Pastel painting
Richard D. Wilson, Jr., “Bessie Coleman,” 2015, pastel on museum-quality heavyweight acid-free archival sanded pastel paper, 24 x 36 in.

On Pastel Painting > The inspirational art of Richard D. Wilson, Jr.

by Laura Vailati
Art enthusiast and Editor at Miami Niche

“Painting to me is like leaving a love note of hope and inspiration to every viewer that sees it,” says teacher Richard D. Wilson, Jr., who declares himself hopelessly in love with pastel. He says, “It is a wonderful medium, as vibrant as it is immediate in its realization.”

Richard’s love of art came on strong when he was just over 8 years old thanks to his dad, an artist and mathematician with whom he drew pictures of toys. It was strengthened when he came in first place in a school art contest, a moment captured with a photograph that he guards in his scrapbook. Mementos such as this trace the stages of his dream of one day becoming a full-time artist, telling the story of his talent and his stubbornness. His works are imbued with the same determination used in the realization of his dreams and are loaded with positive messages universally shared.

Oil figurative painting
Richard D. Wilson, Jr., “Mary Frances Early,” 2018, oil on linen, 28 x 35 in.; painting commissioned by the University of Georgia

The artist’s works can be found in prestigious public and private collections. The oil portrait of George Henry White — who represented North Carolina as the last African American Congressman at the beginning of the Jim Crow era — is exhibited at the North Carolina Courthouse. A painting of Mary Frances Early, the first African American to earn a degree from the University of Georgia, was the first of another series of six portraits UG commissioned from Wilson. There are also numerous works purchased by the Hollywood film industry that have entered the homes of Americans with important films and television series.

Pastel painting
Richard D. Wilson, Jr., “In His Shadow (Jack Johnson),” 2018, pastel on museum-quality heavyweight acid-free archival sanded watercolor paper, 26 x 48 in.

Richard paints landscapes and portraits in oil and pastel, but it is pastel figurative works that have a privileged place in his heart.

Particularly fascinating and full of meaning is the series “In His Shadow.” In each of the paintings there is an extraordinarily intimate and subtle thread that connects the spontaneity of children — also emphasized by the compositional choices of the artist — to the great characters of the past who with determination and perseverance managed to realize their dreams, leaving an indelible mark on history and society.

These paintings are meant to be an inspirational example for children to follow their dreams. Such is the case with “In His Shadow (Jack Johnson),” the extraordinary work with which Richard won First Prize in the Pastel Journal Founder’s Award in memory of Maggie Price during the 20th Annual Pastel 100 Competition.

Pastel painting
Richard D. Wilson, Jr., “In His Shadow (Muhammad Ali),” 2014, pastel on museum-quality heavyweight acid-free archival sanded pastel paper, 24 x 36 in.

The work “In His Shadow (Muhammad Ali),” is inspired by the great boxer, an idol of Richard’s father. The work, with a strong symbolic value, was made in the wake of the dream of one day being able to perform a work by four hands with his father. The dream could not come true because of his father’s untimely death, but when he was sick in bed, Richard put some paint on his father’s finger, then impressed his fingerprints on some very precious sheets of paper. The work dedicated to Muhammad Ali is one of these sheets, and around the prints (visible in the left glove in green) he made the composition.

“I own four other sheets with my father’s prints, and with one of them I would like to make another work in the ‘In His Shadow’ series with me, a child, drawing him while he is watching me,” says the artist, grateful for the support he received from his parents. The work also has numerous other autobiographical references, such as the word “Zeke” accompanying his signature. Zeke is the pseudonym with which his father signed his works and is repeated twice more in orange among the blades of grass as a tribute to the artist’s two brothers.

Richard D. Wilson, Jr., “Faithful Journey"
Richard D. Wilson, Jr., “Faithful Journey,” 2015, pastel on museum-quality heavyweight acid-free archival sanded museum board, 32 x 32 in.

Before becoming a full-time painter, Richard was a teacher; the decision to leave the profession troubled him. This feeling is sublimely portrayed in the work “Faithful Journey,” in which his inner voice is represented by the child turning to look at the past and reflect on what he left behind, while the other part of himself, the little girl, takes her brother by the hand and proceeds straight ahead. There is no regret in the child.

There is no regret in Richard because his role as a teacher continues through his paintings, rich in reflection for thought and historical figures who are rarely mentioned in school or by institutions. Such is the case with Bessie Coleman, an extraordinary figure in American aviation history.

In the work “Bessie Coleman,” the foreground image of Coleman’s daughter is followed by a background composed of an image of Coleman and the mastheads of The Chicago Defender, which show in the foreground the death of the aviatrix following a plane accident in Jacksonville. “The stories of these people are so incredible that they need to be known by everyone, no matter their race or gender. You have to be inspired by it,” Richard said.

Richard D. Wilson, Jr. will be among the stars of Pastel Live, August 17-20, 2022. He says he is excited and looking forward to talking with the attendees about how the stories he tells are central to the compositional process.

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