Jack Marlowe Wise
Jack Marlowe Wise (1928 - 1996)
Born in Iowa in 1928, Jack Marlowe Wise came to Canada's West Coast in 1963, where he remained until his death in 1996 to become an influential painter, teacher and mentor to many artists around him. He was founding teacher at the Victoria College of Art, and also taught a number of years at the Metchosin International Summer School of the Arts (MISSA), at Pedder Bay Inlet.
Wise had obtained degrees at Washington University (St. Louis) and Florida State, and while helping develop a craft industry in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, he met painter Toni Onley, who interested Wise in B.C. Wise was known for teaching a specific technique of calligraphy based brushwork, which he had studied and honed. Former students have spoken of a process of making their own brush from cedar bark, before practicing calligraphic strokes with them.
He also imparted to his students a zen like approach to making art one's own way; finding the essence of one's intention as an artist and focusing clearly and productively on it. According to those who knew and admired the artist and his work, he was indeed wise, inspiring many others through his perseverance, skill, and enlightened thought. Throughout his career, Jack Wise created work with lasting ramifications, some of them obscured at times by changing popular perceptions of his era. Wise was among many artists who moved beyond and away from the concepts of Modernism that had resounded through the 20th century, and began a psychocultural exchange with the world outside the West. In 1966, Wise traveled to northern India, and studied the creation of sacred art with refugee Tibetan Buddhist monks. East/West interpenetration in the arts has become a commonplace, and in some quarters the early activities of artists like Wise are even considered a cliche. However, even before the ferment that gripped Europe and North America in the 60's, such artists looked toward a synthesis of perceptions and practices that was far more deeply rooted than the desire to rebel against the stuffy conventions of the "Art Establishment" or Society itself. Rather than smashing idols and shocking the bourgoisie, some artists were taking advantage of increasing personal freedom and ever more available information about other cultures to change the techniques and intentions with which they made art.
Early on, coinciding with what was called the Psychedelic Movement, Wise's work shared some of its characteristics: obsessive organic patterning, sharply complementary colour palettes, mandala forms...but far from representing the hallucinogenic visions brought by psychedelic drugs, it is apparent as we look at Jack Wise's ongoing decades of work that they are concerned, more than anything else, with the Truth. The truth of physical vision, and the truth of human spiritual connection to the world. Jack Wise's art was enthusiastically embraced by the nascent alternative press and by several light show companies operating in Vancouver. Images exist of light shows in action with Wise paintings prominent in the visual mix. One of Jack's calligraphic drawings was used for the first Trips Festival poster, and an early issue of the Georgia Straight featured an article on a Wise show in Vancouver, and a back cover by the artist.
Wise's work is instantly accessible, and even understandable, despite its sophistication and complexity, because it is based on both a deeply truthful observation of natural structures, and on a deeply thoughtful inward vision. His skill and patient craft are easily visible. His paintings paradoxically exude both a sense of swarming electric activity and a profound, meditative calm. Jack Wise's art combined the deeply personal and the universal in equal measure. The viewer can perceive these paintings, usually small in physical size, as representations of the atomic microcosm, maps of the skies, or representations of the neural networks involved in the brain's very processes of perception.