Racial consciousness, John Wilson has admitted, was a key element of his art. "My experience as a black person has given me a special way of looking at the world," he stated, "and a special identity with others who experience injustice." Wilson was also attracted to the Mexican muralists, whose work, he felt, had a "kind of dense power." The boldness and scale of his self-portraits echo their heroic portrayals and themes of universal humanity. After living in Mexico City, Wilson worked in Chicago, New York, and Boston, where he taught for twenty-three-years. His bold, black pastel of 1963 resonates with the empowerment of the civil rights movement and the consciousness of presenting a black face in white America. He brought these same qualities to the monumental heads sculpted later in his career, including his Martin Luther King at the U.S. Capitol building.