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b. 1928, United States

John Wesley Biography

John Wesley is an American Pop artist whose graphic nudes set minimalistic figures in surreal settings across pastel shades of pink, green, and blue. His work has been shown across exhibition sites from MoMA P.S.1. to the windows of the Hermès store on Madison Avenue.

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Early Life

Born in Los Angeles, Wesley worked as an illustrator for Northrop Aircrafts in 1953, drawing simplified blueprints for engineers. In 1960, Wesley moved to New York, where he supported his painting practice with a job at the post office.

Wesley exhibited for the first time at the Robert Elkon Gallery in 1963, where he showed a series of large-scale acrylic paintings in his signature pastel shades. The show was reviewed by Donald Judd, who remained a supporter and close friend of Wesley's.

John Wesley Artworks

John Wesley's acrylic paintings show imaginary nude figures set against grass greens, baby blues, and pastel pinks, often accompanied by the artist's signature white border.

Pop Art

Wesley's images became well-known in the 1960s for their use of traditional emblems, historical figures, comic book personalities, animals, and sexualised women, drawing from advertising materials such as stock photos and tracing paper.

Maiden, from 11 Pop Artists, Volume I (1965), shows a dark-haired female figure on her knees wearing a Marilyn Monroe-like expression, framed by a black border. Six pairs of hands surround her, reaching towards the figure, halted by the frame.

Just as explicit, the acrylic painting Plague (1967) shows a naked female body on her knees surrounded by a grid of diaper-wearing infants, alluding to the 'disease' of mass procreation—pertinent to the production of both artwork and human life.

Surrealism

While Wesley emerged with the 1960s Pop art movement and is often linked to the Minimalist movement through Donald Judd, the artist's sparse comic strips bear Surrealist influences, evident across his serene but evocative scenes that evade strict classification.

Works like Untitled (Mickey & Minnie) (1983), which features pastel patterns of embryonically attached mouse-eared figures against a blue and green landscape, infuse simple compositions with sexual connotations using detailed shapes.

In Hannah's Rabbit (1986), a two-dimensional rabbit is seen from the profile outlined in black paint with its ears raised. Its single blue eye looks over to viewers with a hint of confrontation, the same shade of the flattened blue and green landscape.

Erotica

Wesley's nude paintings often depict naked women against sparse surroundings. Coach (2001) shows a short-haired figure unclothed in front of a green lawn and an open sky, spread in a posture that is at once explicitly expressive and softly evocative.

Untitled (2005), on the other hand, explicitly apprehends the female nude spread open on a blue surface, where the absence of specific context generates a dream-like state.

Awards

John Wesley was nominated as a Flagship artist for The Armory Show in 2006. He is also the recipient of the Skowhegan Award for Artistic Achievement (2005), the Purchase Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2004), a National Endowment for the Arts Grant (1989), and a Guggenheim Fellowship (1976).

Exhibitions

John Wesley's work has featured in solo and group exhibitions throughout the world.

Select solo exhibitions include Waddington Custot, London (2016, 2008); Fredericks & Freiser, New York (2016, 2015, 2012); David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles (2013); Fondazione Prada, Venice (2009); Zwirner and Wirth, New York (2006); Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo (2003); Gagosian Gallery, London (2002); and MoMA P.S.1., Long Island (2000).

Select group exhibitions include Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (2016); Staatliche Museen, Berlin (2016); Tate Liverpool (2011); Museum Of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2009, 2005); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2009); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2007); Centre Pompidou, Paris (2001); and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1993).

Elaine YJ Zheng | Ocula | 2021

John Wesley
featured artworks

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Untitled (figure at bar) by John Wesley contemporary artwork painting
John Wesley Untitled (figure at bar), 1974 Acrylic on paper (two parts)
36.8 x 218.4 cm
Waddington Custot Request Price & Availability
Rocky Mountain Gym Teacher by John Wesley contemporary artwork painting
John Wesley Rocky Mountain Gym Teacher, 2002 Acrylic on canvas
160 x 134.6 cm
Sold
DE SARTHE
Mail Order Blues by John Wesley contemporary artwork painting
John Wesley Mail Order Blues, 1972 Acrylic on canvas
101.6 x 101.6 cm
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DE SARTHE
Dream by John Wesley contemporary artwork painting
John Wesley Dream, 1972 Acrylic on canvas
99.1 x 129.5 cm
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DE SARTHE
Coach by John Wesley contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
John Wesley Coach, 2001 Acrylic on paper
67.3 x 58.4 cm
Waddington Custot Request Price & Availability
Hannah's Rabbit by John Wesley contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
John Wesley Hannah's Rabbit, 1986 Acrylic on paper
54.6 x 39.4 cm
Waddington Custot Request Price & Availability
Show Girls by John Wesley contemporary artwork painting
John Wesley Show Girls, 1996 Acrylic on canvas
81.3 x 152.4 cm
Pace Gallery
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John Wesley
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Represented by this
Ocula Member Gallery

Pace Gallery contemporary art gallery in 540 West 25th Street, New York, United States
Pace Gallery Hong Kong, Beijing, London, Los Angeles, New York +6
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John Wesley in
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