but the ever-curious Wilson clearly enjoys working at the boundaries of different disciplines. He draws inspiration and energy from the cross-pollination of schools of thought.
Recent investigations have tempted Wilson into the world of ethnographic classification. Fascinated by the symbolic associations of particular persons or objects of faith, talismans and totems, he created a body of work that takes the form of thirty-two drawings displayed as a composite grid. It wasn’t so much the act of drawing a whole series of ‘special’ objects that intrigued him, but the experimental hypothesis that by drafting them in one medium (graphite on paper), according to one uniform scale and by removing them from their original context, the actual ‘power’ of the object would be laid bare and perhaps a new empirical system of classification would become possible – one that stems only from the physical appearance of the object rather than its associations. The motivation for this work comes from the philosophical notion known as ‘hauntology’, introduced by the twentieth- century French thinker Jacques Derrida. Derrida suggested that the present exists only in respect to the past and is persistently ‘haunted’ and drawn back to the ‘ghosts’ of ideas and aesthetics that have gone before.
Wilson’s meticulously rendered drawings bring together a disparate array of characters including Francisco de Zurbarán’s Agnus Dei, the famous Neolithic Mother Goddess figure known as the ‘Willendorf Venus’, shrunken heads, animal feet and the hooded figures of Seville’s ancient Nazareno Brotherhood. His extraordinary attention to detail captures the intricacies of every figure or object, with each hair picked out and delineated, and light, tone and form carefully modelled and sensitively translated. By attempting to treat his subjects as specimens that can be evaluated by the viewer through their appeal to the visual senses, Wilson perhaps succeeds in his mission of creating a new process of classification. Paradoxically, however, he also simultaneously reinforces Derrida’s claim, for society is so rooted in the strata of its religious and cultural history that unless one has been alienated from one’s own society, religious and cultural associations are triggered the moment one is confronted by an iconic image.
Wilson’s impressive work, and his investigative approach to drawing as a whole, reinforces and reinvigorates what artists have known for centuries: that drawing can be as important and exciting a process of discovery as any actual physical exploration.