John Wesley, an Artist Who Couldn’t Be Pinned Down, Dies at 93


Flat, cartoonish, not from a pop art well, but from a floating baby, rubbery nudes, and an unconscious, deeper, strange reservoir in America where the unfortunate cartoon husband Dagwood Bumstead lives. John Wesley, a painter of the same character, died at his house in Manhattan on Thursday. He was 93 years old.

His death was confirmed by Fredericks & Freiser, a New York gallery that has represented his work for many years.

In a prolific career of more than 50 years, known as Jack, Wesley had the big distinction and occasional serious misfortune of avoiding almost every attempt at classification. He tolerated pop artist labels, he said, mainly because he took him to the show. Over the years, critics have described him as a “secret agent of Surrealism,” a sly eroticist, the late-day appearance of Rococo, a rebellious colorfield artist, and “a Greek vase by Aubrey Beardsley. I explained variously as a “painter”.

Sculptor Donald Judd worshiped Wesley’s paintings at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, along with masterpieces of minimalism and other rigorous preliminary works, and Judd explained exactly why. I seemed at a loss to explain. Mr. Wesley did nothing to clear the turmoil. He hated talking about his work and went only to the point of acknowledging his formal affinity with other artists of the past or present.

“My paintings are like the German Gothic style,” he once grinned, “I’m aiming for a thin structure and an accurate and clean shape.”

He also revealed that it meant something interesting, and his companions praised him.

“There is little elaborate good humor for the really terrible stupidity of Western visible art,” the artist Dan Flavin once wrote. “Jack Wesley can deal with them with strange and eccentric precision.”

Wesley rarely interviewed, but during a retrospective exhibition hosted by the Prada Foundation as part of the 2009 Venice Biennale with the New York Times, he said: Become a surrealist. It was just fun to do what I was doing. “

When his dealer lifted the tracing pencil-marked tracing paper that Mr. Wesley used to translate newspaper and magazine images into canvas with hallucinogenic changes throughout his career. His eyes shimmered unnecessarily. “It’s magic!” He said.

John Mercer Wesley was born on November 25, 1928 in Los Angeles. His father, Nell, named after the Old Testament patriarch, returned home from a hardware store job one Saturday in 1934 and died of a stroke on the bathroom floor of his family. As Mr. Wesley recalled.

After spending a year in an orphanage, his mother, Elsa Marie Patzwaldt, who worked for the Los Angeles telephone company, remarried and brought him back. The trauma of his father’s death had a profound effect, and the young Wesley became seriously lonely and unable to drive until he got married.

When he was young, he attended art classes at night, incorporating all his blue-collar work, including dishwashers, warehouse stockers, and aircraft riveters. Two of his jobs provided an unlikely feed to the painter he was supposed to be. In 1953, he was hired by Northrop Aircraft Corporation’s illustration department to simplify blueprints into drawings. This was the task of instilling a love for the simple, functional lines and matte blueprints he used in many early paintings.

After moving to New York in 1960, he worked as a post office worker, describing the United States Postal Service as “a very polite prison and full of very decent prisoners,” using some of the post office symbols. started. Found as a painting subject on his employee badges and postage stamps like shields.

This work is intended to look like a “banner, poster, or something” of Jasper Johns, whose picture of a deadpan of flags, targets, and numbers was described by Johns as a depiction of the “thing of the heart.” He said he was affected already knows. “

This reduced rendering of everyday objects by Wesley was first exhibited at the Fels Gallery in Los Angeles in 1962 by Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, and Andy Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup Can” painting. It is also reflected in the work at that time.

However, it soon became apparent that the visual fixation and style of Mr. Wesley’s work was far stranger than that of his pop compatriots. By 1963, he had repeatedly placed animals such as camels, frogs, baby birds, and bohemian squirrels in a freeze-like form reminiscent of ancient Egyptian tomb sculptures. “Repetition makes things interesting,” he once said.

His titles — “Debbie Milstein swallowed a thumbtack”, “Hungarian dog wrestler”, “The day it rained the baby I caught a couple” — whether he borrowed them from an old yose routine Sounded like. And he’s strange, including Theodore Roosevelt, Radyard Kipling, Count Henri de Baile Latour, a Belgian diplomat, and chairman of the International Olympic Committee, which oversaw the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. I chose an outdated portrait. Wesley for years.

Around 1973, he began to immerse himself in Chic Young’s popular comic “Blondie” for a long time, Dagwood Bumstead. The cowricked character replaced Mr. Wesley’s missing father.

“When I was little, it was really my house. Those lamps, their curtains, their chairs,” he talked about the painting scenario, sometimes depicted in a dissonant awakening of Japanese woodblock prints. He added: “My dad was like Bumstead. He was as thin as Bumstead and was wearing a tie at work. When he came back from work in the evening, he wore a hat to his neighbors. I’m looking for Nell Wesley. “

When he was young, Mr. Wesley looked a bit like a cartoon character. His tall, rugged beauty and the impact of his straight brown hair bent over. In New York, he was a member of a diverse crowd of early postmodern artists, including Flavin, Judd, Robert Ryman, and Joe Bear, the painter who was Wesley’s second wife. The person he moved east from Los Angeles.

Along with his first wife, Alice Richter, he survived with two children, a daughter Christine Knox and a son Nell Wesley. After divorcing Bear in the 1970s, he married the novelist Hannah Green and stayed with her until her death in 1996. The painter and playwright Patthew Broderick, the mother of actor Matthew Broderick, was his companion for six years until her. Death in 2003.

Mr. Wesley’s work was exhibited at the International Art Exhibition Documenta 5 in Kassel, Germany in 1972, and a retrospective exhibition at the PS 1 Contemporary Art Center in Queens (now known as MoMA PS1) in 2000. It was held. , Whitney American Art Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. But in a sense, he remained Cognocente’s darling until the end — an elegant and mysterious expert.

“The continued fashion of Wesley as a painter is, in every respect, similar to the fashion of jazz musicians and songwriters who are greater than American artists,” critic Dave Hickey wrote in Artforum in 2000. increase. A lover, he’s just John Wesley, a recognized master, and Cole Porter in painting. Those who know know. People who care about care; people who don’t know or don’t care have no clues, but that’s okay. “

Green, one of the best writers of her husband’s work, calms the ignorance of his sources while Wesley’s unusual talent can touch them like an awakening dreamer. I said it was to accept.

“His ideas come about when the mind turns into darkness (like the earth),” she writes. “His mysterious and diverse iconography requires certain magic, and he himself has certain mysteries.”

Jaevon Williams contributed to the report.


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