Ben Wilson Moves From the Attic to the Basement 

Quirky local artist resurfaces with a solo show at Basement Gallery

Ben Wilson commemorates his mother's North End childhood in a new exhibit at Basement Gallery.

Ben Wilson

Ben Wilson commemorates his mother's North End childhood in a new exhibit at Basement Gallery.

Ben Wilson is something of a downtown staple. He's been a prominent figure in the Boise art community for more than a decade and his work has graced the walls of downtown galleries, filled the pages of Boise Weekly, adorned Record Exchange swag and flashed by on the side of the eye-catching Hyde Park Plumbing truck.

Wilson's art is fantastically quirky and charming. It exudes narrative--as Basement Gallery co-owner and devoted Wilson fan Jane Brumfield pointed out--and combines a painterly quality with good composition. These traits elevate his work from graphic illustration into the fine art realm.

"He moves paint around a surface really well," Brumfield said. "He knows color. He uses bizarre colors, [but] doesn't make it too difficult for other people to get a key into the work. It's still very approachable."

It has been almost two years since Wilson has had a solo show in Boise, and Basement Galley will host his reemergence with a commissioned exhibit of new work that runs through Saturday, Sept. 8.

The theme of the show is particularly fitting for a man with such downtown ties. Memories In Analog is an unapologetically personal installation inspired by a box of items Wilson found while poking around his mother's North End attic. He asked his mother to tell him her memories about the things in the box, then Wilson ran those stories through his own lens to create six new works.

The mixed-media installation includes many of the objects from the attic arranged on tables and along the floor beneath the six paintings depicting them. Among the items are old children's books, eyeglasses, Wilson's mother's well loved dolls, black-and-white photos and a Boise High Courier from 1963.

Feelings, another series created for the show, hangs on an adjacent wall. The style is quintessential Wilson, with paintings exploring extremes of emotion using the kind of whimsical characters he's best known for.

While Feelings takes second chair to Memories In Analog, together they create a well balanced dynamic within the gallery. Feelings is bright and easy to look at with calm colors and light framing, while Memories In Analog is more like being inside a North End house at dusk, dark hardwood underfoot, windows obscured by foliage.

But this isn't the first time Basement Gallery has shown images of Wilson's mother as a child in the North End. Wilson created two paintings using the same concept for his last Basement Gallery show. The paintings immediately caught Brumfield's eye.

"I just fell in love with them," she said. "They've got a feeling of nostalgia. They've still got this oddness with all of these little characters that he has."

When Brumfield approached Wilson about expanding the series, he was hesitant at first, not having planned to continue it. But now he's glad to have done it.

"It has been a really rewarding experience. ... It definitely took me into some places I probably wouldn't have gone otherwise," Wilson said. "I've taken a more loose painterly approach with some of the pieces and a couple of pieces use a collage technique that I haven't ever used before. I also learned new things about my family, which is always fascinating."

Already proud owners of various Wilson pieces, Patrick and Kelly Price were the first to purchase one of the series at the show's opening July 21.

"We made up our minds that we were going to buy a piece within about a minute of when we walked in the door," Patrick said.

Their chosen painting, "Ghost In The Valley," shows Wilson's mother with one of her dolls near Castle Rock.

"That's one of my favorite parks," Patrick said. "I was drawn immediately to that piece. I like seeing [Boise] in his work."

Aside from decking out industrial-grade trucks and crafting concert posters, Wilson said his focus over the past couple years has been on client work--which has ranged from wedding invitations to advertising and branding. He's had an increase in demand for commissioned pieces, as well, and spent a semester teaching art at Boise State while fellow illustrator Bill Carman was on sabbatical.

Wilson has also participated in smaller group shows outside of Boise--places like Tokyo, England, Portland, Ore., and San Francisco--but he said this exhibit at Basement Gallery features the largest body of new work he's created in years.

"I really enjoy how my career is a mixed bag in the creative industry ... but it can obviously be difficult to support a family as an independent creative professional," Wilson said. "I'm a family man and I love it that way."

For a full list of First Thursday events plus a map, click here.

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