John W. Wilson, who was born in Roxbury in 1922 and died in Brookline in 2015, was a primary contributor to the development of the artist language and recognition of Afro-American art in the 20th century. In a time when few thought it was possible for an African American to have a career as a professional artist, he persevered to interpret the world from his perspective, producing powerful work that confronts injustice and is charged with emotion. His images of protest and struggle directly convey the truths of living in a race-conscious society. And as he grew older, his art depicted moments of deep human connection, causing viewers to reflect on how we interact with each other. His portraits of Dr. King are evocative of the great leader’s moral force and his drawings and sculpture of his family and his neighbors capture a most moving portrait of a Brookline family. John Wilson His work is featured in museums and graces public spaces around the country. In 1986, the first national Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was marked by the installation of one of Wilson’s works, a bronze bust of Dr. King, in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.
“… My experience as a black person has given me a special way of looking at the world and a special identity with others who experience injustice. What I am doing to some extent in my art is exorcising some of these conflicting kinds of messages that this racist world has given me. …[I chose] some of the themes I have dealt with not because I sat down and said I wanted to make a political statement, but because of emotional experiences. I grew up in a world that said I could be killed if I stepped out of line. …There is a core of anger and frustration I have to vent.”
(All images of John Wilson’s art courtesy of Martha Richardson Fine Art, Boston)