There was a time when it would be unthinkable that a prize winner at Art Basel Miami Beach would hail from Harlem. But LeRone Wilson would shock most people out of their expectations of who a ground-breaking artist might be. This deeply religious, married, African-American Harlemite father in his ‘40s contrasts sharply with the wild image of a more famous artist like Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Yet after winning the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series at Art Basel Miami in early December, he joins the list of black artists who have earned respect in the exclusive world of fine art. Being a Christian, married father of three just sweetens his success.
“You tend not to see many families, in terms of people who are a professional artist like myself,” Wilson told theGrio. “It adds to the prestige a little bit, because I am a father and I am a husband. It’s just a wonderful feeling.”
Wilson won the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series for a piece called “A Path Through the Sky,” which can be viewed beginning in February 2012 at the Rush Gallery in Chelsea, NY.
The space, which is co-owned by Russell Simmons and his brother Danny, will also showcase a piece by fellow New Yorker Miguel Ovallewill, the only other artist to be awarded in the Bombay Sapphire showcase. Wilson said winning was “an awesome feeling.”
“It was just huge exposure,” he elaborated, as Art Basel Miami is “one of the biggest venues in the United States and internationally.” Indeed, it is one of the world’s largest art markets drawing thousands of fine art professionals every year.
In contrast with this public acclaim, the name “A Path Through the Sky” reflects Wilson’s deeply religious perspective. “My spirituality has evolved in my work, because I asked for a blueprint from Him to bring my creativity out, so that the world can see it,” the artist said of his trajectory of success.
Wilson revealed to theGrio that when he found himself struggling with problems, “God spoke to me and said, ‘I’ve already taken care of that. You need to just back out of the way and let me handle that and just focus on me and what I want you to create in this work.’”
Relying on God helped Wilson develop his winning piece while shaping his philosophical approach to future works. “With my work, and having this opportunity to win this competition with this piece — especially with what I was going through,” the artist said, “I think I need to focus that energy and my spirituality into my work more, because that’s how I was able to create this.”
Armed with this faith, Wilson forged “A Path Through the Sky” using the ancient technique of shaping molten beeswax called encaustic, which requires a high level of dexterity. His mastery of this medium set him apart from the competition, according to Manhattan news site DNAinfo.com. Wilson beat out 4,000 contestants to win his Art Basel Miami prize.
Is Wilson’s career part of the trend of more blacks experiencing success in high-end art? Some would concur. In a report by The Root on Art Basel Miami, New York gallery owner Jack Shainman related that “black artists are ‘finally getting the recognition they deserve’” in this exclusive space — where individual pieces often sell for millions.
This is a large shift from what the African-American wheeler-dealer experienced when he first began attending Art Basel Miami in 2002.
But Wilson disagrees. “It’s not a trend,” he said of blacks gaining greater representation at the famous convention. “Your work speaks louder than anything. If put your heart into your work, what you are trying to convey, your process, and your technique, the right person is going to see it.”
Wilson’s achievement is still a remarkable example of how much has changed for black artists. The coming display of his award-winning work in a gallery owned by African-American entrepreneurs is further evidence of the expanded opportunities they are enjoying. And Wilson is ready to blossom within this field.
“With 2012 coming, it will be a huge turning point in my work,” the artist stated.
“Finally, the exposure that I need to make a breakthrough is happening. I just want to create a body of new work, and have a solo show of my own,” Wilson mused about his future. “I have just touched the surface of how I work with this medium.”