Nov 09 2011

John Wesley at de Sarthe Gallery

by Ashley Lee

Hong Kong’s De Sarthe Gallery is hosting American artist John Wesley’s first solo show in Hong Kong, “Paintings: 1960s – 2000s,” which will run until November 12. Wesley is well known for his ability to defy categorization: his paintings have been considered within the Pop Art or Minimalism movements, but sometimes feature surrealist elements.

Wesley’s works start from commercial images; he begins by tracing over images from magazines, catalogs and advertisements. These tracings are then manipulated—repeated, resized, re-colored, and disparately combined—onto a large canvas. He favors using flat planes of pastel colors, usually pinks and blues, contained by elegant black lines, imbuing his paintings with a graphic quality.

JOHN WESLEY, Mail Order Blues, 1972, acrylic on canvas, 101.6 × 101.6cm. Courtesy de Sarthe Gallery

JOHN WESLEY, Bulls and Bed, 1986, Acrylic on canvas, 182.9 × 134.6 cm. Courtesy de Sarthe Gallery.

His works often feature female nudes in unsettling surroundings. In Mail Order Blues (1972), a woman with her eyes closed is reclining in the center of a blue picture plane; she hovers above eight white hands playing guitar necks. Above her is a row of five “Sears” guitar bodies, which extend from the top of the painting—the juxtaposition of the woman and the guitars is perhaps a commentary on the connection between sex and rock ‘n roll, the “Blues” of the title referring both to the dominant colors and the popular music genre.

The dream-like Bulls and Bed (1986) moves away from the commercial elements of the artist’s earlier work. The top half of the picture plane is dominated by two floating pink bulls with blue eyes, which seem to be preparing to land on an enormous blue-and-white bed covered with frilly pillows and a coverlet. Such whimsical images epitomize the sense of humor ever-present in Wesley’s oeuvre.