Unique ‘school’ showcases man’s eclectic style

Published 9:52 am Thursday, May 15, 2014

Breakfast Ballerinas: Morning Class with the Joffrey Ballet,” a relief sculpture by Jim Wilcox. (Submitted photo)

“Breakfast Ballerinas: Morning Class with the Joffrey Ballet,” a relief sculpture by Jim Wilcox. (Submitted photo)

SISTER LAKES — “Eclectic, unusual, innovative.” All of these words come to mind upon speaking with Jim Wilcox and viewing the range of his artwork.

Now, with the opening of his New Rock School of Aesthetics this Memorial Day weekend, members of the public will have the chance to form their own impressions of this artist and his work.

“I grew up in the era of Monty Python and the Flying Circus, and I wanted to come up with an unusual name,” Wilcox explained. “It’s not really a school, but you can see it as a school, like a school of fish or a school of thought. Everybody has a ‘gallery,’ so I thought, I’d like to have a ‘school.’”

Born in West Chester, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, Wilcox was also influenced by the art-school bands of the 1960s and 1970s.

“My decision to become an artist was really based on music. All of those art-school bands were really made up of artists who went into music—the Beatles, the Kinks, Pink Floyd,” Wilcox explained. “Just as an inspiration, it was, ‘Go ahead and wing it. If you want to be an artist, just do it.’ That’s probably why I stuck ‘rock’ in the title of the school, too.”

For Wilcox, rock ‘n’ roll had the same impact on the art world as the Italian Renaissance.

“There were so many artists working at the same time in so many areas, and it was selected by kids who had money to spend on that art—on the music. Critical acclaim be damned.”

Working from that same populist philosophy, Wilcox appreciates the movement behind the Grand Rapids’ Art Prize, in which he has participated twice.

“The public was never in the position to say ‘I like this,’ when it comes to art, and that’s what DeVos did up in Grand Rapids, and we have the technology to do that now. I love stuff like that!” explained Wilcox. “Art Prize is the best thing that’s happened to art in a long time.”

Trained in sculpture at the Kansas City Art Institute and the University of Illinois, Wilcox earned an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

One of Wilcox’s own pieces that draws upon his artistic training as well as his roots in rock and his populist philosophy is the “Elvis Grotto: Mobile Unit,” which, when switched on, plays several Elvis songs.

“The Elvis Grotto project came out of my time as a teaching assistant at Columbia College in Chicago. The class was called ‘The Artist and the Landscape,” and it was a travelling class. We travelled all over the Midwest, and we looked at all of these grottos that the priests had built and people would decorate them,” Wilcox recalled.

“For the final project for the class, I decided to do a project that went with that, and I had a bust of Elvis that I had been making in college, so I decided to use that to make an Elvis Grotto,” Wilcox said.

One of his more popular pieces, the “Elvis Grotto” will be the showpiece at his upcoming gallery opening.

“It’s wonderful fun. People have a visceral reaction to it,” Wilcox said. “I turn it on, and people just start dancing.”

Other more traditional pieces of Wilcox’s work will also be on display and for sale.

Using a technique that he has developed himself through trial and error over many years, Wilcox creates relief sculptures which he casts in a superfine, white concrete mix called ‘polymerized gypsum.’ He then paints them with crushed pastels, sprays them down with Krylon Clear, and then adds more layers of crushed pastel.

The result is a unique, multi-dimensional panel that has both the attributes of a painting and a sculpture.

While so much more could be said of Wilcox’s work and his artistic journey—which included owning a studio in Chicago’s Spice Factory, creating rocks and trees for museum displays—including Epcot Center, and making commission pieces including one of the famous Chicago cows, the best thing to do to get to know Wilcox and his special brand of art would be to go to the gallery opening and meet him for yourself.

Wilcox’s gallery opening will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. on May 24 at his restored Sister Lakes cottage and studio, located at the junction of 95th and County Rd. 690, across the street from the Driftwood. Brian Slocum of Schwann’s will be serving appetizers, and parking will be available at the nearby Legacy bar. The gallery can be reached at (269) 282-6934.