John Wesley

John Wesley.jpg

John Wesley’s engaging retrospective is taking place at Fondazione Giorgio Cini on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, in conjunction with the Venice Biennale, and will be on view until October 4th. The project, which is curated by Italian curator Germano Celant for the Fondazione Prada, features more than 150 works from 1961 to 2007.

John Wesley distinguishes himself for his highly recognizable style characterized by simple tracings, flat areas of color, and the use of a palette dominated by pastel-like colors. Light blue tones and a decorative yet sensuous pink seem to be his favorites. Poster-like, flat, colorful and figurative, Wesley’s paintings are a masterful fusion of tradition and pop cultural references. The linear technique, the essential painterly effects, and the often schematic format, all contribute to cartoons and comic strip appearance of Wesley’s work.


Associated with Pop Art, reductionism, Surrealism, Art Nouveau, as well as artists such as Matisse, Wesley also incorporates clues from popular culture and Japanese iconography and mixes humor and sex in a way which is unpredictable, seductive and poetic. Delightfully painterly, his unique and compelling compositions present a variety of female and male characters, pretty human faces, naked bodies, details of lips, legs and thighs, animals, comic book characters, all populating a narrative that loops between the dreamy-like imagery of the unconscious and contemporary culture. Glamorous and irresistibly appealing, the works on show in Venice certainly bolster Wesley’s position as one of America’s most significant artists.

John Wesley was born Los Angeles, California, in 1928. He has no formal art training, and after holding various jobs, he began painting at the age of 22. In 1960 he left his native Los Angeles to move to New York city, where he met many artists of the time–among them, Donald Judd, who soon became a friend and supporter. He started exhibiting his work at the Robert Elkon Gallery in 1963. The current retrospective at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini in Venice is Wesley’s second major solo show after the one held at the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York city in 2000. He currently lives and works in New York city.