Steve Wilson Fellowship

An SDM resident will be honored with a fellowship title in the name of late pioneer Steve Wilson. The Scientific Delirium Madness program is made possible through the generous gift from artist Sonia Sheridan in memory of Mr. Wilson. We would like to share the following tribute to Mr. Wilson written by Sonia Sheridan.

Steve Wilson’s house sat perched on the top of a steep downtown San Francisco hill. The porch at the back of the house faced down upon the nearest houses below, stacked all the way down, house upon house to the bottom of the hill. This is a visual metaphor for how I finally understood Steve Wilson as artist and scholar.

Steve scanned the present communication systems that, with accelerating speed, were moving into the future. Sometime in the 1970s, Steve Wilson was one of the many searchers who showed up in my Generative System lab at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). Each was searching for a place that would allow for the pursuit of a personal dream. Each was about to make a vital contribution to the communication revolution.

Steve Wilson was to lay out the patterns of the emerging art/science/technology communication systems through his publications, personal artwork, and education. Among the others were composer John Dunn, who in his California company, Time Arts, would produce EASEL, the first graphic/video software for the PC. Greg Gundlach would obtain five U.S. patents for 3D photography. Martha Loving Orgain would bring color therapy from Amsterdam to education and medicine. Holly Pedlosky would introduce Generative Systems to Radcliff’s women’s program and also to Italy. Marisa Gonzalez would introduce Generative Systems to her homeland, Spain.

All of the Generative Systems students benefitted from a regular stream of scientists and technologists from 3M, Xerox, Apeco, and the Society for Photographic Scientists and Engineers. Leaders of the major, latest imaging systems were available to us on a regular basis. In 1976, by using a National Endowment for the Arts grant, I spent the year in my assigned lab at 3M Central Research. While I was away from SAIC I was able to hire Rudy Guzik, the physicist from Apeco and the person who had been working with us at the invitation of our first Generative Systems graduate student, Craig Goldwyn, wine critic for the Chicago Tribune.

Among the major artists who worked with us were Stan Vanderbeek, Les Levine, and Jack Burnham. Joseph Needham, the British biologist, turned sinologist, let Generative Systems graduate student John Mabey tape Needham’s unique talk, which is housed in the Fondation Langlois in Montreal. It was in this environment that Steve Wilson was very at home.

From the day that I first met Steve, to his graduation from the SAIC graduate program, to his teaching position at San Francisco State University, I recognized that he was a major searcher, who had decided that an Art Institute might provide the further knowledge that he needed to add to his University of Chicago academic education. Much like his house on the steep San Francisco hill that looked down upon the stacked variety of houses below, Steve was searching from the top floor of the school, where painting was taught, on down to the bottom floor, where Generative Systems thrived among the time arts areas of electronics, video, and performance. In fact, Steve moved throughout the various educational and administrative areas by both learnings and assisting in diverse ways. He was always welcome, for he was more mature than most students, witty, and open to new ideas.

One of Steve Wilson’s books provides an organized, lengthy list of the emerging fields of art, science, technology, and society. One can well understand what Steve did for my spirit when he recognized that Generative Systems was my attempt at dealing with an ever more rapid acceleration of technology. Speed was changing our perception of the very nature of Time. Thus Steve had listed me alone under the group labeled TIME. Steve was a highly creative person, open to new paradigms and eager to share his knowledge and wit.

It would not be long before Steve Wilson would come to the rescue of our one major art, science, technology source, Leonardo. Leonardo was in trouble when Maxwell, Leonardo’s financial backer, met an unusual death by disappearing off a yacht into the ocean. What would happen to Leonardo? It was Steve Wilson, who managed to move Leonardo, that most essential journal, to San Francisco. With this action, he had become a hero to me. Leonardo was the only art journal that interested me. Although I was primarily an artist, it was science that provided me with some vision of where we were evolving as humans. As I followed Steve Wilson’s work, it became apparent that he would do something important with his creative art works, teaching, and writings. In the process, Steve, in this robotic era, showed by example what it is to be human in this rapidly accelerating technological era. Steve Wilson deserves our thanks for saving the pioneer journal of art, science, and technology—Leonardo. I only wish that he had many more years in that little house on the San Francisco hill.

It is my great honor to recommend a grant in Steve Wilson’s name for the 2017 Scientific Delirium Madness Art/Science Djerassi Resident Artists Program. It is a grant that I hope will do justice to his belief that artists and scientists working together will enrich the creativity in each field. Thank you, Roger Malina, for suggesting this appropriate program.


Help us continue to carry out the vision of Steve Wilson and other pioneers by donating to Leonardo today!