Three Decades of Gerald Wilde’s Powerful Wartime Paintings

Gerald Wilde: From the Abyss” at October Gallery brings together a large selection of paintings by the acclaimed British expressionist painter, from his dark, heavy wartime abstractions to his more jubilant, color-saturated canvases and works on paper from the 1970s. While the artist died in 1986, this new exhibition at October Gallery marks something of a homecoming for Wilde—his was the inaugural exhibition when the gallery opened in 1979.

A student of sculptor Henry Moore and painter Graham Sutherland at the Chelsea School of Art, Wilde developed a wide color palette and a sculptural sensibility that spans a multitude of 20th-century movements, from cubism to abstract expressionism. Wilde’s signature strong black lines tie together many of his different bodies of work, including illustration. After the second World War, Wilde was closely linked to the eccentric social circle of Tamil poet and publisher M.J.T. Tambimuttu, founder of the influential magazine, Poetry London. Wilde created illustrations for several poems that first appeared in the magazine, including T.S. Eliot’s “Rhapsody on a Windy Night.”

 Melancholy pervades in many of his earlier works, particularly in some images that border on figuration. In an untitled oil-on-canvas painting, Wilde employs deep browns, reds, and black to depict what might be read as a figure throbbing with existential or physical suffering. Violence, rendered with the help of fierce abstract markings in black wax crayon, takes center stage in many of the images that were done during the war. The brooding abyss to which the exhibition’s title refers seems to be about much more than war trauma. Rather, the abyss was an infinite source of material throughout the many stylistic mood changes over the course of Wilde’s career. The psychic and haunting mirage of a woman in Fata Morgana (1949) (on loan at the gallery from the Tate) is the ultimate painterly achievement in his figurative oeuvre, demonstrating Wilde’s expressions of the darkness of his own mind and his ability to find a sense of resolve through painting. 

—Jeppe Ugelvig

Gerald Wilde: From the Abyss” is on view at October Gallery, London, Nov. 27th, 2015 – Jan. 30th, 2016.

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