Painter of night lights

Paradise artist brings the stars inside

Frank Wilson at work in his Paradise studio.

Frank Wilson at work in his Paradise studio.

photo courtesy of frank wilson

Classes in color:
Frank Wilson teaches painting classes at Michael’s (2041 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Pkwy) Mondays, 3-5 p.m. & 6-8 p.m., and conducts monthly free painting

Paradise resident Frank Wilson leads me toward the doorway of his walk-in closet for an artistic “magic trick.” The closet is huge: approximately 10 feet by 6 feet, neatly organized, its walls and ceiling painted a pleasing, flat white.

“I invite you to please come in and close the door, then shut off the light,” he says very cordially, in his Boston accent.

When I do so, a seemingly impossible scene comes to life in the pitch blackness. All four walls turn into an extremely realistic night sky—the kind one marvels at on the clearest of romantic, summer evenings. Stars by the thousands, of all sizes and groupings, adorn what was previously the plain white interior. Toward the far end of the ceiling a shooting star has left a green, foot-long trail. As three or four minutes pass, the four-foot-long Milky Way galaxy above, itself made of hundreds of stars, becomes clearer and clearer.

“Each decade of age you are causes the eyes [to take] one more minute to see the details,” Wilson offers.

This is one of Wilson’s “Night Illusions,” or “Glow Murals,” for which he uses special phosphorous paints and a secret technique that he acquired from a company called Starscapes F/X, which licenses hundreds of official “artist-illusionists” from around the world to install the paintings. A professional artist for 40 years, Wilson has painted his own glowing murals—which are exact replicas of the night sky—in many homes, resorts and hotels since 2000.

As impressive as this format is, the 61-year-old Wilson is perhaps better known locally for his realistic, finely detailed nature settings, some with wild animals and the occasional human. He uses oils and watercolors on hardboard panels instead of canvas to create his paintings, some of which he says have sold for as much as $10,000. His works have been shown in five states, including the New York State Museum, and as far away as Zurich and Geneva, Switzerland, and he was even featured on ABC’s Good Morning America back in 1998.

The most prominent acknowledgment of his skills was the invitation by his peers to be a member of the exclusive International Guild of Realism.

Sitting with Toni, his wife of 40 years, in the living room of their immaculately decorated 2,000-square-foot home, Wilson talked about the notice.

“I was shocked when I was accepted because that’s one of the most prestigious art guilds in the world,” he said.

Opposite images are of a ceiling Wilson painted at a Texas Holiday Inn Express demonstrating how the night sky, visible in the dark (right) disappears when the lights are on.

photos courtesy of Frank wilson

Though Wilson is a life-long painter, he has the demeanor, dress and work ethic of a white-collar businessman. Since 1995, when he began cataloging his work by computer, Wilson has produced 2,900 paintings. Many are also sold reprinted in various formats, such as prints and greeting cards.

“And that’s only since I started counting,” he said. “I’d been painting professionally for 25 years before that.”

He says he produces such high volume because painting is his full-time job.

“I have to be disciplined,” he says. “I go into my studio to work, but after the first hour I don’t want to put my paint brush down.”

He also says that his wife is a huge help in all aspects of his business.

“She’s my wife, business partner and my best friend,” he says. “Now you know why we’ve been together for 40 years.”

For her part, in addition to helping with business matters and assisting him on projects, Toni says she even lets Frank know if a painting needs improvement.

“I don’t want a painting to go out that doesn’t look right because I like it when the checks come in,” she says with a laugh.

Wilson grew up in the Eastern U.S. and was inspired by a high school art teacher. He received his training at the Art Institute of Boston and moved to Paradise in 2002 after falling in love with the nature and weather here while visiting his son.

“That was a huge career move for me, as I was well-established in the art community back East,” he said.

In 2005, his “Mountain Moonglow” mural, featuring tall pines, won the people’s choice award for the 2005 Chico Open Board Art (COBA) project, and can be seen hanging downtown on the Third Street side of the building housing Katie’s Corner at Third and Main. Wilson also painted two murals on the outside of the new Enloe Hospital parking structure on Magnolia Avenue.