John Wesley exhibition: the Los Angeles-based artist to host exhibition at London's Waddington Custot

Steve Dinneen
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John Wesley, Suitcase, 1964-1965

At first glance, you might throw Wesley in with the pop artists. Recurring female nudes recall a less fetishised Allen Jones, the industrial blocks of colour echo both Haring and Lichtenstein, his rhythmic repetition brings to mind Warhol. But Wesley sits uneasily in this company; even his more overtly pop motifs – Pop Eye and Olive Oil, for instance – exist in a place of almost negative energy, quiet and meditative, setting them apart from the movement and freneticism of his peers.

Los Angeles-born Wesley, now 87, is drawn obsessively to the certain themes and visual styles, so much so that his upcoming exhibition plays on the famous Henry Ford witticism about customers being free to choose whatever colour car they like as long as it’s black. With Wesley, you can choose whatever colour art you like as long as it’s pink and blue. The Waddington Custot exhibition, entitled The Henry Ford Syndrome, is the first UK solo show of Wesley’s work in eight years, bringing together his surreal, repeated images, with their limited colour palettes and ambiguous, wry sense of humour (“If you say foot, foot, foot, foot, foot, foot, foot, foot, foot long enough then foot becomes hilarious… If you paint 40 Nixons it puts Nixon in his place,” says Wesley). Unlike, say, Warhol, with his production-line of screenprints, Wesley painstakingly paints each repetition, resulting in subtle quirks and flaws.

There’s also a graphical rigour to his paintings, perhaps a call-back to his work as a draftsman for an aeronautical company, which has attracted comparisons with the minimalist tradition, with its precise shapes and mathematical recurrence (his work is certainly an influence on contemporary minimalist painters such as Geoff McFetridge). But Wesley’s work is too dreamlike, too surreal, to fit comfortably in this tradition, either. He’s a difficult man to pigeon-hole, and that’s all the more reason to seek out his work.

John Wesley, The Henry Ford Syndrome, Waddington Custot, 16 September–22 October

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