Presenting Wadsworth A. Jarrell
Wadsworth is the “other artist” to whom the landlady referred when she met me in front of
the studio on East 61st Street in Chicago in September of 1966. The noted textile designer,
Robert Paige had already staked an interest in the space, but he was willing to share it with
me if I wanted to. Sitting at the end of a narrow driveway behind a Victorian era wooden
house, the large studio building was a relic from the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, when it
was built for, and used by a sculptor who worked on projects for the Fair. The other artist
wasn’t in but I was shown the part of the building that was advertised for rent. The massive
door opened up into a narrow bay of wooden lockers that formed a partition behind which
was the enormous studio, illuminated by 40 feet high skylights that spanned the breadth of
the space. The eerie, gossamery glow in the room resulted from decades of grime and
ribbons of black roofing tar that had been dripped over innumerable cracks in the wire
enforced glass above, reducing the lighting considerably. Providence, it seemed,
prevented the landlady’s son from covering all of the glass with roofing tar to rid the place
of leaks, and thereby killing the inherent ambiance within the historical building.
On the other side of the small door that led to the bathroom was the other studio. The
instant the door opened the bright red flash of paint on a car made a stark contrast to the
otherwise gray atmosphere. A bright red Corvette! The first thing that came to mind was that
the other artist was some kind of rich player who used that good artist space to hide his car.
In those days, in that neighborhood, the only people who drove Corvettes were rich players
who hid them by day while they were at work, and used them to bar hop at night in the big
city. After all, artists in those days drove beat up Volkswagen vans or old station wagons,
not fancy sports car. I was instantly impressed.
While I quietly worked in the studio one day after moving in, a stereo cranking out John
Coltrane crashed through the walls and shook the building the same way the Illinois Central
trains did when they rumbled by on the nearby tracks. Aside from the mice which used to
scamper along the ledge that rimmed the room, the sound of John Coltrane filling the air
was the first indication that there was life in the building. It was the prelude to my meeting
Jarrell for the first time. I went over and introduced myself to the other artist to let him
know how much I admired his “vette” and to allay any fears that I might try to borrow it, much
as I would love to have.
darkness with after-images of nommos and sprites, which grace the large canvasses
scattered around the room. These figures with oblate heads and searing eyes greet you in
the ethereal zone that precedes slumber to carry you off into the land where steamy, spirited
jazz sessions and "apple birds" dwell, reminding you along the way of the evolution of his
skill at blending and unifying compositional elements in such a fashion that one instantly
thinks of music. This has been a characteristic of his work since the early 1960's.