By Joshua Manly
Stanley Wilson may be retiring in June, leaving 35 years of
tradition in his wake as a Professor Emeritus in the art
department, but he has installed himself like one of his art
“My works are concerned with (…) past practices, however they
exist in the present and reflect contemporary concerns,” said
professor Wilson in an interview with Artweek.
Curating his newest show at the Keith & Janet Kellogg
University Art Gallery, “Stanley C. Wilson: A Retrospective
1973-2007” is a fitting metaphor for Wilson’s career at Cal Poly in
that he helped found the gallery in the late 1980s.
The mission statement for the Kellogg Gallery states that it is
created for “the Cal Poly Pomona University campus community; the
local communities surrounding Pomona, and the greater Los Angeles
area art communities. The purpose of our program is to bring to the
campus and to the community carefully developed art exhibits that
instruct, inspire and challenge the viewer.”
Wilson has all three of the qualities in that he is the third
generation of his family to live in LA. His artwork is often said
to be reflective of the multicultural nature of the L.A. area
because it draws on both African-American and Latino themes.
Creating mostly altars for his work, Wilson draws on being a
well-traveled man to express his connectivity to the human race. He
has visited many different corners of the world to find inspiration
for his pieces including Morocco, Brazil and Mexico. However, his
1977 West Africa trip to attend an art conference changed his
Visiting Nigeria for the 2nd World Conference on Visual and
Performing Arts, Wilson left the big cities to visit
non-westernized villages and civilizations. It was there that he
found the magic and inspirations that altars can bring.
His pieces are often larger in scale than the average viewer,
thus causing a feeling of smallness in front of a bigger issue.
“Art is about investigation,” said Wilson in an interview with
Polycentric. “I’ve spent my whole life investigating, and I’m still
In the beginning of his career, Wilson used mostly carpenter’s
materials to create his pieces. He would rely heavily on sources
like wood and rope because of their connection to what he believes.
According to Wilson, he gained the respect for the basic materials
from watching his grandfather work with his hands.
“It was really interesting. It was magic,” he said in the same
interview. “Early on I saw the real beauty of materials, which I’m
still teaching my students today.”
Before his installations, Wilson did work at the Otis Institute
in LA where he earned his master of fine arts degree. His pieces
were static, or basic works which would be hung on a wall such as
paintings, works which reflected his growing talent in art
“You spend most of your early life developing skills,” said
Wilson. “It takes time to develop your unique signature. That was
always something I was searching for.”
Wilson does not just root his works in the multicultural
lifestyles of students and Angelinos, but he also makes political
statements through his work. “Altar for Iraq for new World Order,
Life and Death” is made of a seven-foot tower constructed from
unfinished wooden planks and has a slanted roof. Large metal chains
lead off to a small black box which looks like a coffin. White
crosses are strewn about the base and it seems to represent the
United States watching over a world that is dying. The tower is
responsible for the deaths but not acknowledging them.
Debra Kopman, editor of the publication Artwork, wrote about
Wilson’s piece “Ju Ju Man” which stood at more than six feet tall
and made of earth and ash and is scattered with both small clay
vessels, as well as inverted Christian crosses made of uneven
“Wilson invokes imagery that suggests the power of the earth,
animals and ancestors and his work makes these powers visible,”
said Kopman. ” Symbolizing Christianity’s effective eradication of
native peoples and practices, the altar towers above, and has been
reinvented in the present.”
Josh Manly can be reached by e-mail at
firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (909) 869-4713.
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