|Wesley Willis, THE DAN RYAN EXPRESSWAY 33RD ST. (night view), 1986, pen on paper, 74 x 102 cm, Courtesy Galerie Susanne Zander/ Delmes & Zander|
16. January - 14. March 2015
Opening: Friday 16.01., 6 – 9 pm
by Johannes Wohnseifer
3.000 characters on Wesley Willis. Is that too many or too few? What one can say is that Wesley Willis was a big man and a great artist. At a little over six foot tall, he was not easy to overlook, a gentle giant whose presence and unwavering directness brought warmth to a room. This is to be understood literally, since his customary head butt greeting created both friction and warmth. This directness can also be found in Wesley Willis’s music. His minimalist pieces in the best Punk tradition can hardly be surpassed in their conciseness. Perhaps an appropriate comparison could be made with the songs of the Ramones inasmuch as it was irrelevant that they always seemed to be playing the same song, on the contrary that was a fundamental part of their inherent quality.
A short documentary about Wesley Willis made by Carl Hart in Chicago in the late 1980s can be found on YouTube. The director had noticed that Willis always sat drawing on the same street corner and tried to make a short documentary filming him as he worked. In one take we see Willis arriving at his usual place with a large briefcase containing his drawing materials. The camera documents the scene from across the street, but when Willis becomes aware of it, he waves with the greatest cordiality directly into the camera thereby completely albeit lovingly disrupting the intended neutral observation.
One sees in fascinating detailed views how Wesley Willis records on paper the urban spaces of Chicago with its high-rises and multi-lane avenues packed with buses, cars, and trucks. Each line sketched with a simple BIC ballpoint pen with a second ballpoint often used as a ruler and later filled in with crosshatching using color felt tipped pens. “I want to make decent drawings,” says Wesley Willis and he draws, every day for hours on end. Despite his chosen use of the most primitive utensils, years of concentrated work have resulted in a high degree of precision and evolved into a craft which Wesley Willis employs playfully. Notice how he renders the tires of a truck. Many short strokes create a structure resembling a short brush which elevates the truck and provides a futurist touch which causes the entire composition to appear as in a parallel future. The minimalist lines of his drawings pick up on the principle of the grid system which allows American cities to expand and extend toward the sky.
I would like to see Willis’s work on paper in an exhibition with drawings by David Hockney, Ellsworth Kelly, Ed Ruscha, and H.C. Westermann. It would be obvious to all that his works are on par with theirs. Should one laugh or cry at the fact that he once sold these masterpieces on the street for just ten dollars each? Wesley Willis was a great American draftsman and artist.
An edited version of this text entitled „Kopfnuss für das Gitterprinzip“ (A Head Butt for the Grid Principle) was published in SPEX Magazine, N°358, 01-02/ 2015, p. 12.