John Wesley



John Wesley (b.1928, Los Angeles, California; d.2022, New York City, New York) was an American artist whose paintings hover between Pop art and erotic surrealism. Wesley has consistently worked with his distinctive palette: primarily, varying tones of pastel blue and pink, along with variations on a grass green, strongly supported by black and white, which also provided the key compositional frameworks of the black contour line that describes the forms and the frequent white painted-in border. In the mid-1950s he worked as an aeronautics draftsman in California, interpreting the engineers’ blueprints by making simplified illustrations. In 1960 he moved to New York and worked at the Post Office to subsidise his painting practice. Wesley’s earliest paintings were of stamps and badges, from where he introduced the compositional device of a painted border, usually white, which has remained integral to his image-making ever since. Despite his flat ‘cartoon’ style, and the fact he often exhibited as a Pop artist, Wesley’s intentions were closer to those of surrealism. Frozen, dreamlike scenes take precedence over mass consumption and the contemporary world. For the last decade Wesley’s work has primarily focused on erotic imaginings of the female nude, resulting in images simultaneously ‘explicit and cryptic’.


Wesley’s first solo exhibition was held at the Robert Elkon Gallery, New York in 1963. Donald Judd reviewed the show, and remained from the outset a strong supporter and close friend of Wesley’s; since 2004 there has been a permanent installation of Wesley’s work at Judd’s Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas. In late spring of the same year, Wesley exhibited eight paintings in The Popular Image at Washington Gallery of Modern Art, a show that included most of the artists later considered the core of the Pop art movement. Since then, he has had over fifty solo exhibitions, including eight museum shows at PS1 Contemporary Art Center, New York (2000); Fogg Art Museum, Harvard (2001); and Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1993). In 2006, the Armory Show in New York commissioned him to create the image of that year’s fair. Other recent exhibitions include a retrospective of his paintings on paper at Krefeld Kunstmuseum in Krefeld, Germany (2005). Wesley has been granted a Guggenheim Fellowship (1976); and a National Endowment for the Arts Grant (1989). In 2006 Wesley was awarded the Skowhegan Medal for Artistic Achievement in Painting from the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine.

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Exhibitions and Art Fairs