John Wesley: Together And Alone
Fredericks & Freiser Gallery, NYC
September 6th - October 20th
There’s not much here. Powder blue, powder pink, skin colour and a thin self-conscious, spindly black line.
It defies you. Is it meant to be inaccurate? Not well done?
It's as if Egon Schiele suddenly wanted to be Al Capp but something went wrong at the point of realization. The line drifting, like wet Letraset figures on warped showcard.
John Wesley has a new show at Fredericks & Freiser Gallery in New York City. The men are not attractive, the women are. Gangly 20s’ers and older more fully formed. An ugly bald man appears a few times, as in this one, peering curiously.
It's as if the whole painting has been made so that the composition can pivot on his nostril.
A grumpy middle aged man is in the foreground in dinge brown. A young girl looks down at her fingers in dismay (perhaps). The background is sky blue, the grass, sap green. Youth! The outline of the shoulders of the man can be read as her open legs, his collar implying open crotch panties. An intimate act and a dissatisfied figure walking away, in one image.
The artist finds a photograph...
"...he traces it, makes a graph, and uses algebra to enlarge it in several stages until the drawing is ready to be transferred onto the canvas. During what would seem, so described, to be a mechanical process, strange and irrational and funny things go on." Hannah Green*
(Wesley's wife until her death in 1996.)
The glad handing of the Pop artists is not attempted. He's not here to impress you. The mood is one of inexplainable phenomenon and lost connections.
At the age of six Jack Wesley saw his father lying out in the bathroom, he had died of a stroke. Jack went to live in an orphanage -- The McKinley Home for Boys -- and stayed there until his mother married again.
But "reading" a John Wesley will only take you so far. It's better to look, or "listen." They work like an absurd joke.
"My granny was recently beaten to death by my grandad.
Not as in, with a stick -- he just died first."
These paintings remind me of another great American artwork -- David Lynch's Lost Highways. I saw it, alone, away from home in a hotel room. I realized halfway through that I had to stop trying to follow it and just let the director lead me.
"I'm not a real painter," Jack says.
"I'm getting away with murder. I don’t really know how. I can only do what I do."*
But with Wesley's work you can’t let it be open to individual interpretation either. He has taken you this far into a zone of ambiguity. You’ve entered the envelope, knowing full well that there is no there, there.
I think that's hard for Americans to do. It's a country where people speak a lot of different languages. They don't like to be left behind in the workplace just because they don't understand what's going on. Living here as a Welshman I have found that ludicrous endings and point-less stories don’t go down well.
That's why there are so few elements in his paintings. He makes it simple. Gives you space. It makes it easier for him to lead your gaze where he wants to take it.
* A Journal in Praise of the Art of John Wesley written by Hannah Green 1974