Artist of integrity

New England transplant finds plenty of artistic inspiration in Paradise

LIVING COLOR<br>Frank Wilson gets his hands dirty. His works will show at Sacramento’s Helen Jones Gallery through the end of August.

Frank Wilson gets his hands dirty. His works will show at Sacramento’s Helen Jones Gallery through the end of August.

Photo By Alan Sheckter

The life canvases of many artists are awash with boldly colored lifestyles, living quarters and wardrobes. But that doesn’t necessarily make them great artists.

Paradise painter Frank Wilson, a neatly groomed fellow with a tidy home and nary a spot of paint on his carpeted home studio floor, channels all of his dazzle into his works. And by all reasonable measures, he is a great artist.

Wilson, who named Thomas Hill and Maxfield Parrish his greatest influences, is a gifted realist—he’s even a card-carrying member of the International Guild of Realism. His bold colors and sharp lines not only re-create Mother Nature’s dazzling vistas, but also instantly demand attention, and respect, from the viewer. For more than 35 years, the Boston-born artist has put brush to canvas on thousands of works.

An avid hiker and cross-country skier, especially at night, the 59-year-old Wilson has a special affinity for painting nocturnal landscapes, such as “Mountain Moonglow,” a Pacific Crest Trail-inspired work that won the Chico Open Board Art (COBA) People’s Choice Award in 2005.

“There’s something so magical about getting up in the high country at night,” Wilson said in his unmistakable New England accent. “When your eyes get acclimated to a full moon, it’s like high noon.”

The son of a renowned sculptor, Wilson began his lifelong artistic journey in high school, where a zealous teacher inspired him to submit what turned into a blue-ribbon entry in an all-New England scholastic art competition. All through his tenure at the Art Institute of Boston, Wilson continued his association with the instructor, soaking up artistic skills, theory and business advice that he said proved more profound than lessons learned at the Art Institute.

Now Wilson presides over what could be considered a small empire of art (he frames and mattes his pieces, and is also a talented muralist). Even after four decades in the business, he retains a childlike fascination with his craft.

“It’s been a lifelong passion,” he said. “What’s not to love about being an artist? Before I get to the kitchen for my coffee, I’m at work.”

Wilson began exhibiting his work as soon as he completed school in 1971, and a few years later set up shop—and home—in the tiny idyllic village of East Topsham, Vt. Wilson’s reputation, and ego no doubt, got a big boost in October 1998, when a TV crew from ABC’s Good Morning America came to town to film a feature about painting New England autumn foliage.

Wilson’s son Adam settled in Paradise 12 years ago, eventually drawing Mom and Dad to build a house in the area and come west in 2002.

“We came out to see him and fell in love with Paradise,” Wilson said. “We got tired of 40-below weather.”

Ever since, Wilson has taken advantage of this region’s natural beauty, creating series that illustrate places such as the Sutter Buttes, Lake Tahoe, Feather Falls, Table Mountain and the Mendocino Coast.

Toni Wilson plays a key role in the Frank Wilson story. Frank’s executive administrator and wife of 38 years, Toni has grown with the artist through thick and thin since his days at the Art Institute.

“She ships my artwork to galleries nationwide and keeps track of inventory,” he said. “She’s my quality-control inspector, does invoicing, billing and orders my custom frames. Without her I would not have time to paint.”

Wilson was recently tagged as an archivist when The Doiron Gallery in Sacramento called a Wilson exhibit “California Landscapes—A Preservationist’s View.”

“It was the first time I was ever labeled that way,” Wilson said. “I never thought of myself like that—until the fires.”

Wilson, who evacuated his home twice in two months due to the local fires, has found a new worth to his works. A 2007 series of paintings that show the vibrant beauty of the wildflowers and native bluffs and buttes as viewed from Durham Pentz Road are now a testament of how the landscape looked before it was badly scorched.