Painting, oil on canvas.
At first glance, there is something curious in Bill Wiman’s “Portrait of a Powerlifter,” a familiarity in the subject’s muted facial expression, which grasps a viewer’s attention like the apparition of celebrity in a crowd. I wrongly assumed the powerlifter was someone famous, someone I’d seen in the movies. As it turns out, my assumption was arguably close, but I wasn’t at the right theatre. In truth, Wiman painted his titular powerlifter, posed in a quarter turn, with such an expression, as inspired by da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” which long ago surpassed familiarity and became ubiquitous.
Bill McConnico was the model for the painting. He was a competitive powerlifter who won many titles and lifted above his weight class. He worked out at the same gym as Wiman, who told me, “[Bill] is a surprisingly quiet, gentle man and very modest, a quality I worked very hard to depict in the painting. One day, I simply asked him if he would come to my studio and pose in his weightlifting suit for photographs from which I would make a painting. He quietly agreed.”
“Portrait of a Powerlifter” was started in October of 1980 and finished that December, approximately seven weeks in process, according to the artist. The first layer was completed in burnt umber lightened as needed with white. The second layer in full color. The background is also based on the background of da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” says Wiman, but it is actually a scene from the Pedernales Falls State Park, West of Austin. The work is a prime example of the large-scale superreal paintings for which Wiman is well known.
Bill Wiman has exhibited many works across Texas and the United States. He was a widely revered member of the fine arts faculty here at the University of Texas, where he taught for thirty-two years. During his tenure, he became friends with the Stark Center’s founder and director, Terry Todd. Not only did Bill gift this painting to Terry and the Stark Center in 2009, he has always been a great friend and ally to our mission. Before the Stark Center opened to the public, Bill volunteered to help curate the original exhibits and even carried a ten-foot ladder through the galleries, climbing up and down, to set the lighting for each wall. He described his own role as, “Curatorial Advisor,” which Terry then had printed on an official nametag for Bill (he still has it). As you can tell from this article, Bill Wiman continues to be an invaluable resource of knowledge and advice.
“Portrait of a Powerlifter” was originally exhibited in a traveling exhibition curated by the San Antonio Museum of Art. It was titled “Real Really Real Superreal” and according to Wiman, was the first to exhibit superreal artworks. After its run at the San Antonio Museum of Art, the exhibition traveled to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Tucson Museum of Art, and the Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, in Pittsburgh. “Portrait of a Powerlifter” is currently on display in the Teresa Lozano Long Fine Arts Gallery at the Stark Center.