Art Beat: Exploding Spaces

Sep 24, 2020

A work by Patrick Wilson inspired by his experiences in China
Credit Courtesy Patrick Wilson

He could have been an architect. But Patrick Wilson took his fascination with buildings and other structures in another direction.


Wilson wanted to add an element of play, and to explore the possibilities of space that is taken apart and put together again. Wilson teaches art and sculpture at Western Michigan University’s Gwen Frostic School of Art.

“I consider myself a fabricator,” Wilson says. “Meaning, I spend a lot of time exploring how to control different materials and shape different materials, and all those materials end up looking like something architectural. I am interested in creating kind of confused spaces or spaces that seem like a bit of an explosion. I’m interested in how events and people and objects interact and create these collisions.”

Another view of Wilson's piece inspired by the structures of nomad tents in western China
Credit Courtesy Patrick Wilson

A native of Crookston, Minnesota, Wilson received his BA from Gustavus Adolphus College in 1997 and an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2005. He has exhibited at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in China; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Artists Gallery; the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art; the Jones Center for Art in Austin, Texas; and at NASA's Ames Research Center, as well as the Berkeley Art Center; the Stanford Art Gallery; and many others. He has installed public commissions at the Mall of America in Minnesota and at the University of Minnesota.

In 2012, Wilson won a Fulbright Fellowship to travel to China, where he was affiliated with the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute and researched construction sites throughout the country. What began as a seven-month trip turned into nearly a dozen trips over many years.

“I started going to China for work,” he says. “I was blown away by the amount of construction that was happening and the many levels on which construction would take place, from very high tech to improvised, and how all those different strata worked together.”

Wilson researched and photographed the urban development he found, which he expanded on, thanks to the Fulbright project. Eventually, his work brought him to western China, where Wilson studied — and stayed in — Tibetan nomad tents made of yak wool. Inspired by what he saw and experienced, Wilson’s new work, to be exhibited in October 2020 at the Richmond Center for Visual Arts at Western Michigan University, “will be a large, kind of immersive space for viewers to walk in and out of, and experience anecdotal pieces of the places I’ve had an opportunity to explore.”

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