Artist Spotlight: William T. Wiley

  • Artist Spotlight
  • Modern + Contemporary

A notable work in our October Collections Auction is a large print by funk artist, William T. Wiley. Wiley began his artistic studies at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute), and later taught at U.C. Davis alongside artists Roy DeForest and Robert Arneson.


As an associate of the Funk Art movement, Wiley was a purveyor of using unconventional materials, eschewing the Minimalist trend and embracing chaos. He often described himself as a sort of spiritual descendent of Marcel Duchamp, building upon the Dadaist tradition of absurdity. One of Wiley’s graduate students was Bruce Nauman, who would go on to become one of the biggest names in American Conceptual art. Nauman remembered Wiley as keeping his studio open at all hours for students. In doing this, young artists could practice their craft and work through creative blocks.


William T. Wiley, (American, 1937–2021), Mr. Bones, 1989, woodcut with hand coloring, 74&#8243 x 23&#8243.
William T. Wiley, (American, 1937–2021), Mr. Bones, 1989, woodcut with hand coloring, 74″ x 23″.
Estimate: $3,000–$5,000

Wiley’s work has been the subject of major exhibitions, including showings at the 1980 Venice Biennial, the de Young Museum, and a retrospective at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. The monumental woodcut print featured this month is titled Mr. Bones, and features hand coloring by the artist.

The piece demonstrates Wiley’s eclectic visual style, including sketchy, movement-heavy lines and text interspersed throughout, with a humorous, surrealist-inspired subject. Wiley was known for wearing blue jeans and cowboy boots around his Marin County home, a look that is replicated on the aforementioned character of Mr. Bones. His peers and neighbors lovingly referred to the artist as a frontiersman for his choices in wardrobe, but within the artistic community of the San Francisco Bay Area he was exactly that — a pioneer of experimentation.


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