The COVID-19 pandemic forced East Enders to collectively cancel or postpone long-scheduled plans and trips, then sit and wait for the green light to begin planning once more. With new model bookings now unthinkable, Jamesport artist Charles Wildbank turned to a unique muse who had sparked a curiosity in him some time ago, and the resulting portraits are truly inspiring. He reflects on his experience painting young Orion, life in lockdown and how solitude has affected his latest works.
How have the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing changed your art-creation process?
If it hadn’t been for this pandemic, I would be teaching painting right now in Florence and Venice, Italy. All my painting workshops for 2020 have been cancelled, flights and bookings included. I took retreat into my studio finding myself spending more time alone in solitude. I still have my gardens and nearby beach to decompress as usual. This sudden transition would call for increased internet presence, so I created instructional videos and online auctions for this. I am so grateful for my having established this online presence as early as the year 2000.
How have your inspiration sources shifted since social distancing began, and why? Where do you continue to draw inspiration from?
There have been some adjustments as I had previously booked models for studio sessions, something I had wanted to initiate, only to find these engagements had to be cancelled. To circumvent this “stay at home” policy, I began reaching out online, portraying select subjects. There were some interesting notables I had in my sights to paint their portrait someday. During the lockdown, I chose [Orion], a deaf, blind, albino, 9-year-old kid, whom I had a pressing curiosity for and befriended his family over the years. He reminded me of my previous visits to the Helen Keller Center for the Blind, only he has a double whammy of being deaf. In finishing this painting last week, I created a frame for it with an etching of one of my poems in braille on the frame’s perimeter. This has been a successful—and fun too—collaboration with the parents who shared photos for this long-distance project. For me, this portrait conveys that sense of imposed isolation of deafness and blindness, especially the ravages of disease in quarantine. This type of portraiture is meaningful on a personal level and is a most delightful new trend for me.
Have you noticed a change in your art’s subject matter or genre/style from pre-social distancing to now? Have you created any works that stand out as uniquely inspired by these times, and if so, can you discuss the process behind the creation?
It is, perhaps, too early to tell if my art subject matter has shifted, as I’ve been creating portraits since age 9 when my grandmother purchased my first paint set. I did, however, notice an increase in sensitivity toward the nuances of color and their shifting hues. It is this increased opportunity for distraction-free solitude that, perhaps, made this shift. There is also a greater shift coming from the public in my correspondence expressing a greater appreciation for art and life.
Would you say your color palette and themes have gotten darker or brighter overall since social distancing began, and why?
I am mindful of the words of painter Paul Gauguin from his final years in exile in Tahiti and Marquesas, “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?” It was during a very difficult time, with bouts of serious illness and attempted suicide according to his personal letters. He dealt with themes of life, death, poetry and symbolic meaning that we as artists relate often with and deal with, especially today in our lockdown.
What words of insight, inspiration or encouragement would you like to offer to your fellow artists, and to all those who enjoy your work?
I have come to the realization that we are now facing a very different new world, undergoing massive restructuring and mending hopes with vision. It is perhaps to be a world demanding of greater introspection and solid fact-finding with an increased reliance upon science and truth, truthfully. The world hopefully would continue to look up to the artists, not just artists particularly, but finding that other artist within for inspirational answers.
To view more of Charles Wildbank’s stunning portraits and other works, visit wildbankfineart.com.