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Gordon Wilson

Professor, painter, traveler

A devoted painter and professor of art, Gordon Wilson has taught at Whitworth since 1976. Wilson's initial connection to Whitworth came in graduate school when he studied under Whitworth alumnus Ben Frank Moss '59, a renowned landscape painter. Wilson himself is a prolific landscape painter, and has spent the last three summers painting in the small, hilled village of Orvieto, Italy, where he and his wife have forged a connection with the people and delved into the village's history. Some of his work from these trips is now on display at the Faculty Biennial exhibit in the university's Bryan Oliver Gallery. Here the art department chair shares about his travels, art and teaching.

One of your landscape paintings from Italy, St. Giovanni Storm, is displayed in the current faculty exhibit. What was your thought process behind it?

"It's a painting that I did on location last summer in Orvieto. There's this cathedral, San Giovanni, and I painted it times before from views where you can see it much better, but I needed to find a view I hadn't seen before. So my wife and I found this location where you could see it from between these buildings, and I gave it a little more room than it actually had. There actually was a lightning storm during part of the time that I was painting, and as soon as that happened I started painting the clouds in. I saw this darker view: Here was this church crowded between these buildings that weren't churches and there was a storm going on, and to me metaphorically that spoke about the problems in particular with the church in Europe. When you visit, many of the cathedrals aren't used for worship; rather, tourist attractions. So, this stormy sky and this crowding out of the cathedral to me took on meaning that I hadn't thought of when I started it."

Do you intend for your artwork to have a particular meaning? 

"I hate it when you look at a piece of art and the title tells you what it's supposed to mean. It's like, forget it! That takes all the mystery out of it. So if somebody looks at my painting and says, 'So what does it mean?' I'm likely to say, 'Well, what does it mean to you?' And if it means something very different from what I intended, I'm not at all offended – in fact, that's pretty interesting. I'm not making art that has to mean one thing. I suppose you could do that, but then it wouldn't be very much fun."

What kind of student should major in art?

"If we have a student that really has a passion and motivation for art, to the degree that they can't see themselves doing something else and they'd be doing art whether it was an assignment or not, then those are the folks that we'd like to see as artists. If you have that kind of drive, then that's what you have to do, right? What I've found with our graduates is if that's what they're designed to do, then they should be doing it. And they'll be successful, however that looks like. Some of them are successful as artists in a studio, some are successful with going to graduate school and teaching, some are graphic designers or photographers, and some are doing a profession that we wouldn't consider an art profession, and they're doing art as well. And some of them literally find a niche and design it themselves."

How can students who aren't art majors explore their interest in art?

"A really big advantage at Whitworth is that you can take a variety of courses. You don't have to be an art major to take most of the art, music or theatre classes. In all departments there are courses that are appropriate for non-majors, so that means you don't have to skip a department. No matter what you're pursuing, you need to try it on and see how it fits." 

The Faculty Biennial exhibit is on display at the university's Bryan Oliver Gallery through Jan. 25, 2019. For more information, click here.