University Art Gallery Hosts Retrospective

University Art Gallery Hosts Retrospective
Stanley Wilson sands a portion of an altar that will be part of a retrospective of his work at the Kellogg University Art Gallery.
Wilson will retire this year after teaching Cal Poly Pomona art students since 1973.
“Mi Casa Tu Casa,” by Stanley Wilson.

Art professor Stanley Wilson may be retiring this June after a 34-year career at Cal Poly Pomona, but the artist in him will never truly retire.

The third-generation Angelino is an acute observer of the human condition who has been working out the intricacies of life through his art. His drawings and large mixed-media altars are often charged with socio-political themes that draw from African and Latin American imagery and culture.

“Art is about investigation,” Wilson says. “I've spent my whole life investigating, and I'm still investigating.”

On March 25, the eve of Wilson's last quarter at Cal Poly Pomona, the Keith & Janet Kellogg University Art Gallery will present a retrospective of his work from 1973 to the present. The show will remain up until April 28.

While some soon-to-be retirees may be planning Alaskan cruise vacations, Wilson has been sifting and sorting though his life's work readying for the show. He has curated shows before at the university's Kellogg Gallery, which he helped establish in the late 1980s. However, it has been a challenging new experience to organize his first autobiographical show.

“I hope the work affects people like I was affected by life,” he says. “I want to show pieces that illustrate the radical shifts and changes in my art.”

Wilson became fascinated with materials such as wood, fiber and rope, as a young boy watching one of his grandfathers do carpentry work in his workshop.

“It was really interesting. It was magic,” he recalls watching his grandfather. “Early on I saw the real beauty of materials, which I'm still teaching my students today.”

Wilson has left his familiar surroundings of the Los Angeles Basin many times to gather new inspiration abroad, which have led to pivotal shifts in his art.

When Wilson began teaching at Cal Poly Pomona in 1973, his body of work was limited to a certain skill set he picked up in art school, he says. He was committed to static work – work that hangs on walls or sits on a pedestal – he recalls.

“You spend most of your early life developing skills,” he says. “It takes time to develop your unique signature. That was always something I was searching for.”

Early on he traveled to Mexico several times and grew intrigued by the use of masks in religious rituals.

“One trip was not enough,” he says. “I had to go back.”

However, it was a trip to West Africa in 1977 where he became enthralled by altars, which he has incorporated into the work ever since. On his visit to Nigeria for the 2nd World Conference of Visual and Performing Arts, he ventured from the large cities for non-westernized villages. He interacted with Yoruba, Ebo, Muslim and Hausa people drawing new sources of inspiration.

“It was an amazing, amazing two weeks,” he says.

Growing up in the rich multicultural make up of Los Angeles, Wilson had Buddhist, Jewish and Catholic friends. He had seen altars in their houses of worship and in his family's own Baptist church, but until his trip to Nigeria he had not considered the altar as an artistic vehicle of expression.

When he returned in 1977, Wilson began making huge altars, some deeply personal while others are poignant political commentaries on such issues as the war in Iraq and apartheid in South Africa.

“Altars are magic, metaphysical pieces,” he says. “They have sacred qualities that can be really exciting.”

Wilson's retrospective will include up to six large mixed media altars, as well as many drawings and clay work. For information about the exhibit, which runs through April 28, contact the Kellogg Gallery at (909) 869-4302 or visit