We were very pleased to be invited to the Whitford Gallery for the opening of their Exhibition Frank Avray Wilson, Expressionist Paintings 1953-1963
Born in Mauritius in 1914 of Anglo-Irish and French parents, Frank Avray Wilson spent his early childhood on the Indian Ocean island before attending Brighton College and St John’s College, Cambridge. He marvelled at the natural beauty of the island’s flora, fauna and minerals, and first became enamoured of the fundamental vitality of a painted image whilst studying cell structure through a microscope. His philosophical interests went far beyond the pre-war tendency to find art in science, seeking and insisting on a transcendentalism to counter the atheist or materialist credo of the post-war existential age.
Although superficially abstract, Avray Wilson’s compositions were always informed by the visual stimuli of his life both in Mauritius and in the lab at Cambridge: the broken planes of mineral and molecular structures, the cellular ensembles of a leaf and the vibrancy of the tropical island are all reflected in his strong thickly-laden impastos of Blue Constellation c1954 or Blue Conjugation 1954.
Avray Wilson always worked in a limited colour range, but particularly striking in this exhibition were his works in a range of sea blues and teals.
In his books and his paintings, Avray Wilson tried to demonstrate how being human is intrinsically tied to an aesthetic sensibility. He believed profoundly that artistic activity is a necessary part of being fully human.
Having written, painted, exhibited and worked in stained glass throughout the 50s and 60s Avray Wilson was sufficiently traumatised by the death of his only son from leukaemia in 1967 to not only stop creating but to withdraw from the art world for over two decades.
Consequently, Avray Wilson’s work in the present offers a time capsule, a frozen view of one of Britain’s first and most dynamic abstract expressionist painters whose work invites the viewer to engage with an important period in British Art History in isolation from modern developments in the genre.