From 1985 to 1989 John Wilcox lived in New York. For several years he shared a space with Joe Fawbush and Tom Jones who ran Fawbush Gallery and who represented Wilcox’s work in New York. In 1987 Wilcox moved to a loft on his own in Tribeca near the corner of Church and Chambers Streets. In November 1989 Wilcox went in for a biopsy for tumors in his neck before having the growths removed. The findings of the biopsy revealed the growths were benign, but the results of the bloodwork also indicated John was the antibody for HIV. At that time a diagnosis of HIV+ offered a very grim prognosis and Wilcox had already lost a number of friends to AIDS within the past year and had other friends who were ill with HIV-related opportunistic infections. The antiretroviral medication zidovudine (AZT) had only been approved by the FDA for HIV+ treatment in 1987. In 1989, even with access to AZT, those who were infected with the virus grappled with knowing they were going to die and most likely soon but just not knowing when.
Faced with this grim news Willcox had to confront the prospect of continuing to live in New York by himself while navigating his medical care and quite possibly developing AIDS and dying alone without a support network to care for him. Still recovering from the surgery to remove the tumors from his neck, Wilcox decided he needed to move back to Texas where at least he had a network of friends and family and could obtain the medical care he needed. By early January Wilcox had cleaned out his loft and studio and left New York, hiring an art moving company to ship his works to Texas. He returned to Denison, Texas, staying in a cabin on Lake Texoma while he recuperated from his surgery and began arranging for his ongoing medical care in Dallas.
In 2014, while renovations were underway on the cabin where Wilcox lived on Lake Texoma a large, sealed seven-foot Sonotube was discovered hidden away behind some stored items in a closet. The tube bore a return address of Wilcox’s loft in New York and had been shipped by air freight to Texas in 1989. Inside the tube were carefully rolled canvases and experimental remnants of canvas Wilcox had done in New York, shipped back to Texas and never unsealed once he stored them away in the cabin.
One of the unique challenges of documenting Wilcox’s work is the scarcity of written notes or detailed sketches conveying his various elaborate techniques. These long-stored canvases and remnants provide a glimpse of how Wilcox worked in a particular style of painting, how he experimented with applying paint and ideas he was explored in the year before he left New York.
Below are images and details from some of these works. Many of these works are experimental. There were only two fully finished works in the Sonotube, they all offer a glimpse into how Wilcox worked as a painter during a particularly portion of his career.
These four images in this array feature catalogue #: C.135, C.141, and C.145, all with different dimensions. Wilcox appeared to use acrylic on a thin high-density polyethylene material much like Tyvek. In addition, he experimented with gluing down a thin weight paper to soften the intensity of the blue. In the final piece, catalogue #: C.145, he applies minuscule points of black paint to create a final layer of paint.
The works below are studies on canvas for a technique of layering small marks of paint in particular patterns to generate an overall gestalt of color, tone and depth. Seen here is a study, catalogue #: C.147, in which Wilcox experimented with layering two different colors against a blue background. This study was a prelude to Wilcox’s finished work, Sea, 1988. Another comparison is found in a remnant study, catalogue #: C.142, experimenting with different colors of cross-hatched marks of paint. This study was in preparation for Wilcox’s work, Land, 1988.
Included in the discovered works from Wilcox’s New York period were at least two finished canvases, catalogue #: C.148, Self, 1985-1986 and C.150, Untitled, 1985-1989. Wilcox painted both of these works with the canvases attached to the wall in his studio. When they were finished he made clear marks indicating where the surface of the canvas should be once the works were stretched. Having never unsealed these works from their storage tube, these works were never stretched or exhibited.