Britain’s only true Action painter, Frank Avray Wilson, was born on the multi-cultural island of Mauritius in 1914. Having graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in biology in 1938, Avray Wilson would later employ his rigorous scientific knowledge and training to further his painting. In 1946, he moved to Paris where he witnessed the conception of Tachism, the European equivalent to American Abstract Expressionism. Inspired by the artistic developments in Abstraction in Europe and America, Avray Wilson returned to London and became a member of the Free Painters Group. Here, he would meet fellow modern British artist Denis Bowen with whom he would found the New Vision Art Group in 1953 and then, in 1956 along with Halima Nalecz, the New Vision Art Gallery, London, which became a showcase for modern and abstract work. The British intellectual elites welcomed this new radical form of art and in London Avray Wilson showed alongside the likes of Sandra Blow, Lynn Chadwick, Anthony Caro, Paul Feiler, Peter Lanyon, Patrick Heron, Ivon Hitchens, Terry Frost, William Scott, Richard Smith, William Turnbull, and Bryan Wynter. Avray Wilson’s critical and commercial success during the period of 1956-1966 stemmed from his intense activity in establishing avant-garde enterprises as well as his innate artistic talent.


Avray Wilson had arrived at his own unique style of abstraction by combining the techniques and methods of Action Painting and Tachism with his years of scientific research into the source of human aesthetics. Once he determined that colour is not matter but energy, that an image could be as alive as a living cell under a microscope, and that human art-making is a reflection of Nature’s art-making, Avray Wilson arrived at full gestural abstract painting during the early 1950s. Of the impact of his scientific studies on his art, Avray Wilson himself said: “I studied biology hoping that it would provide me with an explanation of the wonder of life. But the claim that life was no more than a molecular mechanism, led me to join the ranks of 'vitalist' biologists, who recognised that life, like beauty, was a quality, not a thing. Artists do not usually need a justification for art. The power of art is convincing enough. But my scientific background obliged me to find an explanation of nature's art, which I felt sure would provide me with the firmest justification for human art.”

Vitalism in biology implies the existence of a natural transcendental element, which is not material or spatial, as the source of vitality. For Avray Wilson, here was an explanation of Nature's art, a revelation of the transcendental qualities found in life and Nature. He believed that the artist's mind could be guided from the same source to create what he would term in his writings as ‘vitalistic imageries’: “In aspiring to a vitalistic painting, biology had taught me the key importance of form in the expression of vitality. At profound molecular levels, vitally involved forms could be expressed in complex geometries, indicating that the visible 'organic' forms of life had a profound geometric basis.” His often large, highly dynamic works – richly textured explosions of colour and shapes - burst with power and energy. In “aspiring to vitalistic painting”, Avray Wilson’s paintings challenge our predisposed understanding of what art should be.


Avray Wilson’s artistic creative capacity was matched by a formidable talent for writing. He published several academic books and essays during his lifetime in which he clarified his views on art in relation to Nature and the Cosmos, on human aesthetics reflecting Nature’s art through the process of metaphysics and revelation, quantum theory and alchemy. His publication Art as Revelation (1981) was visionary in its belief that humans suffer from disintegration at all levels: physical, mental, social and ecological. Through his writings, Avray Wilson pleaded for urgent research into a new life-enhancing wholeness in which the arts could play a central role for its integrating powers.



A true homo universalis, throughout his lifetime Avray Wilson never stopped reading, studying, writing, and researching the fields of mineralogy, science, psychology, alchemy, and religion to enrich his artistic practice. A nomad at heart, he travelled frequently, continually moving between continents, countries, houses, and studios. His wife and children were his only anchor and constant compass. Tragically, in 1968 Avray Wilson would lose his young son Austin Raymond to cancer. Devastated and disillusioned by his loss, Avray Wilson’s artistic production declined dramatically. He retired from the commercial art market for over two decades, only returning in 1995 with a large one-man show at the Redfern Gallery.


Taken as a whole, Avray Wilson’s body of work – from his paintings to his publications - is the conclusion of years of intellectual and scientific research into the meaning and place of human art-making, as well as the holistic and integrating powers of art. His was a unique artistic vision that remains as powerful and relevant today as it did in his lifetime.


During the 1950s and 1960s, Avray Wilson enjoyed no less than twelve one-man shows in galleries in London, Paris and Brussels. In Paris and Brussels, Avray Wilson’s works were esteemed by Hans Hartung, Georges Mathieu, Jean-Paul Riopelle and Pierre Soulages, with whom he exhibited at the Galerie Internationale (1956) and Galerie Helios (1957). The Redfern Gallery, London, have hosted seven one-man shows between 1957 and 2002. Major retrospectives were held by the Paisnel Gallery in 2011 and by the Whitford Fine Art Gallery in 2016 and 2018.