A standing naked woman holds a strange living thing. Though it is an unidentifiable mammal with four legs and a long spiny tail, its bluish-green wrinkled skin gives it the look of a reptile. It is an unnatural hybrid creature, made more perplexing by a head with a pointed snout, eyes on the side, and a brown coloration that makes it look shrouded. The woman stands on ground littered with small bones. What is this odd pair doing?
The artist renders his scene in a precise magic realist style that places people and things in improbable relationships. Has the woman caught the beast? Is she its custodian? She does hold it caringly; with front paws drawn close, it has a defenseless air. Do the bones below signal finished meals or a graveyard? Medieval witches often had familiars, an attendant spirit taking animal form. Is this what we see? Fantasy images draw on the artist's deep imagination. Wilde creates a dream world, elusive in realities that may dismay us once we know, as he has explained, that his painting is a portrait of Death.
John Wilde, Portrait of D, 1988, oil on wood, 62 x 29 inches. Collection of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Purchase, through Rudolph and Louise Langer Fund and gift from Karen Johnson Boyd. 1992.01 © John Wilde.
John Wilde at work in his studio. Photograph by Peter Gardetto. Courtesy of the artist.