Artist Graham Wilson to Exhibit Artwork in Barrett Art Gallery


Photo by Maggie Reid

Maggie Reid, Features Editor

Artist Graham Wilson’s exhibition dam’ nāshen will be on display this semester in the Barrett Art Gallery from Feb. 5 to April 20.

The inspiration for the dam’ nāshen exhibition came from “a lot of things.”

“The main piece, Eulogy, is a tribute to a brutal murder that happened in the Bronx last year to a 15-year-old kid named Junior,” Wilson said. “As Americans, we’ve lived amongst violence, I guess, our whole lives. That was sort of a different situation in the fact that there was so many people there that could have changed the situation that didn’t; that sort of marked a different point in history for me in the sense that a lot of violence is out of an everyday person’s control, but there was an opportunity for people to help in that situation, and they didn’t.”

Wilson visited Junior’s memorial, which was unlike any he had seen before.

“I have lived in a lot of different neighborhoods with a lot of crime throughout my life,” Wilson said. “Street memorials are not new to me. Typically they are quite small. I had the inspiration when I visited the memorial site for Junior. It was just massive, it was from the street to the building, with thousands and thousands of candles. That had a profound effect on me, but it had to have had a profound effect on so many people. The initial concept for the exhibition came through that.”

So far, Wilson has gotten positive feedback about the exhibition, but he has not had an overwhelming feeling of success or accomplishment from this project.

“I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me and say, ‘I’m so proud of you for doing this exhibition,’ but it’s not something I am proud of,” Wilson said. “It was something I had to do and talk about. Being that it was going to be set in a college, and the crowd would be younger than that in a typical art gallery, this is the opportunity to speak to my peers,and other people near my age as to what is happening, taking a hard look at it and hopefully opening a conversation to change most things in a sense.”

Wilson, who moved from Louisville, Kentucky, to New York when he was 18 to pursue other dreams, got a late start in art.

“I didn’t become an artist until I was maybe 20 years old,” Wilson said. “I wanted to be a writer initially, but I was a very bad writer. Through books, I found art, and it took quite a while to muster up the courage to be an artist.”

Wilson is a self-taught artist, learning from books and through experimentation.

“When you start, you start with what you know is art,” he said. “Let’s say you’re going to make paintings or you’re going to make sculptures; I didn’t have any formal training. I didn’t finish high school, when I came to New York it was mostly survival. It didn’t really open an opportunity for me to go to school. Art came out of me through reading thousands of books. I was a voracious reader. Then, most things I’ve learned through experience and through experimenting.”

Wilson does not stick to one particular medium because that can become restricting.

“I run the gamut of so many different mediums; I like the notion of using many different mediums to say one thing,” Wilson said. “I would say my favorite medium, in a broad sense, is trash — maybe not trash in that sense, but things that have disposable quality to them. The  requirement of having to use things that are very expensive doesn’t resonate with me in the sense that I think there should be boundaries you keep for yourself. Art should not be faceted down to the paint and resin and bronze.”

Despite Wilson having traveled to many different places to exhibit his work, he would not consider himself to be accomplished.

“I don’t have any great accomplishments so far,” Wilson said. “This feels like a nice accomplishment; being invited to a college to do an exhibition and being able to converse with the students feels like a big accomplishment. I’ve done shows all over Europe, and I have a lot of accolades, I would say, for being 31 years old, but I would hope to get accomplishments bigger than that, bigger than art.”

Wilson would consider an accomplishment as “making some sort of change, no matter how big or small.”  

“In the future, I hope to use my ‘accomplishments’ to do more things for people and my community, and maybe bridging the gap between the very wealthy people that I know in the art world and the people that I live with on the day to day, and sort of trying to make that less of a gap somehow,” he said.

There are two opening events for this exhibition. A gallery talk and reception will take place from 5-7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 7. Hors d’oeuvres and drinks will be served. On Thursday, Feb. 21, at 5 p.m., there will be a freedom of expression panel discussion titled, “Talking Across Differences.” Both events are free and open to the public and will take place in the Gannett Library Concourse.