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William T. Wiley

American, 1937 - 2021

Wiley, William

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Born in Bedford, Indiana, William T. Wiley was already interested in art as a child. After graduating from high school, Wiley went to San Francisco, where he enrolled in the San Francisco Art Institute. He received his B.F.A. in 1960 and his M.F.A. in 1962. His work was exhibited in group shows in San Francisco and in New York even during his student years, and after the completion of his studies, he joined the art faculty at the University of California at Davis, where he taught for eleven years. He has served as a guest faculty member at many colleges and universities across the United States, but the San Francisco Bay Area has remained his home and primary work site.

As a student, Wiley was greatly interested in the work of twentieth-century artists such as Salvador Dali, Paul Klee, Joan Miró, Morris Graves, and Mark Tobey. Later he gravitated toward the art of Clyfford Still, Marcel Duchamp, and Horace Westermann; Wiley's work exhibits a similar penchant for mordant, witty puns. Intrigued by the connections among seemingly disparate elements, Wiley explores the possibilities of combining varied aesthetics in his art, at times merging sound, words, and visual imagery in a single work. Over the years he has elaborated on these possibilities, using almost every medium, traditional and nontraditional, in works that gently tweak the eye and the mind. Seemingly, his work contains many contradictions: it is both artful and artless, simple and complex, figurative and nonrepresentational, funny and serious, obvious and obscure. These qualities are present in the Gallery's Now Who's Got the Blue Prints, a work in which the pun of the title is carried out in the image itself, printed in blue and reminiscent of a blueprint. The layers of marks and letters embedded in the blue ground reflect both the obvious architectural associations as well as personal and universal ones--to the materials of art, to artists, to music, to the solar system, and in the skull, to death, and implicitly, to life.

[This is an excerpt from the interactive companion program to the videodisc American Art from the National Gallery of Art. Produced by the Department of Education Resources, this teaching resource is one of the Gallery's free-loan educational programs.]

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