Los Angeles, California native John Wesley moved to New York in 1960. He became prominent in the early sixties creating images of traditional emblems, historical figures, comic book personalities, animals, sexy women, athletes and showgirls into surreal daydreams. Wesley is known for his pastel palette, his use of painted “frames” within his pictures, his early emblem paintings, his cartoon Bumstead paintings, and “ultimately for his representations of an inner erotic voyage where we are both the voyager and the voyeur.”
Using tracing paper and stock photographs, Wesley’s colorful and figurative style reflect the “flat” world of comics and posters. Other influences on his work range from Surrealism to Art Nouveau, from ancient Greek pottery to Matisse.
As a press release for the January-February 2001 exhibition of his work at the Harvard University Art Museums points out, “Wesley has been painting acutely sexual, intensely observed, narrative paintings for more than 40 years. The conspicuous characteristics of his work since the early seventiesits insistent flatness, powdered pastel palette, cartoon/cinematographic narratives, embrace of the sexually charged encounter, sophisticated anthropomorphism, and mannered drawinghave enormous appeal for younger painters inspired by a digital revolution to rethink the medium: Wesley’s painting looks like nothing else out there.”
Linda Norden, the curator at the Fogg who organized the show on Wesley notes, “Wesley’s paintings can be frighteningly funny, poignant, and just plain weird; but there is a complex pictorial intelligence driving this body of work.”
The Pop Image: Prints & Multiples (NY: Marlboroush Graphics, 1994)
Marco Livingstone, POP ART: A Continuing History (NY: Abrams, 1990)
Biography from the Archives of AskART.