‘They controlled practically every facet of your life,’ Carl Wilson says, describing the group that controlled him for thirty years. ‘What you wear, what you looked at for entertainment, what you read, everything in your life – even who you married. So my time in the cult was really colored by being told what to do, and being told that I was insignificant. I decided that I’d had enough.
‘When I decided to become an artist, I was working on the assembly line … and I had turned 50 and said: “that’s enough; I’m going to do what I wanted to do my whole life, and that’s make art.”‘
This Detroit area artist certainly makes art, but for him, art is more than just the image – for him, the focus is on the story behind the picture. He uses a combination of narrative and image to create his own thought-provoking, poignant work, presented in his new book, Her Purse Always Smelled Like Juicy Fruit.
‘I had little stories to tell in connection with each print,’ Wilson explains. ‘So you needed to have the story and the print. Then we thought, “hey, well, maybe people could take the book, walk through the exhibition, see the full-size print, read a little different story, get a little more out of it.” It got a lot of positive response.’
Wilson’s imagery is courageously evocative and pulls no punches when it comes to the subject matter. After thirty years under the grip of undue influence in a high-demand cult, Wilson does not let anyone tell him what he can and cannot depict, and he is a man with important subject matter indeed:
‘I have to say something about what I see; what African Americans, what the Underclass goes through here, should be dealt with in my world,’ Wilson says firmly in a recent interview. ‘I think it’s the job of artists to enlighten people, to trigger thought, we shouldn’t just attempt to make something beautiful to make people feel good, we also need to irritate, we need to provoke change, because, obviously, it’s what’s needed today.’
We need more artists like Carl Wilson to show us the world in such detail.
What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about turning hardship into art that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!
You can read Carl’s and his wife’s heart-rending story about leaving a high-control pseudo-religious group in Richard Kelly’s book, Mariuca & Marilyn – Saying Goodbye to Mama’s Club.
You can see more of Carl’s art here: