The Fabric Workshop and Museum (FWM) is pleased to present Will Stokes Jr., a retrospective exhibition spanning the self-taught artist's thirty year history with FWM. The exhibition features a selection of Stokes' dynamic figurative silk screen prints, paintings, drawings, and repeat yardage.
Will Stokes Jr. has been with The Fabric Workshop and Museum since its inception in 1977 and has maintained a small studio space at FWM for the last thirty years. FWM's Founding Director/Artistic Director, Marion Boulton Stroud, discovered Stokes' talent when he was still in high school, and she continues to support his artistic career and nurture his talent with the help of many other mentors and friends. Stokes is often described as a "self-taught" or "outsider" artist. He is an accurate observer of humanity with a brilliant sense of color, and his work infused with a distinctive combination of idealism, wry humor, sensitivity, and attention to detail. The exhibition, Will Stokes Jr., and accompanying publication, present Stokes' work chronologically starting with his work as a student at Prints in Progress in the 1970s, where, for the most part, he created simple prints of figures in indoor settings. When he started as an apprentice at FWM, Stokes' work became more complex. His work of the late 1970s and 80s, is characterized by fantastic landscapes filled with strange vegetation and populated by human nudes and imaginary creatures. These densely patterned paintings and silk screen yardages, including Hidden (1980) and People (1979), are enlivened by Stokes' use of bright colors and crayon textures, as well as by his energetic drawing style. During these formative years, Stokes' figures remained largely anonymous, more an integral part of the landscape than recognizable individuals.
Slowly Stokes' work moved towards portraiture again and in the 1980s he started an ongoing series of portraits and self-portraits he calls "Peoples Working," which includes numerous images of FWM studio staff. While in residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts in 1993 and later while attending Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, in Skowhegan, Maine (1996), Stokes developed his skills as a portraitist further, creating elaborate tableaus of fellow artists into which he often inserted an image of himself as an artist/documenter shown drawing or photographing the scene. Although Stokes has worked with a variety of subject matter - African animals roaming the plains, prehistoric pterodactyls, flying birds, and three-dimensional stuffed animals - portraiture remains a dominant theme. In his current series of group portraits, Stokes, inspired by television and magazines, paints celebrities interacting with one another in unexpected combinations. The individuals portrayed include pop culture icons and historical figures ranging from Michael Jackson (also the name of Stokes' pet turtle), to Anna Nicole Smith to Booker T. Washington.