Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery

Photo by Gerald Holly

Nashville, TN



Light & Dark: The Fantastic World of Werner Wildner


Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery continues its fall semester exhibition schedule with Light & Dark: The Fantastic World of Werner Wildner. Light & Dark will be on display through December 17, 1999.

Featuring paintings, drawings, and studies by Werner Wildner, shown collectively at Vanderbilt University for the first time in more than two decades, Light & Dark will attempt to illustrate the often startling duality that is a hallmark of the artist's work. With an aesthetic rooted in the Germanic and Northern European traditions of Martin Schongauer and Hieronymus Bosch, Wildner's works reflect a fascination with the bizarre and grotesque creatures that inhabit the dark woodlands of fairy tales and our imaginations, from birds (particularly owls), hybrid creatures, and mythological beasts, to jesters, hunchbacks and studies of the personification of death. As a number of his finest works illustrate, Wildner was a master painter in his prime who employed traditional, time-consuming methods rarely practiced today. The results are works of art that often inspire awe in the viewer from their sheer beauty and technical precision, but also a broad range of other emotions when each work's content is examined more closely. (left: Title Unknown (bird, 2 of 2), oil on board, Private Collection, Nashville)

Born in 1925 in Witten, Germany, Wildner moved to Detroit with his family at an early age, and, in 1940, to Nashville, where he resides today. After serving in the Army in 1944, Wildner studied briefly at the Mienzinger Art School in Detroit on the G.I. Bill. He returned to Nashville to practice commercial art, but by the mid-1950s, Wildner abandoned this vocation to pursue his own art career. From early on, Wildner's work depicted the animals and creatures whose sources can be linked to folk tales of his native country. In an interview conducted by The Tennessean staff writer Alan Bostick in 1995, Wildner said "I've always liked the grotesque...the odd and the horrible." (left: Hieronymus (self-portrait), oil on silk on masonite, Private Collection, Nashville)

Commercial success came soon after his 1962 one-person exhibition at what now is Cheekwood, with collectors vying for his paintings (he was also honored with another one-person exhibition at Cheekwood in 1975, and later at Vanderbilt, in 1977). By the mid-1960s, he was viewed as one of Nashville's foremost artists. With success, Wildner lived, by most standards, in the "fast lane," where his celebrity status put him in the center of Nashville's social elite. Personal problems stemming from his success and the accompanying lifestyle eventually led to the end of his marriage. That, combined with the death of his parents, contributed to Wildner's eventual decline, artistic and otherwise.

For the past 20 years Wildner has lived in self-imposed social and artistic exile, a reclusive existence that continues to this day.

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