Marsha Mateyka Gallery
2012 R Street NW · Washington DC 20009 · TEL 202-328-0088 · FAX 202-332-0520
William T. Wiley
William T. Wiley
Smithsonian American Art Museum
by David Anfam
Artforum, February 2010, p 207
If American culture had to be grouped into two camps, what neater divide could there be than between idealists and pragmatists? The Pilgrim fathers, Emersons and Clyfford Stills of this world would then square off against the Ben Franklins, Hemingways and Rauschenbergs. Of course, reality can't be pigeonholed so easily. Indeed, the going gets tough, and most interesting, when such opposites intersect. Mergers of this kind are evident throughout William T. Wiley's art, and their aesthetic consequences may help explain his relative neglect since the 1980s. The current retrospective recuperates Wiley, revealing a visionary, albeit often wayward, figure. Like many visionaries, he has been both ahead of his time and at odds with it.
Wiley may pose difficulties for some critics because unlike most "ideas" artists—from Duchamp to Damien Hirst—he is an obsessively skillful draftsman and painter. "Columbus Rerouted #1", 1961, which appeared at the Smithsonian exhibition's outset, showed how quickly Wiley had mastered Bay Area Abstract Expressionism, adding his own twists. The theme of voyaging, evident in this big canvas's cartoonish cartography and title, would recur throughout his career. Likewise, the heterodox motifs—forms reminiscent of sails, a measuring rod, lightning, and so forth—anticipated Wiley's taste for assemblage. Within a few years, he was making quizzical constructions, such as the chairlike "Slant Step Becomes Rhino/Rhino Becomes Slant Step", 1966, and implanting words into these and their painted counterparts. "Shark's Dream", 1967, pictures an industrial-looking shaft, seemingly strayed from the realm of "primary objects," dreaming of itself reversed in a thought balloon, with the title inscribed below. Here Wiley announced another major concern: language's maze—reversals (as in spoonerisms), homonyms, puns and so forth. Scant surprise that Bruce Nauman was Wiley's student at the University of California, Davis, and that the two became lifelong friends. Nauman rose to lasting fame; Wiley resisted the various passing isms.
By the early '70s, Wiley had found his stride. Diverse paintings, constructions, artists' books, prints, film, and more proved that no medium escaped his reach. Perhaps fatally for Wiley's reception, though he also began to favor smallish watercolors. Watercolor just wasn't the hip thing for the era of Minimalism, Conceptualism, Land art, video, and othe new media, and the choice may have cost him much in terms of critical acclaim. Nevertheless, watercolor on paper was the perfect nexus where Wiley could fuse his artisanal miniaturists' touch with linguistic fireworks. After all, paper is the quintessential vehicle for words. To rephrase Wittgenstein's famous aphorism, the limits of Wiley's imagination look as endless as the possibilities of language itself. In an excellent catalogue essay, poet and critic Joh Yau explores the implications of the artist's manipulation of speech and seeing.
Certainly, it's easy to unravel Wiley's touchstones. They have ranged from Edwad Kienholz, Jess, R. Crumb and Jasper Johns (not to mention sly swipes a Greenbergian Formalists) to Bosch and Ensor—the latter two, like Wiley, were caustic and minutely detailed observers of human folly. However, the final mix feels altogether singular. Not only has the artist's long-standing concern for ecology predated the intensity of today's fashions by decades, but "What's It All Mean: William Wiley in Retrospect" provides some uncanny parallels with and flashes forward to European developments—among them, Anselm Kiefer's convoluted mythological zones, Sigmar Polke's anti stylistic hybridization, and even Jonas Burgert's blend of gothic and carnivalesque. Echoing a long tradition of American oddballs who merge the mind's ludic spaces with reality's pithy jumble—witness Whitman, Ives, Cornell, Saul Steinberg, Thomas Pynchon, and others—Wiley offers a remarkable artistic exemplar of the kind of metaphysical and moral masquerade epitomized in an earlier century by Herman Melville's, well, wily Confidence-Man.
He's Wiley, And Witty
by Sidney Lawrence
The Wall Street Journal, December 12, 2009, p. 13
During the 1970s in New York, artists working in the West Coast and Chicago—including H.C. Westermann, Robert Arneson, Robert Colescott and Peter Saul—raised hackles and gained fans for their cartoonish, jittery and emotionally direct works loaded with offbeat materials and associations.
Among this group was a slightly younger artist from northern California, William T. Wiley, who was being noticed for his skillfully drawn, pun-loaded and casually enigmatic work, often subverting modernism's language of geometric abstraction and assemblage with a glut of personal meaning. Already credentialed by exhibitions in his home state, as well as Chicago, Paris, Milan, the Netherlands and Germany, this "Huckleberry Duchamp," as an Art News reviewer called him in 1974, soon emerged as a national figure.
In 1979-80, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis toured Mr. Wiley's first major retrospective to six U.S. cities, but no East Coast museum participated. Now, three decades later, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington is offering Mr. Wiley's second career survey, "What's it All Mean: William T. Wiley in Retrospect" Presenting nearly 90 paintings, works on paper, mixed-media assemblages and sculptures, plus early film clips, this exhibition created by the museum's Joann Moser continues through Jan. 24 before traveling to Berkeley, California.
The question asked in the show's title—his own word from a palette-shaped sign that starts the presentation—couldn't be more apt. Life is a never-ending Mobius-strip; don't look for meaning; go with the flow, Mr. Wiley's works seem to say. His art can be friendly and offputting, skillful and rough, funny and serious, as confounding as Dada and as soothing as Zen.
One of the show's many jewel-like watercolors with ink, "Hide as a State of Mind" (1971), is a case in point. The letters H-I-D-E appear as dried-out animal hides in a rocky landscape with bits of flickering coastline. Tipped-up like a Chinese scroll, the composition resembles a map of the U.S. bisected by a black-and-white striped "range pole" (a surveyor's instrument used by the artist's father and a favorite motif ). The "West" has grassy and earthen colors; the "East" is a frozen tundra. A Squaw-like 1930's-cartoon character below exclaims, "God only knows what we are ex---ing." Expecting? Exporting? Exploring? Exploding? Her head and arms create illegibility. But no problem as we linger to unlock a theme (maybe) of American cultural conflict.
For every Wiley that puzzles a viewer, there's another that invites recognition and laughter. The punning "Working Under the Trance Sum" (1979), a 5 foot by 7 foot drawing in pencil and charcoal, pairs Mr. Wiley's versions of two 19th-century gentlemen's portraits by Eastman Johnson and James McNeil Whistler in atmospheric interiors. Art-School clichés appear in a transom: "Trust your spirit", "never use the color black" and "Yeah you crook you stole my ideas."
If there's any doubt that Mr. Wiley, now 72, has a personality all his own, nearby self-portraits on paper should shatter it. "Mr Unatural [sic]," a persona Mr. Wiley developed in 1975 in response to underground cartoonist R. Crumb's "Mr. Natural", is a skinny figure with a robe wearing Japanese wood sandals, a conical dunce cap and a rubber nose. Part Venetian carnival figure, part Medieval wizard, part Buddhist monk, he has anxiety fits here, sits serenely in a throne there, and poses like a nerdy "David" elsewhere. These theatrical works open a window into Mr. Wiley's quirky magnetism.
His inner life is the subject of 1982's "In the Name of (Not to Worry It's Juxtaposition)." On a 9-by-10 canvas, layers of charcoal, ink and black felt-tip lines conjure the Giacometti-skinny artist relaxing in a barnlike studio amid personal prop and musings-a mummy-model on a bed, a text decrying nuclear waste, a giant snail on a stool and so on. A blazing diagonal of checkerboard colors pierces this monochrome universe from above, like a bolt of inspiration, producing an effect that a one-time denizen of San Francisco's hippie culture, Sarah Burns, now a respected art historian, has likened to "Acid cut with speed" To bring further astonishment, a found-object stick figure in the drawing rematerializes as a mixed-media assemblage to the right, the piece's second element.
After such operatically abstract, self-revealing works, Mr. Wiley's borrowings from Old Master, Medieval and other pictorial sources in the 1990s take some getting used to. More paint, less drawing and topical subjects are the keynotes here. In one 1994 painting, a burning village from Hieronymus Bosch's "Temptation of St. Anthony"" (c.1550) becomes Mr. Wiley's starting point with various writings and vignettes, for a look into Chernobyls' grisly legacy. In a 1998 work, he melds Pieter Bruegel the Elder's intricate "Tower Of Babel" ( 1563) with a steely Mesopotamian ziggurat full of puzzling ideograms and inscriptions.
"Sold Yours Return" (2005) is about the war in Iraq. A serviceman with a hook hand and prosthetic leg enters an idyllic farmyard. Snaking paint, a cartoon bubble, splats of black and a grid enliven the brownish depiction based on a World War II illustration by N.C. Wyeth. Lacking Mr. Wiley's usual manic intensity, the work seems tame and literal.
Has Mr. Wiley lost his sense of humor ? Hardly. In another 2005 work, a new keep-on-truckin' persona, "Seedy Rom," gingerly walks beside a river carrying canvases. And who can resist Mr. Wiley's "punball" machine, with its cartoonish personages and implied metaphors for winning and losing in life? He played this cultural artifact at the press preview. The machine went tilt.
Even when not 100% successful, Mr. Wiley's work is unlike any other in recent art, a visual analog to the stream-of-consciousness strain in 20th-centure literature. Likening Mr. Wiley to Virginia Woolf or James Joyce is dicey, of course, but his swirling cornucopias of images, works and associations are every bit as intoxicating, operating beyond their medium, in the subconscious. He is less a contemporary artist than a national treasure.
Mr. Lawrence is an artist and writer in Washington.
ART WRAP: "William Wiley at the Marsha Mateyka Gallery"
by John Blee
The Georgetowner, Wednesday, October 7, 2009
"William T. Wiley does Washington, D.C."
KQED Arts: Art Review, Oct 12, 2009
by Ben Marks
William T. Wiley does Washington, D.C. (click here)
"Metaphor in ' Watercolors' "
Wiley's exhibit at Mateyka Gallery expresses grief
of September 11
by Joanna Shaw-Eagle, Art Critic
The Washington Times, Arts and Entertainment, 3/22/03, section D, page 6
Like his dada ancestors, the idiosyncratic California artist William T. Wiley wants to show a culture gone mad. Dadaists such as Marcel Duchamp and Kurt Schwitters expressed their disgust with World War I and peoples' eagerness to destroy each other. For example, Duchamp showed his rage by painting a mustache on a photo of Leonardo's iconic "Mona Lisa".
The "dude ranch dada" of Mr. Wiley, 65, shares some of Duchamp's subversive wit, if not his radical aesthetic experimentalism. In his "New Watercolors: ' My Country, Is It Thee?' ", now at the Marsha Mateyka Gallery, Mr. Wiley evokes the raw grief provoked by September 11 in a series of powerful visual metaphors created right after the terrorist attacks and during the following fall of 2002. Against the background of military conflict in Iraq, his sly but heartfelt pacifism is particularly pungent.
Consider his "The Choice Is Sample". Dominating the foreground is a gigantic yellow war machine, reminiscent of medieval war cannon, which has been positioned to fire on vaguely Islamic-looking spiraling pyramidal towers scattered among the arid mountains in the background. A horde of banner-waving soldiers marches toward the enemy towers. Lest there be any doubt about Mr. Wiley's didactic intentions, he provides an accompanying text reading, in part: "& So...MODERN WARFARE A SIGHT TO BEHOLD...SURE SOME INNOCENTS WILL SUFFER-THAT'S JUST HOW IT IS...TRUE...PEACE JUST ISN'T WORKING, IT'S TIME for US, THE TRUE AND JUST ONES WHO HOLD THE TRUTH AND THE BEST INTENTIONS...TO ARRANGE THINGS AS WE SEE FIT...NOW WITH OUR CHEMICAL FOOD CANNON WE CAN ARTifically INSINUATE WHAT WE WISH. GO WITH US OR NOT...First strike NOW? you bet!! NOW that we CAN READ THE future".
"The Choice is Sample", a title typical of Mr. Wiley's punning style, is set in a distant mythical past suitable for the kind of moral parable Mr. Wiley intends. The towers, vulnerable to the approaching army, are placed one before the other in receding perspective, implying that there is no end in principle to war. He hints that the invading soldiers are just a fraction of a much larger, perhaps symbolically infinite, supply waiting in the wings outside of the picture frame. And the preindustrial millstone wheels of the cannon emphasize the age-old history of military conflict. ( Mr. Wiley's signature Roman numerals that spell out "9" and "18" mean he drew and painted "Sample" seven days after September 11 ).
In another watercolor, "Dragon the Deafened Drum", the artist coils a cheerful green dinosaur around a patriotic-looking red, white and blue drum, writing, "& so as the deafened drum of war came into view...I learn too that we are coming off an orange alert...going to yellow alert...(still vigilant)...but a little more relaxed )." Here, in none-too-subtle terms, the artist is warning of the dangers inherent in the military symbols of a robust American patriotism.
Mr. Wiley says he also works with symbols he can't explain. "I started drawing a topped-off, pyramidallike structure in the 1960s. I liked it and have used it since, for its mystery. It could be a tombstone, casket, coffin or weapon. It's an image of power that I can't quite pin down" he says. Int the Mateyka exhibit, it appears in "Pre-Imptive strike" -it's meaning is obvious-and "The Last Civil War Vet"- a humorous take on an old codger encased in a dual weapon-tombstone.
Mr. Wiley, recently in town for the exhibit's opening, has rough-hewn looks and a gentle manner that belie stereotypes of loud and unwashed West Coast far-left activists. He's one of Northern California's most prominent artists and founded the neo-dada funk art movement in San Francisco and Davis in the 1960s. He lives in Marin County, Calif. and is a longtime professor of art at the University of California at Davis. Every major U.S. museum of modern art collects his art, as do some aborad.
He transforms deeply felt concerns of mankind's future through quirky and compelling works of art. Don't be fooled by their wry humor. His cry, "My Country ,Is It Thee?" hit this reviewer in the gut.
The Los Angeles Times
Friday, July 21, 2000
“Watercolors, Sculptures That Say Something”
by Leah Ollman
Wily William Wiley demonstrates his fine punmanship in an exhilarating new collection of watercolors and sculptures at L.A. Louver Gallery. Reading the Bay Area artist’s work- both the images and the handwritten texts embroidered within them- feels like eavesdropping on his stream of consciousness, which twists and turns, deepens and doubles back on itself.
In one otherwise wordless painting, he has us listening in on a conversation by others that serves, in Wiley’s coyly self-reflexive way, as a caption to the image considered: “So this is one of his? Yes. ... But where’s the writing, he writes a little story on every one. ... Not every one. Yes he always does. ... I read it somewhere. They are enigmatic and don’t seem to quite go anywhere. . . and you never quite know what they are about.”
Well, true and not true. Wiley’s work is studded with coded references, but it does go somewhere. In fact, it refuses to stay still. Restlessness is one of its most appealing properties, the conviction that every thought can be (and often is) challenged, pulled like taffy into a dense and chewy dialogue.
The running commentary in this section of Wiley’s work dwells most frequently on the state of politics, the environment, religion and art itself. Like all great diaries, Wiley’s is rich with personal reverences (the recurring image of the anvil, for instance, stems from the influence of two blacksmiths in the family. his uncle and grandfather), but unfolds as a collective cultural diary as well, a response to the issues of the day.
“Baiting the Candidate” sets two politicians (their bodies nothing but stacked boxes, their heads smooth spheres topped with dunce caps) to debating “the right to laugh,” and the military policy regarding sexual orientation, which Wiley has amended to “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t join.” Fragments of the candidates’ speeches line their boxy bodies. The statements are absurd but also absurdly close to the real thing, the puffed-up, fear-instilling rhetoric that characterizes political campaigns.
Wiley’s work is a lively ride and a serious one, for all its wit and wordplay. Evocations of violence, hypocrisy and cynicism barb many a sprightly painting here.
“As a Child, I Didn’t Know” is downright shattering. A wood panel painted in thirds of red, white and blue, it hints at the charged, declaratory presence of a flag or a Minimalist painting while (in the text that runs down one corner and along the bottom of the piece) challenging the misguided indoctrination that occurs in the name of both. A string stretched across the middle of the piece and held taut by two wine corks renders this work, and a handful of others in the show, a musical instrument. (On the evening of Aug. 18, Wiley is scheduled to play several of the works, accompanied by poet Michael Hammon.)
A jaunty hybrid of history painting, journal writing, storytelling and pithy, bumper-sticker wisdom, Wiley’s work abounds in visual and verbal revelations. It’s tremendous fun to spend time with, even though its humor stems from despair, from the continually dawning realization that we’re mucking it all up- the environment, the culture, the minds of the young. “For God’s Ache,” Wiley exclaims on one of the works here, and it’s a reverential plea, wrapped in the coy and cunning trappings or irreverence.
The Washington Post
Thursday, November 20, 1997
GALLERIES: Page B7
“An Artist’s Wiley Ways; At Marsha Mateyka, Punning Commentary”
by Ferdinand Protzman
This is not an art exhibition by William T. Wiley as much as it’s a theme park called Wileyland where complex visual/verbal works entice the viewer onto a whirling ride through the artist’s psyche.
Conversations with a one-eared Vincent van Gogh lead to pun-filled musings about the chessmaster computer Deep Blue followed by a drawing of Wiley as a stag being pulled down by a pack of dogs set against a color-filed abstraction. Concepts of time and space lose all meaning as layers of imagery-painted, drawn and written-whiz past. Next thing you know you’re back on the street wondering what happened and whether you’ve been had.
Hardly. what Wiley, 59, who lives and works in Marin County, Calif., practices an idiosyncratic kind of artistic alchemy. An exceptionally gifted draftsman and painter, he takes bits and pieces from art history, current events, daily life and the American psyche and transforms them into quirky, compelling works of art that can be found in almost every significant museum of modern art in the United States and a fair number abroad.
Wiley’s newest works can be seen in an exhibit titled “Realistic Abstractions, where now & then collude” at Marsha Mateyka Gallery. The paintings and works on paper are not uniformly strong, but there are some truly outstanding pieces in the show, and taken as a whole it offers a fascinating look at a unique and uniquely American artist.
There really isn’t anyone else who makes art quite like Wiley. His paintings are masterfully crafted but also have a down-to-earth, engaging quality thanks to the inclusion of the written word, which makes them a bit like high-class comics loaded with a witty social commentary. And there is a casual but exuberant assertiveness that is typically American in such pictures as “Dear Theo,” a charcoal, pastel and acrylic on canvas that features van Gogh’s famous self-portrait with bandaged ear and a slew of other references to the Dutch artist.
It is one of six works in a show in which Wiley essentially has a conversation with van Gogh, a chat intended as homage to an artist whose paintings have inspired him over the years. In the past, Wiley has included references to artists including Bosch, Rembrandt, Manet, Breugel and Seurat in his works.
What keeps these dialogues from being pretentious is Wiley’s remarkable ability to mimic the artist’s style as well as his fine sense of humor. In “Dear Theo” he includes a takeoff on a letter van Gogh wrote to his art dealer brother. But this epistle quickly turns into a description of a California dinner party where the topic of conversation was a recent news item in which an expert claimed all van Gogh paintings were fake. Wiley’s conclusion: “forge on.”
There is also a snatch of text in the upper right-hand corner that is typical Wiley: “Brief Aside: A # of yrs ago a Volkswagen van parked near my studio had a license plate that said ’Van Gogh’ Co.N. Si. Dense or Design. ... You decide.”
The show also contains some paintings that are less boisterous and, compared to Wiley’s previous work, fairly sparing in imagery. An example is “Deep Blue See Baby,” done in charcoal and acrylic on canvas. This is Wiley’s riff on the fact that an IBM computer dubbed Deep Blue defeated world chess champion Garry Kasparov. Set in a medieval courtyard, the painting lacks visual interest and the words don’t add much.
By contrast, “Harmonium Montra in Memorium-for Allen Ginsberg 1997,” which was also painted and drawn in a restrained style and features only two colors, yellow and blue, is a poignant piece. Beneath the central image of a skeleton taking the arrows from a sleeping Cupid’s quiver, Wiley explains in text that he was working on the painting when he heard the news of Ginsberg’s death, “and then I knew what it was for. I never read ‘Howl’, all of it, but I am grateful.”
San Francisco Chronicle, March 1996
Giving Old Art a New Spin, William T. Wiley paints, writes on recycled images
by Jesse Hamlin
For William T. Wiley, all images are created equal. Inspiration can come from a frayed piece of string or an Old Master painting.
In Wiley's buzzing visual world,...the eye roams from Brueghel figures to verbal puns and whimsical, ironic musings scribbled across the canvas. Vibrant patches of painted color play off meticulous black-and white charcoal drawings of 16th century alchemical illustrations. An hour glass crops up here, a musical symbol there, a tiny globe, a joke, a tree branch, a biting comment on environmental destruction or hypocrisy.
"It suddenly became clear to me," said Wiley, recalling the period in the mid-60s when he found his voice, "that art was about what I'd heard on the radio that day, or something I saw outside. Suddenly, anything was potential. The work is a kind of net, or resonator, to echo back thoughts, feelings, ideas, obsessions, passions."
The two dozen Wiley paintings, sculptures, watercolors and drawings on display at the M.H. De Young Memorial Museum make up an exhibition called Nothing Lost from the Original: William Wiley Looks at Art History.
Curated by Robert Johnson of the Fine Arts Museums' Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, the show features Wiley works inspired by the art of Bosch, Brueghel, Manet, Cezanne, Winslow Homer and others... "There's something about those images that just spoke to me," said the soft-spoken Wiley. "I can't really tell you what it was. Why does that thing fascinate me?"
For Wiley,...the urge to use these historic images was a way to "pay homage to artists who'd been really valuable to me. I was trying to acknowledge sources of inspiration, to whom I was grateful."
Wiley, whose intuitive approach to art and life inspired a generation of Bay Area artists, was also influenced by the Zen embrace of chance, and the open-ended art of Marcel Duchamp and Jasper Johns.
Curator Robert Johnson calls Wiley's complex work "time-release" art. "When you first see the work, one is struck by the artistry, the sheer beauty. At the same time, there's this marvelous sense of humor. Then, when you read them more, you start to realize that there's a kind of deadly seriousness about the whole thing."
Washington City Paper April 14, 1995
Past as Prologue- William T. Wiley: What's Missing
by Martha McWilliams
Few works exploring the difficulty of living with integrity are as much fun as William Wiley's. His images unite the heart and mind with a constantly transforming mixture of humor and insight. Wiley's work, currently on display in What's Missing, at the Marsha Mateyka Gallery, offers surprises and contradictions at every turn.
Wiley references myths, religion, politics, art history, et al., overlaying personal commentary that can set up a whole image for reconsideration or simply illuminate a single segment of it.
Wiley has chosen the Flemish Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder as the patron of his current show--a fitting choice, for the Fleming and the Californian have a similar world view. Neither has any illusions about the frailties that make human history such a discouraging narrative, but both appreciate the sensual pleasures and natural beauty that provide the compensation for our imperfect state.
...one of Wiley's greatest skills is the subtlety with which he integrates moralizing into his whimsically encyclopedic catalogs of ideas, images and symbols. In the three Bruegel-derived paintings in this show, Wiley's textual and decorative additions are kept to a minimum, and viewers are permitted almost unmediated contemplation of his representations of Bruegel's painting. In the show's other works, however, Wiley's unrestrained allusiveness is at its customarily intense level.
The Washington Times
Thursday, December 7, 1989
GALLERIES: Page E2
“ART THAT IS PERSONAL AND POLITICAL”
by Alice Thorson
An exhibit of “New Drawings and Prints” by well-known California artist William T. Wiley, on view at Marsha Mateyka Gallery (2012 R St. NW) through Dec. 16, updates the activities of a mature artist who has stayed his course against the conflicting currents of the 80's.
Mr. Wiley culls the best from both postmodern worlds, balancing the commitment to political and social criticism evident in the media appropriation wing of post-modernism with the urge toward personal catharsis characteristic of American neo-expressionism. By holding these two currents in tension, he avoids the pitfalls that have menaced both.
Unlike Barbara Kroger and others, Mr. Wiley declines to sacrifice individual expression to political message. And unlike Julian Schnabel, to cite America’s most successful neo-expressionist, he does not allow his penchant for wry humor and autobiographical references to edge out the real world.
Yet what appears in the context of the present decade as a canny synthesis is in fact simply a continuation of the approach that established Mr. Wiley’s reputation in the 60's, and there is much in the current show that harks back to his earliest efforts.
Evident throughout the new work is his penchant for combining words and images and the nervous, automatic line that has become the artist’s hallmark. Characteristically, in the large drawing “Plymouth Rock,” the subject materializes from a tangle of dense scribbles punctuated with snippets of texts. “Don’t forget to look what’s happened to the water,” the artist enjoins.
Meanwhile, a wry narrative printed below the hulking rock reads: “They looked white and determined... almost not noticing what they came to claim was already occupied. By a lot of people.”
Another piece, titled “Sayfart,” digresses from the artist’s preoccupation with environmental pollution and U.S. exploitation of the American Indian to address the issue of censorship. “Who is at the Helm?” queries Mr. Wiley with a characteristic pun. this text is followed by another, more serious observation: “Some know what’s best for everyone.”
Typical of these works is their registration of the artist’s mercurial changes in mood- from mockery to seriousness, frustration to reflection. Combined with the immediacy and spontaneity of line, these varied emotional responses personalize these concerns, conveying Mr. Wiley’s deeply felt sense of responsibility for collective wrongs.
Reinforcing this impression is the series of etchings and related hand-worked proofs titled “Now Here’s that Blame Treaty,” a reference, once again, to our country’s treatment of the American Indian.
Here the setting is the artist’s studio, with an image of its lone window occupying the center of each composition. Yet in contrast to the mythic modernist garret, to which the alienated artist retired to escape the outside world, Mr. Wiley’s studio is veritably haunted with a clutter of ghostly figments alluding to the events and problems of the real world. And herein lies the crux of his statement.