Adam Daley Wilson: Miss America An Heiress No More (2022)
“Miss America An Heiress No More, a new 2022 piece by Adam Daley Wilson (72 in x 60 in, oil painted text on new media image on aluminum, courtesy Adam Daley Wilson Artist and ENGAGE Projects Gallery in Chicago) was created by the artist through his rephotographing and altering images of (a) historical photographs and (b) appropriated details of images of Slim Aarons to (c) create a new and transformational work juxtaposing three fundamentally different worlds existing far apart in the United States in the late 1960s: (1) The civil rights movement, referenced here in the image of a King and all the King’s men, in blue, above, right; (2) the Vietnam anti-war movement, referenced here in the image of the shooting by government agent of innocent protesters at Kent State, below, center; and (3) pervasively, inescapably, all other Americans, choosing to look away, here literally, rather than recognize and see what was going on beyond their pools and parties.
The piece makes over fifty (50) references across contemporary culture, American history, art history, private violence, government violence, colonialism, western notions of the individual, mortality, irrelevance of the individual, the theories of non-violent change, and the efficacy of such theories and movements, if any. In juxtaposition to these, the work presents, challenges, and even mocks capitalist notions, heavily marketed in the time period, that most important were status as celebrity, wealth, leisure, and ability to own, or at least be invited to, certain architectures with certain accessories, such as pools.
Some of these are plain on the face of the art. Others are arguably more subtle. For example, the juxtaposition of one of the last images of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in front of the mountains in one of Aaron’s pieces, a juxtaposition reference to King’s last speech delivered before his assassination, “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop” (April 3, 1968) in which King called for nonviolent protest to challenge a country to live up to its claimed ideals.
As another example, the entirely improper iconic image of a college student, shot by the government, lying face down at Kent State, has been literally buried here, in this image, in the immaculate manicured greed grass depicted by Aarons, again transforming the cumulative images into a question of whether and if so why we are happier burying the dead and the things they died for under the artificial, rather than confronting the realities for which they died.
As yet another example, unstated but self-evident upon reflection: The vision of American pop-culture-wealth-leisure-fashion offered by the transformed image by Aarons has no diversity until the outside reality of King and the civil rights movement is grafted in — and even they remain outside, behind the gate, literally then and still now in effectively gated off segregated communities.
And perhaps both the most subtle example and yet the most transformative, by rephotographing the portions of the Slim Aarons image and manipulating them in a certain way that the artist is experimenting with, the figures become taller, elongated, yet retain their core impressions as modern humans, despite being physically impossible. The intention and effect by the artist is to reference the work of Alberto Giacometti both visually and substantively. Specifically as to substance, the reference is to Giacometti’s willingness if not imperative need to consider philosophical questions about the human condition, existentialism, and the ramifications of a World War on the individual mind. Separately, just as he happened to literally see the world as he depicted it through his sculptures, a subjective peculiarity, this is how the artist sees a later stage of the post-war world, and proposes that it should be considered as a possible valid construct and interpretation, with a moral and ethical component, rather than a time of inconvenient facts to be dismissed in favor of the easy and the trite of the late 1960s and 1970s, as certain citizens of a democracy looked the other way in favor of a new type of bad dancing called disco.
Adam Daley Wilson is now 50 years old and began making his art out of the blue eight years ago at age 42. He has no art education and has never had any art training; he is self-taught. The art began because of his mental illness: He was diagnosed with bipolar 1, the most severe bipolar diagnosis, shortly after graduating from Stanford Law School. A medicine change in 2014 resulted in increased mild manias (hypomanias), resulting in ideas in the form of words and language to start coming out of his mind in rapid series, almost constantly. These “notions” which first started only as images of text and words and sentences are now also starting to come as images as well.
Whether they be his oil-paintings, photo-collages, videos, or installations, Daley Wilson’s works are unique in three primary respects: (1) after an initial “notion,” which comes in an instant, he thinks and feels about it and its ramifications for months, even as long as a year; (2) suddenly the work materializes after that extended foundation, and those months and months of cognitive activity are executed on canvas or or aluminum or on film within minutes; and (3) the works have both layers of materials and layers of meaning. Particularly with respect to his large oil stick pieces, their execution in minutes is itself a performance, as it is not just physical but an exercise in erasing meaning almost as soon as it comes, not by actual erasures but by overwriting each sentence and paragraph until they become clearly linguistic but just as clearly unintelligible. These performative oil paintings can have as many as a thousand to fifteen hundred words in the artist’s loose handwriting, which hand shakes uncontrollably due to now twenty years of high levels of prescribed lithium for the bipolar.
Daley Wilson was discovered by a prominent New York City / Los Angeles collector in 2017. In 2020 he was offered representation by Aspect Ratio Gallery in Chicago, now ENGAGE Projects. ENGAGE Projects represents approximately 20 artists from around the world in contemporary, modern, and conceptual painting, video, sculpture, and installations.
Daley Wilson’s first solo show (early 2021) was listed as “must see” in Chicago by Artforum Magazine, and received positive art critic reviews. He has been selected for four group shows since receiving representation, and has been selected for special merit at one show by the Head Curator for Modern Art at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
[Draft July 18, 2022 pending review.]