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Current Evince: Selected Prints by William T. Wiley from the Smithsonian American Art Museum

July 2 - September 12, 2005


(above: William T. Wiley, born 1937, Blind Mickey's Blues, 1997, color lithograph, 36 x 20 inches (91.4 x 50.8 cm). Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the artist. 2003.68.12)


The Corcoran Gallery of Art is collaborating with the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) to host Current Evince: Selected Prints by William T. Wiley from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. This unique selection of prints, chosen from a major gift of 75 prints and drawings given to SAAM by Wiley and augmented by selected works on loan from the artist and from the Corcoran's own permanent collection, offers an intimate opportunity to engage the highly imaginative imagery and philosophical complexity of Wiley's art and to admire his unique artistry. The exhibition Current Evince: Selected Prints by William T. Wiley from the Smithsonian American Art Museum includes forty-one prints, each laced with Wiley's trademark layers of design and wry text, will be on view at the Corcoran Gallery of Art from July 2 - September 12, 2005.

More than 35 years ago, William T. Wiley began printmaking at Jack Lemon's now legendary Landfall Press in Chicago, IL. Since then, he has executed prints regularly, both alone in his studio and in conjunction with various presses and workshops, using his characteristic style to uncover the expressive possibilities of lithography, etching and monotype. In Wiley's earliest work in both painting and printmaking the draftsmanship was controlled and confident, a supple line actively leading the viewer around each of his seemingly improvised and spontaneous designs. Although his artistic style did not evolve radically over time, it does reveal a broadening appreciation of various constituent elements. (left: William T. Wiley, born 1937, Three Mile Island, Three Years Later, 1983, color lithograph, 38 x 27 inches (96.5 x 68.6 cm). Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the artist. 2003.68.15)

As opposed to his style, which appears to have sprung forth almost fully formed, Wiley's imagery has changed significantly as his interests have evolved. He employs an array of symbols drawn from his personal history most notably: the triangle, the figure eight, the tic-tac-toe grid, the dunce's cap, the skull and the black-and-white staff. Sometimes they are arcane references to specific people, such as the connection of the tic-tac-toe design to one of Wiley's artistic inspirations, H.C. Westermann. In other instances, they may simply refer to the artist's attraction to a pleasing shape or motif, as the triangle appears to be sometimes. In either case, these elements take on a referential life of their own as a viewer follows them from work to work and they become a primer of personal history.

These symbols are combined with Wiley's affection for word play in both his titles and his imagery. Wiley's employment of puns, re-combinant words and deliberate distortions are at once his work's most recognizable trait and its greatest disguise. His prints have been called whimsical, wry, mischievous and droll. While they are all of these to some degree, most importantly the prints are contemplative and insightful. The initial smiles of recognition and bemusement at his puns often mask the serious content of Wiley's images. His titles and words fuel the engine of an imagery that transports the viewer toward a serious meditation on the issues of the day.

Many of Wiley's early prints, as with his paintings, are autobiographical. They are replete with modest personal references. He is the first person narrator of a rich inner landscape, and the grist for his images are his experiences and his abundant imagination-what he has seen and what he was thinking about at the time, the reflections and reactions within Wiley's world. On first glance they seem simple and direct, yet they are often ambiguous, open to broad interpretation. Whatever layers a viewer penetrates, Wiley's cartoon- like imagery seduces his audience into a closer examination that compels us to ruminate on the nature of art and the messages of the artist. (right: William T. Wiley, born 1937, The Sower after Van Gogh, 1997, color woodcut, 19 x 26 inches (48.3 x 66.0 cm). Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the artist. 2003.68.20)

Throughout his career, Wiley has employed humorous word play in both titles and images to explore profound human concerns. For example, in Three Mile Island, Three Years Later, a 1983 color lithograph, the mysterious landscape seen through the gauge suggests the aftermath of America's continued, and perhaps dangerous, attraction to nuclear power. Wiley deploys short phrases and clauses throughout the image, such as "GLOWING ACCOUNTS" that subtly and not-so-subtly allude to the inherent perils of this attraction.

"We are so pleased to be collaborating with the Smithsonian American Art Museum to host an exhibition honoring such a legendary printmaking artist whose work is known to challenge, provoke, intrigue and amuse all at the same time," said Chief Curator Jacquelyn Serwer. "Wiley has captivated audiences for more than 40 years with his use of news and political events as the undertone of his work, but also successfully draws inspiration from art history, literature, comic books and other sources to create his famous contemporary sociopolitical statements."

"There is an innate directness to Wiley's work -- he applies his inherent wit and creativity to basic materials to explore very humanistic themes," said Eric Denker, Corcoran Curator of Prints and Drawings. "Wiley's assured draftsmanship and quiet humor draw us into his world, where we pause to marvel at the metamorphosis of symbols and words and images." (left: William T. Wiley, born 1937, Mr. Unatural, 1976, color lithograph on paper sheet: 36 1/8 x 25 inches (91.7 x 63.6 cm). Smithsonian American Art Museum purchase. 1977.8)

Current Evince: Selected Prints by William T. Wiley from the Smithsonian American Art Museum is organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and the Smithsonian Art Museum, Washington, D.C. and curated by Eric Denker, Corcoran Curator of Prints and Drawings.



William T Wiley was born in Bedford, Indiana in 1937. He studied at the Institute of Art in San Francisco where he completed a Bachelors of Fine Arts in 1960 and a Masters of Fine Arts in 1962. Since completing his studies in San Francisco, he has taught at the University of California at Davis and appeared regularly in individual and group shows throughout the United States, including major exhibitions in both San Francisco and in New York.

Early on Wiley regularly collaborated with the sculptor Robert Hudson, both artists being interested in folk art and an intuitive attitude to the making of art. Wiley's early work was much influenced by Abstract Expressionism, and especially by Clyfford Still. By the early 1970s, however, he had begun to make very vibrant, obsessional paintings, prints, and drawings that combined motifs of pattern-making and text with his own unique eccentric energy. Wiley developed a painterly language that while sometimes abstract, frequently contained references to diverse sources of inspiration, running the gamut from Jungian imagery to Zen Buddhism, from environmental concerns to art history. His designs are rich with texts that suggest narrative complexity interspersed with humorous asides. His works frequently use a figurative style that refers directly to famous artists of the past.

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