Donald Roller Wilson

Donald Roller Wilson (American, b. 1938), oil on canvas titled ‘You Know You Want It’, artist signed and dated, 28.75”h x 27.5”w.

Known for his highly stylized and richly detailed paintings which feature a colorful cast of animal characters, Donald Roller Wilson has been making his indelible mark on contemporary art in America since the mid-1960s. His Old Master quality works, which come with paragraph-long titles, are laden with bizarre objects – floating watermelon and olives, asparagus stalks, Halloween decorations, flying pickles, cigarettes of varying lengths – that surround his figures of laughing monkeys, baby chimpanzees crowned with flowers, dogs in tuxedoes and sunglasses and contemplative cats, each critter with their own elaborate back story and personality that Roller Wilson explores in his impressive oeuvre. It is a highly infectious and playful world where the absurd mingles with the naturalistic and animals rule the roost to wreck gleeful havoc on their human counterparts.

It’s no wonder that Donald Roller Wilson, who was born in 1938 and educated at Wichita State University, has become a favorite among institutions and celebrity collectors, such as Carrie Fisher and the late Robin Williams, who described the artist’s work as Hieronymus Bosch meets P.T Barnum, Faulkner meets Dr. Seuss, and Leakey meets Freud. Indeed, there is a tenderness and a dizzying, masterly touch to all that Roller Wilson paints, such as the current lot, You Know You Want It, on offer at Great Gatsby’s February 20-21, 2016 Auction. Featuring Beverly, a comely caramel-colored gorilla who beckons the viewer over her egg-laden shoulder, the work speaks to Roller Wilson’s biting sense of humor and incredible skill, rendering each droplet of water on Beverly’s fur with as much detail and attention as he gives her multi-colored dress and bejeweled crown. At once a comic work and homage to the Dutch masters he so impressively imitates, You Know You Want It is Roller Wilson in all his rollicking, multi-colored glory, laying claim to the ‘high quality kitsch’ as the New York Times once described him dealing in.

Now in his late seventies, Donald Roller Wilson has become a local celebrity in his hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas, where he first arrived to teach at the University of Arkansas in the 1960s. Cheekily claiming his work deals with ‘pointlessness’ and admits to spending his ‘days and nights pondering the meaning of life, the state of the universe, and the Home Shopping Network,’ Roller Wilson conceals a deeper psychology with his obvious humor, addressing the state of grace each creature seems suspended in and the idea that laughter and love can truly change the world. His now iconic works hang in the Chicago Art Institute, the Whitney Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum, and the Brooklyn Museum inspiring generations of art lovers and collectors to embrace their sillier side and appreciate new works in all of their maddening forms.