Plus: African Butterfly Research Institute, Kirkland exhibition review, bug brownies
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Issue no. 30
Celebrating William T. Wiley

We all suffered a loss when William T. Wiley died on April 25th at age 83. An audacious visionary, Wiley was an oracle, combining imagery, symbols and wordplay to articulate the social and environmental angst of our time. Thoughtful, empathetic, playful and fun-loving, Wiley was the genius who guided us — with his folksy, stream-of-conscious musings on politics, philosophy and spirituality — toward our better selves.
Todd's impressions of a studio visit with Wiley in January 2014
Visiting Wiley’s studio is like going into a dark room after being in bright sunlight — your eyes need to adjust to the density before you can see anything at all.
Being in his environment is like viewing his art work… you look and you read and you smile and you puzzle and you have flashes of “ahh… yes!”
You keep exploring and no matter how thorough you think you’re being, you’re continually finding something you didn’t see before… making discoveries… connecting… deciphering his codes… comprehending his malapropisms… learning his visual vocabulary… getting his jokes.
Understanding that very often, his “jokes” are as serious as a loose razor blade in the bottom of your toiletries bag.
Despite the comic strip manner, the baseness of the double entendre, the goofiness of his pun, Wiley’s art is a clanging alarm; a voice-over blow-by-blow of everything that’s messed up in our world…like the way we gobble up resources and foul the planet, or blithely hand over information to Facebook and the NSA.

You’re impressed that after more than 50 years of art making, Wiley’s still willing to take on the senselessness. That he’s not been beaten down, though he knows it’s Sisyphean.
That he cares too much not to keep chipping at it. Can’t keep from ranting and chanting and charming in the hopes of getting through to someone.

You’re moved by his stick-to-it-iveness. His lucidity. The down-home common sense and the frontier-plainness of the poetry.
If you’re really lucky, he might play music for you. But it’s unlikely to be on one of the dozen or so harmonicas he keeps in the studio. Rather, he’ll “play” his sculptures constructed of found stuff… strumming and percussing and bowing and plucking.
William T. Wiley, On the Left... We? Attempt a New Sign for the Palate. On the Right, Gold Man Sacks the World, (detail view) 2010, watercolor and ink on paper, 22 x 30 inches
He’ll read to you from Laozi and from a book of smutty quotations, and you’ll know that everything in Wiley’s universe has significance. That the dunce cap and gee-shucksness are but the disguise of a philospher-poet of the most sophisticated order.
Lucinda Barnes Remembers Wiley
image courtesy of Ethan Wiley
"Looking at Wiley’s work, for me, always feels like being immersed in a dazzling conversation with him, one that I want to go on and on: funny, deadly serious, free-spirited, loopy, poetic, punning, and always heartfelt. One of my most vivid memories is of a visit with Wiley in the big barn studio on his gorgeous leafy property in Woodacre, in the late 2000s. It wasn’t my first studio visit with him, but the one my memory favors. At the time, BAMPFA was in the early planning stages of presenting the marvelous retrospective exhibition that Joann Moser curated for the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and I had the great fortune of being in charge of the exhibition in Berkeley. While I was relatively new to the Berkeley community, I thought I was fairly well versed in Wiley’s work. That was until I visited the studio. It was a bit like suddenly finding myself on the Yellow Brick Road headed for a journey of eye-opening adventures and discoveries, none of which were obvious or predictable from the surface. Wiley’s studio was chock-full of paintings, objects (made and found), background sounds (mostly from continuously streaming talk-radio), and above all, ideas and meandering commentaries.
William T. Wiley, SCULPTURE, EYES WEAR TUG ODD, 2019, installation view
The work and conversation coursed in so many directions, from the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, to the invisible threat of radon gas across the continental United States, to the health of salmon that populated the stream running through and around his property in the magical environs of West Marin County, and the antics of Mr. Unnatural, Wiley’s tall, lanky alter ego easily recognizable in his quasi-Zen costume and dunce cap. I could see everywhere in Wiley’s work references to and dialogues with artists, writers, and musicians he admired. I suspect that my memory of the visit to the big barn studio is really many generative memories, which quickly morphed into an ongoing conversation about making and looking at art, about thinking and seeing, and simply about being human.

I have a long list of favorite works by Wiley from across his more than fifty-year career. They open my eyes to something different with each viewing, which means Wiley will be keeping me company for a long time to come. Looking at Wiley’s work is always a gift for me, of his generous and free spirit and his open and warm heart."

Lucinda Barnes, Curator Emerita, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
Wiley in the Press
William T. Wiley, Imitation Wouldn't, 2009, watercolor and ink on paper, 30 x 22 inches
"His work anticipated the obsession with storytelling that would come to dominate contemporary art a generation later."
New York Times

"...Wiley was a founding member of the Bay Area’s Funk Art movement, a collection of artists who steered away from Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism to create work with a figurative focus that often employed crass and political humour alongside wild, surrealist tendencies."
The Art Newspaper

"One reason art students loved Wiley is that he knew absolutely no bounds."
San Francisco Chronicle

"He insisted on making mistakes in public, on making art for the sake of art, even if it was embarrassing. There’s an example here. More mistakes, less packaging; more experiments, less messaging."

"He worked against the grain in a way that was knowingly oblivious, like someone slightly out of time or in possession of ancient wisdom."
image courtesy of Ethan Wiley
23 October - 24 November 2021
William T. Wiley, Agent Orange, 1983, acrylic, graphite, ink and mixed media on canvas, 91 x 128 inches
Eight enormous paintings, spanning a nearly 60-year career, are the heart of an exhibition honoring the colossus, William T. Wiley.
African Butterfly Research Institute
Isabella Kirkland, Uraniids, 2020, oil on wood, 16 x 20 inches
The African Butterfly Research Institute (ABRI) was established in 1996 in Nairobi, Kenya from the collection of Steve Collins, its founder, director and primary donor. The entire collection exceeds 4-million specimens and is the most comprehensive reference-assembly of African butterflies, containing over 98% of all African species currently described. A more permanent home for the collection is currently being sought — preferably one associated with a university or public institution.

Isabella Kirkland’s paintings of butterflies from the ABRI collection are included in her current exhibition THE SMALL MATTER, on view through June 12. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of these paintings will be donated to ABRI.
Renny Pritikin reviews THE SMALL MATTER in SquareCylinder
Isabella Kirkland, THE SMALL MATTER, installation view
Patricia Piccinini
The Awakening
Patricia Piccinini, The Awakening, installation view
Concurrently the gallery is showing Patricia Piccinini’s new 9-minute digital animation, The Awakening.
In the Shop
Isabella Kirkland, Back, from the portfolio Taxa, 2006, color inkjet print on paper, published by Feature Inc., New York, printed by Electric Works, 26 1/4 x 35 inches
"Back depicts species thought to be extinct that have been either rediscovered or nurtured back to abundance through careful cultivation. Here, in what is undoubtedly the most optimistic of the paintings, the emphasis is on nature's resilience and man's ability to reverse the effects of his own destructiveness. The painting also contains a deliberate and quixotic flaw in Kirkland's careful research. A halo of white magnolia blossoms hovers near the top of the composition; in the notes that accompany the series is a description of this particular variety's dramatic re-emergence from 2,000 year-old seeds found in a Japanese archaeological excavation. The story is dubious, but its inclusion speaks to the hope that nature will somehow prove resistant to man's meddling."
—Susan Emerling, in her essay from Isabella Kirkland's catalog TAXA
We Recommend
Isabella Kirkland, Edibles, 2021, oil on polyester over panel, 30 x 40 inches
Bug Brownies

10 tbsp butter, melted
1 scant cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup unbleached wheat flour
1/4 cup cricket meal
1/3 cup Scharffen Berger unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1/3 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 inch square baking pan with parchment paper. Cream butter, sugar and vanilla, then stir in eggs. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, cricket meal, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt, breaking up any clumps as you go. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, mix well and spread into pan.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes.
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