Martin Wilner (b. New York, USA, 1959) began making art in the 1990s after previously studying medicine and working as a practicing psychiatrist. He lives and works in New York.
Wilner’s background in psychiatry and psychoanalysis, which he continues to practise, has informed the development of his unique approach to making art. A unifying theme in both of his professional realms is the use of observation – in clinical practice, as a means to treat individuals seeking consultation; in art, for the creation of his work. These creative works take the form of intensely detailed drawings uniting a range of visual elements, from cartoon to cartography, from written text to musical scores, to explore personal and collective histories.
Since 1998, Wilner has been documenting his observations of the world around him through drawing, with the ongoing series Journey of Evidence Weekly. This epic project translates Wilner’s experiences riding the New York subway into leporello-bound books containing images and text, executed entirely while he is in transit. The books’ form and process structurally convey the elements of motion over time, while their contents attempt to capture the multi-sensorial nature of this subterranean world in transit: disembodied elements of figuration, the snippets of overheard conversation, the announcements of the conductor and the screech of the breaking train. Beneath the surface of these improvised yet deeply intricate drawings lies the artist’s subconscious inspiration for the entire project: a vivid dream in which he dreamt he was about to miss the deadline for a periodical of the same name. Wilner subsequently analysed the dream and uncovered latent associations to his own personal heritage, as the Jewish child of two Holocaust survivors (the acronym of the periodical spells out “J.E.W”).
Throughout his drawings, from the Journal of Evidence Weekly to standalone works and his subsequent major series Making History, Wilner thus explores the relationship between subconscious or unconscious layers of language and their externalisation in visual imagery. In Making History, this takes the form of a time-based project that employs the form of the Roman calendar to create monthly drawings, composed in daily increments. In early iterations, Wilner would select a daily subject of interest of him from a variety of media sources and visualise them as a drawing, writing descriptive texts or images on the verso of each drawing. Since 2012, the project has evolved to constitute a series of ‘Case Histories’, in which Wilner invites individuals to correspond with him daily for a month-long period. He would then translate this correspondence, and his own analytic reactions to his subjects’ thoughts and associations, into visual imagery, producing the composite work by the month’s end. Wilner has described these works as “portraits of a state of mind”.
Selected solo shows include The Freud Museum (London), Hales Gallery (London), Sperone Westwater (New York), Pierogi (New York), the Cartin Collection Ars Libri, (Boston) and Bravin Lee Programs (New York). Selected group exhibitions include the Jewish Museum (New York), MEM Gallery (Osaka, Japan), Daniel Weinberg Gallery (Los Angeles), Adam Baumgold Gallery (New York) and the Morgan Library & Museum (New York). Wilner's work can be found in public and private collections including the Jewish Museum (New York), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Vassar Art Library (New York), Warner Brothers (USA) and Deutsche Bank.