Past exhibition

John Wesley

The Henry Ford Syndrome
16 September–22 October 2016

“If you say foot foot foot foot foot foot foot foot foot long enough then foot becomes hilarious…If you paint 40 Nixons it puts Nixon in his place” – John Wesley [1]

Waddington Custot is pleased to present a solo exhibition of paintings and painted objects by the Los Angeles born artist John Wesley (b.1928). The above quote describes what Wesley coined ‘The Henry Ford Syndrome’ and refers to the rhythmic pattern of repetition throughout his work. As Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev remarked ‘repetition characterises modern life, rational thinking and serial, standardized production’ [2]. It is through repetition of motif, within and across Wesley’s paintings, that his surreal scenarios are constructed. The exhibition will examine the graphic language and varied iconography used across his work from a fifty year period, with many of the works shown in London for the first time.

Consistent formal elements combine to create Wesley’s identifiable visual formula. Colour is always limited, often to a saccharine palette of blues, pinks and greens. Pictorial elements borrowed from an American aesthetic run through his work, taken from photographs, magazines, book illustrations, cartoons and comic strips. Tracing these allows him to strip down images to their key components, and outlines are then reversed or repeated, overlaid or rescaled providing a visual framework. These techniques create flatness and a graphic language which, like many artists at the time, was a result of making work in an age of mechanical reproduction. Wesley utilises these formal elements but disrupts them through enigmatic subjects within peculiar scenes. The characters within his works are juxtaposed with a seemingly illogical range of references from pop culture to erotic encounters, from Americana to animals. Despite this, even the most absurd subjects are underpinned by a rigorous, graphic structure.

Wesley’s work exists somewhere beyond the labels that it has accrued in the last five decades, Pop, Surrealism, Minimalism and ornamental Rococo, and is much more aligned to contemporary artistic production in refusing categorisation. It is the antithesis of the production line and his use of repetition is deliberately inclusive of flaws; a motif turned upside down or a subtle change in direction or colour. This is what separates him from the production line of Andy Warhol or the mathematical repetition of the Minimalists. Nothing is taken too seriously, nothing is certain and the work continues to surprise us.


[1] John Wesley quoted by Hannah Green in “A Journal in Praise of the Art of John Wesley” The Unmuzzled Ox, New York, vol. II, no.3, 1974, p. 45–65
[2] Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, “John Wesley: Capricci,” John Wesley: Paintings 1961–2000, PS1 Contemporary Art Center, New York, 2000

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