FROM WHAT'S IT ALL MEAN: WILLIAM T. WILEY IN RETROSPECT
WORDS ABOUT WILLIAM T. WILEY
John Perreault says:
My conclusion is that Wiley is impossible to classify. One might ask, “But is he mainstream?” He’s better than that. He is one of the most important artists to challenge the very notion of “Mainstream” art. His work has already added a great deal to art, his inventiveness, his laid-back wit, his humanistic humor. He has helped open up art to all kinds of personal expression that the modernist academy had forbidden. His daring art has been of enormous influence.
Jerry Saltz says:
He is now a living master of detail. His parts, doodles, asides, brush strokes and arcing lines form dense – yet permeable – magma-like flows of pleasure and meaning. Whole worlds form, dislocate, form again and dissolve into new wholes. He never lets you get carried away in this detail, however.
His is an unaccountable, very in-control out-of-control controlness: a sort of jazzed-up Jackson Pollack ‘all-overness.’ His scribbly tendrilly graffiti-like line is singular in post-war American art. Pollack removed his hand, Wiley revels in his.
Beth Coffelt Says:
His influence as a teacher is incalculable. Bruce Nauman, a now-famous former student of Wiley’s at U.C. Davis, calls him the “strongest influence I had.”
“It was in being rigorous, being honest with yourself – trying to be clear – taking a moral position,” Nauman says.
Wiley is so inventive, prolific, and influential that writers in their wild attempts to put a handle on Northern California art use him as a nomenclature bank: “Pop Western,” “Dude Ranch Dada” (Hilton Kramer, New York Times), “Metaphysical Funk” (John Perreault, Village Voice), “Bay Region Mythmakers” (Thomas Albright, Art News).
But Wiley resists either leading or following a “movement” classifiable by critics. His is the irreverent spirit of Duchamp, the poltergeist in the Zeitgeist. If anyone gets anywhere close to defining him, he transubstantiates.
Gerard Brown says:
The impossibility of pigeonholing painter William Wiley is evident in the range of sound bites critics use to describe his work. He’s been called everything from the “Michelangelo of Funk” to a “dude ranch dadaist” to a “kinder, gentler Ted Kaczynski.” Perhaps because his work is so sprawling, it’s tempting to try to coin the perfect phrase to encompass the opposites Wiley embraces. Well, forget it. I’m taking my time.
Let’s start with appearances: Wiley’s paintings look like great big little kid’s drawings – but drawn by a really smart little kid who reads fairy tales and the Bible, is an ecological activist, knows the esoterics of Christian art and has a few theories about the origins of the universe. Images and text are interwoven in an anachronistic tapestry. Funky, homemade bar codes are plunked down next to alchemical symbols in maelstroms of charcoal enveloped by torrents of paint. We see warring towers of Babel ; anvils – which are actually autobiographical emblems – to white-water rafting or sit in lonely moonlit skiffs. Navajo blankets, St. Mark’s apocalyptic lion, whole universes, the works.
Visionary, cosmological and autobiographical themes are typically “outsider” subjects, while insiders are supposed to content themselves with more cliquish subjects. That’s why Wiley’s paintings, with their awkward enthusiasms, are such a conundrum. They have the kind of obsessive, technophobic look of art that is trying to build a bridge between mystical enlightenment and interior decoration.
Wiley’s work is like outsider art for insiders. He is not some Appalachian coot carving soft-core statues, or a lost, institutionalized soul churning out obsessive brain vomit.
We East-Coasters may chalk it up to Wiley’s Northern California hippie-ness, but we eat it up whole. Why? Because in Wiley’s work we are let in on the outsider’s story. His allusions are a little bookish, though no less charming for being urbane and knowing. In fact, they’re better for being honestly sophisticated as opposed to slavishly unspoiled. Purity – even in madness – can be a little dull.
Outsiders tend to be one-note artists standing on street corners madly hollering about the end of the world. Wiley is transmitting his messages on more frequencies.
Looked at in this light, some may find him too stylist – and therefore easy to dismiss. But that is what art is for.
Artists take the things we all can see and show us the possibilities we couldn’t see. They shouldn’t be fenced into the tiny acreage of what we fashionably call “appropriate” or “authentic.” Like Wiley, they should be encouraged to go outside.