Current Evince: Selected Prints by William T. Wiley from the Smithsonian American Art Museum
In 2003, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art (SAAM) received a major gift of seventy-five prints and drawings from the California artist William T. Wiley. The donation reflects the artist’s long and cherished relationship with the museum and its curators. These unique graphics add to the museum’s already impressive array of Wiley’s prints, making it the single most important repository of his work in the eastern United States. While SAAM is closed for renovations, the Corcoran Gallery of Art is pleased to collaborate with its sister institution in Washington on an exhibition in celebration of this gift. The forty prints chosen for display are drawn from Wiley’s recent gift, and are augmented by works from the Corcoran’s permanent collection and loans from the artist. This selection of prints offers a singular opportunity to engage the highly imaginative, philosophical complexity of Wiley’s imagery and to admire his artistic technique.
William T. Wiley began printmaking thirty-five years ago at Jack Lemon’s now legendary Landfall Press in Chicago. He has executed prints regularly since then, both alone in his studio and in conjunction with various presses and workshops, using his characteristic style to uncover the expressive possibilities of lithography, etching, and monotype. In Wiley’s earliest work in both painting and printmaking the draftsmanship was controlled and confident, a supple line actively leading the viewer around each of his seemingly improvised and spontaneous designs. Although his artistic style did not evolve radically over time, it does reveal a broadening appreciation of various constituent elements.
As opposed to his style, which appears to have sprung forth almost fully formed, Wiley’s imagery has changed significantly as his interests have evolved. He has always employed an array of symbols drawn from his personal history: the triangle, the figure eight, the tic-tac-toe grid, the dunce’s cap, the skull and the black-and-white staff, to note only the most significant. Sometimes they are arcane references to specific people, such as the connection of the tic-tac-toe design to one of Wiley’s artistic inspirations, H. C. Westermann. In other instances, they may simply refer to the artist’s attraction to a pleasing shape or motif, as the triangle appears to sometimes be. In either case, these elements take on a referential life of their own as a viewer follows them from work to work. They become a primer of personal history, a rebus of associated artistic resonances.
Current Evince: Selected Prints by William T. Wileyfrom the Smithsonian American Art Museum is organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and the Smithsonian Art Museum, Washington, D.C. and curated by Eric Denker, Corcoran Curator of Prints and Drawings.