Art on This Day
On November 25th in 1928, American painter John Wesley was born.
He was a self-taught artist who worked for several years as an illustrator for the avian industry, interpreting the engineers’ blueprints by making simplified illustrations. In 1960 he moved to New York and worked at the Post Office to subsidise his painting practice. Wesley’s earliest paintings were of stamps and badges, from where he introduced the compositional device of a painted border, usually white, which has remained integral to his image-making ever since. His work has been critically acclaimed throughout his career, and he has been the subject of several retrospectives, notably including a show at the PS1 Contemporary Art Centre in New York in 2000.
John Wesley traces fashion and news images from books and magazines as the basis for his highly stylized acrylic paintings. While he adopts the flattened forms and bright colours characteristic of Pop art, his style is often seen in line with the formal tenets of Minimalism espoused by Donald Judd and, somewhat paradoxically, to the Rococo, whose “casual, libidinous allegories” the critic David Hickey credits Wesley with reinventing. Rather than critique consumerist culture, Wesley’s cartoonish paintings, inspired to an extent by René Magritte and Giorgio de Chirico, celebrate fantasy and express human fears and desires. They reference popular culture (especially the comic strip “Blondie”), but fix “on the neurotic, erotically inclined psyche of the American male, with its rage and frustration, longing and loss,” according to New York Times critic Andrea K. Scott.
Wesley has consistently worked with his distinctive palette: primarily, varying tones of ‘pastel’ blue and pink, along with variations on a ‘grass’ green, strongly supported by black and white, which also provide the key compositional frameworks of the black contour line that describes the forms and the frequent white painted-in border.
The most recent John Wesley solo exhibition, The Henry Ford Syndrome, took place at Waddingont Custot gallery in London between 16 September–22 October 2016.
“If you say foot foot foot foot foot foot foot foot foot long enough then foot becomes hilarious…If you paint 40 Nixons it puts Nixon in his place” – John Wesley 
The above quote describes what Wesley coined ‘The Henry Ford Syndrome’ and refers to the rhythmic pattern of repetition throughout his work. It is through repetition of motif, within and across Wesley’s paintings, that his surreal scenarios are constructed. The exhibition examined the graphic language and varied iconography used across his work from a fifty year period, with many of the works shown in London for the first time.
For more information on John Wesley and upcoming exhibitions take a look at Waddington Custot web page.
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