Artist Profile: Demetrius Wilson

Demetrius Wilson, Galatea Fine Art Opening, February 7, 2020

Dirty Brushes, Wine and the Untold

Written by Diana Zipeto

Demetrius Wilson’s new show, Dirty Brushes, Wine and the Untold, does what the strongest of art can do – combines personal stories with visual language and transforms them into universal themes. In eleven color-saturated canvases, Wilson tells stories of his inner life, his siblings, his parents, and the effect that alcohol and cigarette abuse has had on his family. His paintings weave in societal issues he’s lived through that have touched his world – the racist double standard of how the crack epidemic and opioid crisis are viewed in America, the corruption, wealth, and destruction of southern plantation owners.

wilson demetrius life sentence_acrylic on canvas_24x30
Demetrius Wilson, Life Sentence, acrylic, 24×30 in, 2020

Each of Wilson’s stories are told using children’s book colors and simplified forms that vibrate with life and energy. Life Sentence, one of the most direct and intense canvases in the show, is a portrait bust of Wilson’s father, telling the story of his addiction to alcohol and cigarettes. The format, Wilson says, is meant to resemble a cigarette pack. Death and destruction are symbolized in iconic images of an alcohol bottle, a cigarette and a dead fish. This character theatrically wears a giant white cowboy hat and aqua kerchief, and gazes directly at the viewer. A disembodied hand holds the alcohol bottle near his lips. He is almost fully trapped with his addictions inside a black outlined box.


Demetrius Wilson, Identity Crisis, acrylic, 60×40 in, 2020

The largest vertical painting in Wilson’s show, Identity Crisis, features symbols from each of his parents’ backgrounds and allows him to explore the contradictions he experienced as their child. Tropical imagery mixes with images from the American South, and a rum bottle appears in the lower part of this canvas, showing alcohol as much a part of his heritage as the national bird from his mother’s native Haiti.

Repeating imagery and colors appear throughout Wilson’s paintings – images of his father, hats and headwear, a symbolic red X whenever alcohol or drug abuse is portrayed. This shared vocabulary, Wilson says, is partially due to his process of working on several pieces at the same time. Often starting from sketches that evolve and change as he brings them to the canvas, the colors and imagery unify and tie the paintings together, even though, he adds, “they all have their own themes and their own messages.”


Demetrius Wilson, Tobacco, Spices and False Power, acrylic, 40×48 in, 2020

Packed with personal and universal symbolism, Wilson’s show tells the Untold – what it’s like to live in a world where corruption and racism lead to false power and devastating consequences, and what it is like to watch people he is close to fight a war with themselves. By eloquently and successfully articulating this, Wilson’s paintings feel like a vibrant commitment to take on the battles he’s inherited.

Demetrius Wilson: Dirty Brushes, Wine and the Untold: February 5-March 1, 2020. Visit Galatea Fine Artat 460 Harrison Avenue, #B-6, Boston, MA 02118, 616-542-1500. Gallery hours Wednesday-Sunday 12-5pm and by appointment.

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