Whitford Fine Art
Avray Wilson was the first painter in England to apply the techniques and methods of Action Painting and Tachism.
Born in Mauritius, Avray Wilson graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in Biology. In 1946, he moved to Paris where he witnessed the conception of Tachism, the European equivalent to the American Abstract Expressionism. Back in London, Avray Wilson became a member of the progressive Free Painters Group, where he met the like-minded tachist painter Denis Bowen. Together they participated in the landmark “Metavisual, Tachiste, Abstract” exhibition at the Redfern Gallery, London in 1957. With Bowen, Avray Wilson also founded the legendary New Vision Centre Gallery in London in 1956. Throughout the next decade this avant-garde gallery promoted hard-edge, lyrical and expressive forms of Abstraction. Avray Wilson’s need to balance free and explosive impulses with geometry and structure was very much in tune with contemporary Continental painting. Throughout the 1950’s, Avray Wilson regularly returned to Paris, where he exhibited with such leading figures as Hans Hartung, Alfred Manessier and Georges Mathieu.
Avray Wilson featured in many important group exhibitions, in particular at the British Arts Council, at ‘La Peinture Anglaise Contemporaine, 1957’ in Liège, Paris and Geneva, and at ‘New Trends in British Painting’, New York Foundation, Rome, 1958. Avray Wilson also showed at Leicester Galleries, the Royal Academy London, the Paris Salon, AIA in Paris and Brussels as well as numerous other international venues.
Avray Wilson’s scientific background instilled an aesthetic necessity for structure and for what he called “vitalist” form. His philosophical interests went much further than following the pre-war tendency to link art and science, seeking and insisting on a transcendentalism to counter the atheist or materialist credo of the post-war existential age.
As a result, Avray Wilson’s mysterious and ambivalent compositions, while carrying indistinct and residual motifs derived from nature - a figure, a landscape or a tilted still-life tabletop - conveyed what critic Cathy Courtney described in 1995 as 'something sensed but not fully seen’.
Avray Wilson himself commented on his scientific background:
'I studied biology hoping that it would provide me with an explanation of the wonder of life. But the claim that life was no more than a molecular mechanism, led me to join the ranks of ‘vitalist’ biologists, who recognised that life, like beauty, was a quality, not a thing. Artists do not usually need a justification for art. The power of art is convincing enough. But my scientific background obliged me to find an explanation of nature’s art, which I felt sure would provide me with the firmest justification for human art.'
Vitalism in biology implies a natural transcendental level, which is not material or spatial, the source of vitality. Here was also an explanation of nature’s art, as the revelation of transcendental qualities in life and Nature. The artist’s mind could be guided from the same source to create ‘vitalistic’ imageries.
'In aspiring to a vitalistic painting, biology had taught me the key importance of form in the expression of vitality. At profound molecular levels, vitally involved forms could be expressed in complex geometries, indicating that the visible ‘organic’ forms of life had a profound geometric basis.’