Ralph L. Wickiser
What places Ralph Wickiser amongst the finest of American post-War artists was a dedication to the historical craft of painting, a deeply spiritual nature, and the keen insights which drove him to evolve his work decade after decade as he strove to plumb the essentials of his transcendentalist vision.
Trained at the Art Institute of Chicago, Wickiser began as a representational artist in the 1930s, evolved into Abstract-Expressionism in the 1950s and 1960s, and then segued into representational abstracting modes in the 1970s, only to push new boundaries with his purified and flattened analytical abstractions of trees in the late 1980’s. Wickiser was included in the 1953 Annual at the Whitney Museum in the company of colleagues Milton Avery, Adolph Gottlieb, and Williem de Kooning. As a Woodstock Artist Association insider and head of the Pratt Institute’s Master of Fine Art program, Wickiser worked closely with friends Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Jacob Lawrence, Stephen Pace, Franz Kline, and Philip Pearlstein.
Wickiser’s fifties non-objective abstractions are created with lush Tonalist impasto of interlaced geometric shapes; inspired by Grunewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece, the artist sought to create a visual metaphor of uplift and resurrection. After forays into figurative painting, Wickiser triumphed with his sumptuous and dazzling (think Chuck Close done from nature). The Reflected Stream painting of 1975 to 1985, capturing the evanescent prismatic flow of reflected light on a rocky leaf-strewn stream in Woodstock. Wickiser’s is an essentially symbolic art drawn from nature, at once symphonic and exquisitely intimate: a metamorphic quest that blazes forth with a tantalizing haunting beauty. Wickiser further refined his abstracting impulse, culminating in his last series of works, "The Covered Apple Trees" (1987-98) and "The Shadows on the Grass" (1996-98).
-David Adams Cleveland
David Cleveland is an independent curator, art historian, and novelist. He is an author of A History of American Tonalism, 1880-1920, Hudson Hills Press, 2011.