artist / participant
Autobiography and the 'danse macabre' seem strange partners in pursuit of an engaged artistic life. But the nature of performance, sculpture, and now the first exhibited paintings, have always seemed strange emotional bedfellows in the works of the English artist Stephen Wilks.
Perhaps best known for his performances where his has toted a stuffed sculpture of a donkey called Balthasar in a suitcase across Europe, there has always been in Wilks a fundamental fascination with anthropomorphically associated iconography. Indeed, Orwell's Animal Farm was among his last major project where he entered into the human-to-animal universe. The historical donkey or ass, as beast of burden, is a multilayered iconic image familiar from the Classical Age, as in Lucius Apuleius's The Golden Ass, in some measure derived from the Priapus story, through to Shakespeare's character Bottom in Midsummer Night's Dream, both sharing libidinal but more importantly possessing dislocated comedy contents.
To travel with 'a donkey on your back' is not only a slang regional English usage, but also an inverted use of umour noir in the case of Wilks. The donkey as an itinerant beast of burden, an animal entity associated with the poor and the impoverished, is given a dominant role throughout his recent body of work. The autobiographical component of the work, is the idea of an association and identification on the part of the artist, a seeing the world from the position of 'other' as a reversed viewpoint. If it appears as humour so much more so in that it is critical of the unjust conditions of our contemporary world.
What goes around comes around