Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Art Space Talk: William T. Wiley

From the very beginning of his career, William T. Wiley has been a maverick. He came on the scene in the early 1960s, developing his inimitable figurative style when virtually every artist in the United States who wanted to be taken seriously was painting in the Abstract Expressionist mode. As he was gaining substantial recognition in the late '60s. Minimalism and Conceptualism were becoming the vogue. Over the ensuing decades, Wiley has remained steadfast in his pursuit of truth and humor.

Brian Sherwin: Mr. Wiley, I observed your work at Art Chicago. How did the exhibit go for you? I understand that many people felt that the influence Chicago has on the 'art world' would be determined by the success of Art Chicago and the Bridge Art Fair. Do you think Chicago is still in the game, so to speak?

William T. Wiley: Game? You bet!

BS: You have been described as the "Michelangelo of Funk", a "dude ranch Dadaist" and as a "kinder, gentler Ted Kaczynski." What do you think of these labels?

WW: OK, my answer to all three labels... Lay Bull... but can be helpful. They might help you from drinking poison... just don't let them get in the way of comprehension and understanding.

BS: The art critic John Perreault stated that you are 'impossible to classify'. He went on to say that you are "one of the most important artists to challenge the very notion of "Mainstream art". Can you go into detail about his statement and how it defines you as an artist? How would you describe yourself and your art?

WW: J.P.'s statement sounds good to me. Does classification establish hierarchy? Lower Arky? As an artist hoping to make art... the doing and making describes me.

BS: Based on Mr. Perreault's statement about your work, do you think that certain schools hold young artists back from taking the creative direction they need in order to create unique works? How is your educational practice different than instructors who are restrictive in their teaching practice?

WW: I don't know. Only you can hold yourself back... a really good or humble student could learn and grow regardless if you're letting your spirit, heart, and soul lead your search or quest!

BS: Mr. Wiley, how has instructing art influenced your own artistic process? Do students even open your eyes to new directions?

WW: All the time... examples... I worked with graduate students Bruce Nauman, John Buck, Debbie Butterfield and many you never heard of. It's just an exchange of gifts if one is open to it.

BS: In what other ways has teaching art inspired you?

WW: Amazing human beings... working and playing with them. Exchanging ideas, possibilities, passions... obsessions.

BS: I'd like to ask you about the Tower. From 1985 to 1991 you worked with Lippincott, Inc. in order to fabricate an extraordinary 75-foot bronze sculpture. The interior spiral staircase leads past figures informed by the myths and mysticism of the middle ages to a star-shaped viewing area overlooking the surrounding woods. What inspired you to take part in this project?

WW: Don Lippincott helping me to do it... supporting me and making it possible. That was my inspiration.

BS: Did you have any doubts about the Tower and its construction?

WW: Not me. Do you?

BS: What about doubting your ability? Have you ever had doubt in your talent and skill as an artist?

WW: All the time...

BS: The majority of your work seems to be influenced by past eras. Why does the past influence your work in this manner?

WW: Like Faulkner said: "The past isn't dead, it isn't even past."

BS: Do you feel that you 'breathe new life' into the past by using symbolic imagery from these past eras?

WW: It is more like I breath in the present. The imagery and symbols... era's... etc... where I'm drawn to them... for me holds power, mystery, instruction...

BS: Mr. Wiley, you have been involved with several major exhibits. Your art has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Museum of Modern Art and several other prestigious venues. Can you recall any exhibitions that had a profound impact on you personally? Does one stand out over the others?

WW: They all have their impact and instruction. The first organized showing of my work- by Brenda Richardson- at the Berkeley Museum titled 'Wizdumb' stands out because of Ms. R... and it was the first.

BS: Having exhibited widely does it ever feel like on exhibit is no different than the next? Or does each new exhibit give you a park of energy, so to speak?

WW: No. There are ups and downs... sparks come from many sources. Failure... success... do not be fooled by either.

BS: What advice do you have for younger artists? It is no secret that young talent can be exploited for personal gain. What should a young artist focus on and look out for?

WW: You exploiting you... and going against your inner voice... your gut feeling, your instinct. No matter what is being denied or offered, the true you knows better. You have to learn to heart it.

BS: Looking back on the years that you have created art- what do you think your legacy will be?

WW: I don't know. I don't have to worry about that.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art, the art market, or anything else about the 'art world'?

WW: No, not really. Most of it has been said over and over again and 'art' doesn't care. Art will not be deceived or confined by the likes of us.
I hope that you have enjoyed learning about William T. Wiley and his art. You can find out more about William by visiting his site:
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin


Anonymous said...

I was privileged to be one of his students years ago at Davis and am one of the "ones you never heard of." Wiley's work brings up a response in me that no other artist's work has the power to do. It has to do with freedom to just do it, say it, be it, no matter what. I think his genius is revealed in layers, and I so often laugh out loud as I study his pieces. I was thrilled to see he is still going strong and clinging to "beginner's mind". I would love to see more of his work but don't know where. I treasure the interactions we have had and know that it has made a difference in my life. When I see his work it gives me the courage to try again.

Joe Chiappetta said...

This is my favorite line from the interview and so true. On working with other artists, WW says, "It's just an exchange of gifts if one is open to it." Gifts is the key word. That is exactly what creativity ability is, a gift from an incredible giver.