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Stephen Wilson

Shine A Light When It's Gray Out

While working on the concept for my 2018 series Shine A Light When It’s Gray Out, I was in uenced, as most artists are, by the ever-shifting topography of society, political and moral. Over the last few years, most jarring to me have been events like mass shootings and violence in schools, and the fake news phenomenon. Egged on by social media—oddly, for many, now more important than reality, or natural disasters—it seems that only after a national tragedy do we, as a society, talk about helping each other, or embrace change. Über-consumed by the tedium of micromanaging, we slog through the day. The macro, meanwhile, is often too big a picture for us to wrap our collective head around, so individuals retreat—isolated in a virtual world. Like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, we cave. We give up hope, sequestered safely under a rock.

In contrast, while Shine A Light When It’s Gray Out cocooned over the course of a year, I experienced three very positive forces. Each distinct and separate, metamorphosed my perspective on world events and my own life. And, as a result, this series edged.

A tour de force that inspired Shine A Light When It’s Gray Out was the musical Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Through the auteur’s use of hip-hop, rap, and traditional musicals the triple-threat composer- lyricist-playwright ipped the switch on the Broadway script. At rst viewing, my senses were bombarded. During multiple re-plays of the soundtrack— songs of love, loss, ambition, hope—I savored its nuanced truths. Themes stuck in my craw, speci cally: how do you create a place for yourself in this world without sacri cing something? How do we deal with loss, through anger or love? What will we leave behind when we are gone? How do we not give up hope? The lyrics of “Wrote My Way Out” and “It’s Quiet Uptown” helped—mentally and emotionally—to impel my new series to coalesce. My title and several of the works that comprise my series were in many ways inspired by Miranda’s life force expressed in his storytelling.

Conversations with award-winning Italian fashion designer Brunello Cucinelli provided a second infusion of in uence on the gestation of this series. Trained as a surveyor who then founded a cashmere dying company, Cucinelli’s work, like mine, is rooted in precise measurement and luxurious materials. Having newly completed an art commission for him, I visited his hamlet in Italy while vacationing in Tuscany with my family and friends. The founder of his eponymous fashion and lifestyle brand based in Solomeo produces exquisite clothing and accessories for men and women. Since most of my work involves textiles, I was excited to see

his facility and beautiful fabrics. When he personally sat down with us, I was beyond excited. What did we discuss? Fashion? Aesthetics? Not at all, we talked about philosophy, life, craftsmanship, sustainability, and society. He described the general malaise that has crept into society on a global level; his main focus, he explained, has been to try to overcome that inertia by teaching craftsmanship and the importance of family and friends, while also providing a remarkably invigorating work environment. He prefers real conversations over e-convos and believes that love, compassion, and hope have no boundaries. I emerged from the facility tour feeling unsettled. Later, re ecting on the encounter, I wondered whether I myself share enough time with those I love, or lose too many hours glazed by a screen. To read modern philosophy offers useful dimension, I nd, yet for me, it was far more inspiring to meet a fellow creative brinksman who embodies a philosophy so completely, and daily, actively makes tracks to bring beauty and lightness into the world.

The in uences of Miranda and Cucinelli combined were eclipsed by the megalithic punch of appreciation my tiny baby daughter inspired. The third and most important in uence on Shine A Light When It’s Gray Out was Wren’s birth. When you see life through the eyes of an innocent child your outlook and interpretation change completely. Imagine being able to revisit a time when you could experience only the excitement of new discovery, new tastes, bright and different encounters at every turn. As Wren tastes and tests, it is my duty to fabricate reasons for her to hope and teach her about love, respect, and resilience. How will I do that when she starts asking questions about shootings, the president, or why everyone seems so angry? As a father, my mission is to keep her safe and shield her from joy-suckers as much as possible for as longs as I can.

Thematically, Shine A Light When It’s Gray Out is about hope and love—a light in the dark—and how we should strive to endure and succeed—for ourselves, for our children. To harness the swirling maelstrom I imagine, I painted background canvases with dark oils and oil sticks in tumultuous strokes. Across this backdrop, butter ies cascade beauty and undulate hope—and the light—they represent my beacon, my own personal chrysalis.

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