Embroidered butterflies jump off of a wall at Wilson’s Anita Goodesign studio, where he frequently changes his installations.
“Humilitas,” a skull with embroidered appliqués and pigment (above); “Eventually You Will See My Ascendancy,” a mixed-media work with embroidered butterflies, from Wilson’s Shine A Light When It’s Gray Outseries (below).
EMBROIDERED BUTTERFLIES FLIT OVERdiamond-dusted oil paint, across couture box lids, and into a boxlike acrylic table. Crafted by the thousands on sophisticated Japanese sewing machines, they’re the signature motif in Stephen Wilson’s newest creation, Shine a Light When It’s Gray Out. His first canvas in the series was black with a single butterfly, capturing the estrangement many people feel in this bleak era of American politics. But one butterfly became dozens, then hundreds as he kept working.
“Everywhere you go, it seems like there’s no hope,” Wilson says. Personable and focused, he has a husky voice that carries traces of a New Jersey accent and percolates with the energy of his Italian heritage. When he became a father in late 2016 (he and his wife, Aundrea, have a daughter), he began to see the United States from a father’s eyes. “How do I explain the shooting in Las Vegas to a child?” he wondered. Thinking about his own youth, when access to news was limited to a 30-minute TV show before bed, he was sobered by how much the world had changed. He turned to art for a statement of hope.