Frank Avray Wilson (1914-2009)
Born on the multi-cultural island of Mauritius in 1914, Avray Wilson came to Abstraction following years of scientific research into the source of human aesthetics. Having graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in biology in 1938, Avray Wilson used his scientific knowledge to further his painting. Once he discovered that colour is not matter but energy, that an image could be alive as a living cell under a microscope, and that human art-making is a reflection of Nature’s Art Making, Avray Wilson arrived at full abstract gestural painting during the early 1950s. His explosions of colour and shapes burst in strength and liveliness, and are in their dignity and abstract grandeur challenging our predisposed understanding of what art should be.
Avray Wilson himself commented on his scientific background:
'I studied biology hoping that it would provide me with an explanation of the wonder of life. But the claim that life was no more than a molecular mechanism, led me to join the ranks of 'vitalist' biologists, who recognised that life, like beauty, was a quality, not a thing. Artists do not usually need a justification for art. The power of art is convincing enough. But my scientific background obliged me to find an explanation of nature's art, which I felt sure would provide me with the firmest justification for human art.'
Vitalism in biology implies a natural transcendental level, which is not material or spatial, the source of vitality. Here was also an explanation of nature's art, as the revelation of transcendental qualities in life and Nature. The artist's mind could be guided from the same source to create 'vitalistic' imageries.
'In aspiring to a vitalistic painting, biology had taught me the key importance of form in the expression of vitality. At profound molecular levels, vitally involved forms could be expressed in complex geometries, indicating that the visible 'organic' forms of life had a profound geometric basis.
During the 1950s and 1960s Avray Wilson enjoyed a celebrated status with no less than twelve one-man shows in galleries in London, Paris and Brussels. The British intellectual elites welcomed a new radical form of art and in London, Avray Wilson showed alongside Sandra Blow, Lynn Chadwick, Anthony Caro, Paul Feiler, Peter Lanyon, Patrick Heron, Ivon Hitchens, Terry Frost, William Scott, Richard Smith, William Turnbull and Bryan Wynter. In Paris and Brussels, Avray Wilson’s works were esteemed by Hans Hartung, Georges Mathieu, Jean-Paul Riopelle and Pierre Soulages, with whom he exhibited at the Galerie Internationale (1956) and Galerie Helios (1957). The Redfern Gallery in London hosted seven one-man shows between 1957 and 2002.
In 1956, Avray Wilson together with Halima Nalecz and Denis Bowen founded the New Vision Centre Gallery, London, a showcase for radical artistic expression by mostly refugee painters from Polish and German Jewish descent.
In 1967, traumatised by the death of his young son, Avray Wilson retired from the commercial art market. During the 1970s Avray Wilson concentrated on writing and his publication Art as Revelation (1981) was visionary in its belief that humans suffer from disintegration at all levels: physical, mental, social and ecological. Thus Avray Wilson pleased for an urgent search for a life-enhancing wholeness in which the arts could play a central role for its integrating powers.
Throughout his lifetime, Avray Wilson continually moved between continents, countries, houses and studios. A true nomad at heart, his wife and children were his only anchor and constant compass. Avray Wilson was equally at ease in the seclusion of his scientific lab or painting studio as in the spotlight at a party. His universal mind never stopped reading, studying, writing and researching the fields of mineralogy, science, psychology, alchemy and religion in order to enrich his art making.
Selected publications by Frank Avray Wilson:
Poems of Hope and Despair. Port Louis, Mauritius, 1949.
Art into Life. An Interpretation of Contemporary Trends in Painting. Centaur Press, London, 1958.
Art as Understanding. A Painter's Account of the Last Revolution in Art and its Bearing on
Human Existence as a Whole. Foreword by Herbert READ, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, (1963).
Alchemy as a Way of Life. C.W. Daniel Company Ltd., London, 1976.
Nature Regained. An Examination of the Meaning of Nature and of the Human Role in the
Creation. Branden Press, Boston, 1976.
Crystal and Cosmos. Foreword by Gordon Rattray TAYLOR, Coventure Ltd., London, 1977.
Art as Revelation. The Role of Art in Human Existence. Centaur Press, Frontwell, Sussex, 1981.
The Work of Creation. Cosmos, Consciousness and the New Sciences. Coventure Ltd., London, 1985.
Seeing is Believing. Book Guild Publishing, Sussex, 1995.
Films by Frank Avray Wilson
Art in an Atomic Age, shown at ICA, London, 1959
Adventure in Abstract, shown at ICA, London, 1959
Experiments in Abstract, shown at ICA, London, 1959
Public collections include
British Museum, London
Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh,USA
Cheltenham Art Galleryand Museum, Cheltenham
City Art Gallery, Manchester
City Art Gallery, Leeds
Cleveland Museum of Modern Art, Ohio, USA
Durham University, Durham
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea
Imperial College, London
Leeds University, Leeds
Leicester Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester
National Museum of Gdañsk, Poland
National Museum of Wales, Cardiff
National Museum of Warsaw, Poland
Northampton Museum and Art Gallery, Northampton
Southampton City Art Gallery, Southampton
Toledo Art Gallery, Ohio, USA
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool