Untitled (Ducks) by John Wesley

John Wesley

WesleyWorld: Works on Paper and Objects 1961–2004

On View
Jan 12 – Feb 24, 2024
New York
 
Exhibition Details

John Wesley
WesleyWorld: Works on Paper and Objects 1961–2004
Jan 12 – Feb 24, 2024

Gallery

540 West 25th Street
New York

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Above: John Wesley, Untitled (Ducks), 1983 © The John Wesley Foundation
Pace is pleased to present its first exhibition dedicated to the work of John Wesley since the gallery began representing his estate in early 2023.

On view from January 12 to February 24, 2024 at 540 West 25th Street in New York, this exhibition will bring together over 30 works on paper and painted objects produced by Wesley over the course of his career, from the early 1960s to the early 2000s.

Wesley, who died in 2022 at age 93, is known for his flattened, idiosyncratic figurations that defy easy classification within any single artistic movement. Drawing inspiration from images in comics and other mass media, the artist cultivated a distinctive, graphic style characterized by bold, weighted lines, unmodulated color, and an absurdist- edge.

Marked by eroticism, wry humor, and often a slight sense of unease, Wesley’s work explores a wide range of imagery informed by pop cultural and literary sources as well as the artist’s own memories and daily experiences. Many of his works are concerned with enactments of balance and symmetry, examining nuances of sexuality and desire through a formal language characterized by unexpected crispness and precision.

“The puzzling, open-ended ambiguity of Wesley’s depictions encourages expansive gestures of critique, whatever their ultimate merits,” art historian Richard Shiff writes in a newly commissioned essay for Pace Publishing’s digital catalogue accompanying the gallery’s Wesley exhibition. “To a theorist, his art readily demonstrates that interpretation has no limits, for every nuance of graphic difference initiates multiple interpretive threads with the potential to lead just about anywhere.”

Wesley produced a large body of landscapes regularly depicting tranquil shorelines and stormy seascapes, but also rolling hills and urban skylines. In his figurations, the human body and its constituent parts are often used to experiment with repetition as a formal device. Wesley also frequently reimagined characters from popular culture— most notably Dagwood Bumstead and his wife Blondie from the Blondie comic strip—in scenes across his body of work.

“His often caustic wit also has a warm-heartedness to it when the topic demands, and his sense of comedy is no less pronounced than his sense of tragedy,” art historian Martin Hentschel wrote in his 2005 publication on Wesley’s works on paper, continuing later, “He directed his gaze above all to the human condition, with all its peaks, ambiguities, and abysses.”

Pace’s upcoming exhibition will showcase the varied scales of Wesley’s works on paper, allowing visitors to experience the impressive range of form and imagery through which he experimented with repeating, layering, and mirroring—formal mainstays of his paintings. Though the works on view in the show span Wesley’s career, they reveal a remarkable consistency in his approach to image-making over the course of five decades. Tracing the evolution of the artist’s interests over time, these artworks shed light on the different subjects that entered his visual lexicon between the 1960s and 2000s.

The show will take a broad view of Wesley’s life and career, spotlighting several objects by the artist—including a canvas vest and a selection of paper neckties—in addition to his works on paper. These rarely exhibited and, in some cases, never-before-exhibited pieces feature patterns and motifs that are often mirrored in the artist’s works on paper and paintings, reflecting his ability to translate his signature style across mediums and dimensions.

 
John Wesley Portrait

About the Artist

A unique voice in the canon of Contemporary art, John Wesley is known for his precise, lyrical, and often deadpan painterly investigations of the American subconscious. With no formal artistic training, two of Wesley’s jobs had a direct impact on his early practice.

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