The artist's stencil in the studio

Stencil in John Wilkins’s —aka WIL’s — studio

Editor’s Note: This is the ninth in a series of interviews with artists that will continue indefinitely, without direction, and outside any one person’s control. The artists are asked seven questions about their art and their ideas about art. The questions are blunt, but open-ended enough to be answered in any way the artist chooses. The final question is a request for the artist to select the next artist to be interviewed — anyone they wish, well-known or unknown, working in any medium, anywhere — any artist whose work they think highly of, an artist deserving the same public interrogation.

The elusive Des Lawrence picked for this series an artist he confessed was “hard to track.” But John Wilkins, who goes by WIL, is an “overlooked genius,” he said. In lieu of my customary intro, I’d like to share more of what Lawrence had to say:

Getting to know Wil’s work is quite a journey, and as someone who also paints, I find it an oddly emotional one. I know the territory. I can recognize a bit of Stella and Johns reappropriation, I pick up a Robert Ryman highlight, but the shadow hatching and imagery push me towards a cartoon. Part Nolan, part Guston, part Korky the Cat, and it gets there with a heroic pathos that’s almost lachrymose. It’s clever, sometimes dry and self-reflexive, but then stupid and romantic and broken.

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John Wilkins, “Your Smile,” (1990), Acrylic on canvas, 96 x 72 in

John Wilkins, “Your Smile,” (1990), acrylic on canvas, 96 x 72 in

Rob Colvin: Why did you become an artist?

WIL: When I was seven I was confined to a hospital in the middle of nowhere. The other patients were old, with poor vision, and to occupy myself I started making pictures. This became an obsession that never ceased.

Later, at secondary school, which was awful, my best friend started talking about how things would be different when we were at art school. Until then I didn’t know that we were going to art school: there was an escape.

John Wilkins, “Waiting,” (2013), Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 96 in

John Wilkins, “Waiting,” (2013), acrylic on canvas, 72 x 96 in

John Wilkins, “Reaches,” (2007), Acrylic on canvas, 96 x 72 in

John Wilkins, “Reaches,” (2007), acrylic on canvas, 96 x 72 in

RC: How would you describe your development and what you’re doing now?

WIL: There has been no development (in the sense of progress) in my practice, only difference.

RC: Have you been influenced by anyone or anything in particular?

WIL: “The Literary Orange” by John A Walker.

John A Walker, (date uncertain), oil on canvas, 11 x 14 in

John A Walker, “The Literary Orange” (date uncertain), oil on canvas, 11 x 14 in

RC: What challenges are unique to your process?

WIL: The challenge is: what is a painting, and how do I make one? It’s not unique; it’s the same for every painter everyday.

John Wilkins, “Clear Day,” (2012), Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 96 in

John Wilkins, “Clear Day,” (2012), acrylic on canvas, 72 x 96 in

RC: If you could own any work of art, what would it be?

WIL: “The Literary Orange” is the painting I would most like to own.

RC: So what is art anyway?

WIL: I don’t know what art is, but I think that I used to know, so perhaps this is some kind of development.

John Wilkins, “Ovaltinies 22,” (1982), Watercolor on paper, 54 x 39 in

John Wilkins, “Ovaltinies 22,” (1982), watercolor on paper, 54 x 39 in

RC: Who should be interviewed next?

WIL:  Sherman Sam.

Rob Colvin is the editor and publisher of Arts Magazine.