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Meet Hugh Wilson, artist in residence at the Altos de Chavón School of Art and Design.
Hugh, who recently got married to Claudina Bonetti here on Minitas Beach has chosen to visit the Batey’s of the greater La Romana area, and has been making portraits of the people he meets there. Once a Wall Street banker, Hugh Wilson is now a painter who seeks nothing more than to get out and see the world, to experience and meet new people.
@cdcliving: Tell us about you. Who are you? What do you enjoy doing? What is your background?
I was born in a middle-class suburb of Detroit but grew up in Washington DC, attended prep school, studied Economics at Duke and went straight to Wall Street. But there was something of my roots I never shook. When I turned 30, I left Wall Street, traveled for a year, then enrolled in art school, finally receiving my MFA in painting in 2004. I was longing for a deeper relationship with the world around me and believed painting would afford me that. Shortly after graduation I started traveling to remote or anonymous communities to paint people that I met, living several months in each place. It was a profound human experience. I have been traveling on and off for 8 years.
@cdcliving: How did your work in Africa impact you and your art?
Africa is a complicated place – it is a beautiful and incredible place. I won’t say it is a tragic place, thought it experiences more tragedy than most of us encounter. The emotional bandwidth we exist in, in the first world or even second world, is very narrow. Our lives are very much in our control, we encounter loss and suffering, from time to time, but there can be years, even decades between these experiences. In Africa, beauty, joy and tragedy are all crammed together into each day, each hour. It has been 7 years since I left, and I still haven’t fully processed my experience there. Everything I knew was stripped of me, all my knowledge, humor, my past, my wants – and at the same time I felt more connected to humanity than I ever had. I fear I will never be able to make paintings again with the same tenderness I see now in my Africa work. It is as if a naiveness, or belief, was stripped away from me.
@cdcliving: How did you come to Casa de Campo? Why did you choose to do this program?
My wife, Claudina Bonetti, wanted to return to the Dominican Republic so the kids could experience her homeland and she could reconnect with her roots and her family down here. It has been incredible for the kids (harder for the parents!). We met Dominique Bludhorn through mutual friends, and then Stephen Kaplan who hosted us for a wonderful day touring the school. He suggested I apply for the residency.
@cdcliving: How are you enjoying the artists in residence program?
The AIR program has provided an amazing framework around what was essentially a very personal project. It afforded me an opportunity to continue my work within the structure of a committed organization and artistic community.
@cdcliving: Tell us about the “cultural exchange” aspect.
My project for the last 8 years or so has been one long cultural exchange – I make paintings in places where most people have never seen a painting – so this residency has been a continuation of a familiar experience. I still hold to the belief that art, in some form, is a fundamental human expression and crosses many barriers: cultural, linguistic, socioeconomic, etc.
@cdcliving: How has been your experience at the Bateys?
I found what I always find, which were a few magical people who make the experience personal, meaningful and hopeful. At this point in my journey I am not hoping for anything, only to participate in a sincere way and leave behind a record of what I have experienced.
@cdcliving: Looking at the portraits I get the sense that the person is looking right at you, peering into your soul… is that a common reaction?
I have heard that – I have only shown my paintings once as a group – but when I saw them all together I could feel there was something there: perhaps an echo of those lives I came across. I have no idea how I make the paintings, I just show up and struggle to the end. But hopefully they will be something – they are certainly gifts from the sitters. Sometimes I feel the paintings are not mine.
@cdcliving: What is your process? How do you form a bond with your subject?
Honestly I don’t do anything but start painting. It is some destined mutual choosing. I show up in a new place with a book of my work, start showing it around, many people aren’t interested, then some say yes, and the rest is all left to the painting. Something transpires when you sit, in silence, with a stranger for 5, 6, 8 days. I have formed unbelievable friendships in just a matter of weeks, with people from all corners of the world.
@cdcliving: Have you always worked with sitters? Why?
I have tried to go into the studio several times (including right after grad school) but it always left me wanting. After a few months I begin to think ‘there is a world out there, there is life out there!’ and the paintings seem to become unimportant, and I wonder if I should do something else. Then fate puts me in a situation with an old cane cutter from Haiti, or a Tuareg nomad, or a rural American coal miner, and I am compelled to make the painting. It seems rare and important.
@cdcliving: How have you enjoyed working and living in Casa de Campo, Altos de Chavón and Los Altos?
Los Altos is a gem! I watch the faint clouds in the early morning and the mist rising off the river and feel like I am on the edge of the world. And I can ride my bike to Minitas for an evening swim – paradise.
Hugh Wilson, along with the other artists in residence; Hannah Parr, Julio Marcano and Alma Peguero, will be celebrating the opening of their collective art exhibit next Thursday November 13th at The Gallery in Altos de Chavón. We hope to see you there.