P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center presents the first U.S. retrospective of works by the painter John Wesley (b. Los Angeles, 1928) spanning the years 1961 to 2000. Curated by P.S.1 Director Alanna Heiss, this exhibition follows the career of an artist who, to his credit, has successfully evaded definition for nearly four decades. The 50 paintings and many works on paper included in this exhibition will provide a context for understanding. The selection represents stylistic changes and reveals the multi-layered process behind Wesley’s work.
“Wesley’s work stands eerily apart,” states exhibition curator and P.S.1 Director Alanna Heiss, “he mixes images of traditional emblems, historical figures, comic book personalities, animals, sexy women, athletes and showgirls into surreal daydreams, prompting the viewer to rejoin her own private dream-world.”
This exhibition includes works ranging from his earliest paintings (Stamp, 1961) to his most recent—Showboat, 2000. To accompany this retrospective, P.S.1 produced a catalogue including new essays by Brian O’Doherty and Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, an interview with the artist by Alanna Heiss, a chronology by Hannah Green, and an anthology of other significant texts and color plates.
Wesley is known for his consistency of palette (baby blues, cotton-candy pinks), his use of painted "frames” within his pictures, his early emblem paintings, his cartoon Bumstead paintings, and ultimately for his representations of an inner erotic voyage where we are both the voyager and the voyeur.
After moving from his native Los Angeles to New York in 1960, John Wesley began showing his work at the Robert Elkon Gallery in 1963. Donald Judd became an early supporter of Wesley’s work at that time. In a review of that first New York show he wrote “...the forms selected and shapes to which they are unobtrusively altered, the order used, and the small details are humorous and goofy.”
Initially considered in alignment with pop artists of the early 60s, Wesley consistently produced works of such a subtle and subversive nature as to put him in a category of his own. He used the early tools of advertising production (tracing paper and stock photographs). Influences on his work range from Surrealism to Art Nouveau, and from ancient Greek pottery to Matisse. Wesley’s colorful and figurative style also reflects the “flat” world of comics and posters. His secret life is ours; the works uncover the private world of a dreamer, where the dreamer is the protagonist, the artist, and the viewer. They are icons proclaiming the sanctity of our subconscious wanderings.
This exhibition is made possible through the generous support of Lawton W. Fitt. Additional funding for the exhibition catalogue is provided by A.G. Rosen.
Special thanks to Fredericks Freiser Gallery, New York.