1972 Jameson’s Galleries Art Show Brochure – A Sense of Dust
John Philip Wagner is a mythographer with a paint brush, a chaser and a catcher of intangibles, a teller of stories.
These are his three dimensions as an artist. Any one of them alone is difficult enough to sustain. All three make an artist a true creator.
A dictionary defines myth as “a story, the origin of which is forgotten.” The definition captures the essence of Wagner’s work. Much of his painting and drawing in this show is truly mythohistoric as his Silver Bird, his Ancient One, and his Mad Trader. Even his landscapes are the setting for myths. Oraibi Wash tells us, at the same time, what has happened to the Hopi Nation, what is happening, and what will happen.
Wagner commits his unique mythohistory to canvas against the backdrop of the Southwest. And he breathes into it what he likes to think of as a “sense of dust”.
Dust itself depicts the style of the Southwest. In dust are hidden the images of many eons past, the memory of lives and civilizations long gone. It embodies a feeling of always aware of it until we wipe off a table or until we take action relative to it. Dust hangs in the air, hazing the landscape, muting its colors. Then the rain comes, the dust disappears and the scene completely changes.
So it is with a Wagner painting. Suddenly out of it an intangible becomes a concrete. There is no ambiguity there, though the work itself has been structured out of a multiple of ambiguities. Wagner’s aim is to talk about an elusive subject – and the myths are elusive – with a vocabulary that is crystal clear. It is a constant task of trying to speak concretely about something intangible. Not every detail is spelled out – an impossible demand – but when the painting is finished, then the statement is made, what is intangible has been said.
And what has also been told is a story. The painting is not just a picture of an Indian man with a wrinkled, pitted face but it is an entire story about that man.
A great picture is only better than a million words if indeed it focuses the universality of the past, present and future, makes concrete an intangible and tells the story.
These Wagner paintings do that.