Born in Taumarere, in Te Tai Tokerau/Northland, Selwyn Wilson is today considered one of the founding figures of Māori Modernism, who, along with Ralph Hotere, Dame Kāterina Mataira, Muru Walters and Arnold Manaaki Wilson, spearheaded the contemporary Māori art movement in the 1950s and 1960s.
Wilson enrolled at the Elam School of Fine Arts in 1945, becoming one of the school’s first Māori art students. In 1948, his portrait of a young boy, *Study of a head*, was purchased by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. The oil painting is thought to be the first piece of contemporary Māori art to enter a public art collection.
During the 1950s, Wilson was part of the Northern Māori Project, a scheme led by Gordon Tovey, the Department of Education’s national supervisor of arts and crafts. In 1957, Wilson was awarded the Sir Āpirana Ngata Memorial Scholarship to study at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, where he largely focused on ceramics. In 1960, he took a job at Northland College in Kaikohe, later shifting to become head of the art department of Bay of Islands College in 1970.
In 2009, a collection of 14 early paintings and drawings by Wilson, hidden for years in an attic, came to light and were acquired by Whangārei Art Museum Te Manawa Toi.