For decades now, Mike Wilks
has been on a mission to focus—and keep—our attention on art. Wilks is perhaps best known for his 1986 book The Ultimate Alphabet
, his intensely imaginative and frequently humorous perspective on each letter in the English language. It’s the sort of instant classic that nearly thirty years later sits dog-eared and revered on shelves across Britain and the United States, marked up by siblings and tattered from generations of use. One of the great puzzle books, it stood as a challenge to each reader upon its release: find the more than seven thousand items Wilks had hidden throughout twenty-six paintings.
The Letter S (detail), 1985
The Ultimate Noah’s Ark (detail), 1990–1992
Consistently, Wilks hopes to encourage people to stop, look, and really see
his artwork. In the Introduction to The Ultimate Alphabet: Complete Edition
, which was published by Pomegranate in September, Wilks explains, “Our brain naturally filters out much of what we see, allowing us to concentrate only on those things that enable us to conduct our lives efficiently. If you add to this our over-familiarity with the visual sense compared with the others, the problem of seeing as opposed to looking begins to become apparent. To see rather than merely look, we must make a huge effort.”
In each book Wilks has created—including The Weather Works
, The Ultimate Spot-the-Difference Book
, The Ultimate Noah’s Ark
, and more—his intricate paintings have indeed been an effort to slow us down, draw us in, and make us think. He has argued that visitors to an art gallery might spend six seconds looking at a work, an improbable thought when considering Wilks’s paintings. One would do well to examine his slightly surreal images with a magnifying glass.
His witty, occasionally dark works belie the approachable artist behind them. Wilks is in touch on Facebook
, where he often responds to notes and queries from fans eagerly awaiting his next work, the lasting popularity of which testifies to the success of his mission.
There is much to be found in Wilks’s miniature worlds.
Beyond the Garden Gate (detail), 1979