Grand Funk

In search of the Wiley doodler

Even presidential persecutor Kenneth Starr is dragged into the watery morass -- a cross-eyed starfish clings to a signpost bearing the words "Ken Star His Leaky Staff."

In Predator Naturale -- Or Sneakers in the Target Zone, a blunderbuss-wielding hunter, labeled "Big Game Time Hunter," takes aim at some unseen prey amid a sea of crudely drawn floating targets and inscriptions in Latin. Grinning monsters thread their way through the canvas. Beneath the hunter, the artist has scribbled, "No. I just don't think it's a very important one; Kill it anyway . . those things breed like critics, especially the unimportant ones."

The artist also throws art historical imagery into his agitated mix. In Weighing of the Heart, an eagle-headed Egyptian god straight from some ancient temple frieze grabs the arm of an Egyptian female. Next to the figures, Wiley has scrawled, "Easy on the arm, birdster" (or could it be "bardster?"). In the distance, Anubis, the fox-headed Egyptian god who oversees the weighing of hearts, is sizing up a dead black disk on a scale. Across the bottom of the canvas, there's a red, white and blue bar code, and a whistling Mickey Mouse drives a roadster toward the foot of the bird-god; a thought balloon over Mickey's head announces "American Eye Con."

Shooting from the quip: William Wiley's Predator Naturale  --  Or Sneakers in the Target Zone.
Shooting from the quip: William Wiley's Predator Naturale -- Or Sneakers in the Target Zone.

Now and then, Wiley creates a focal point in his otherwise untamed compositions. A fiery red devil, a refugee from some medieval painting, fiddles center stage in Evolution -- the Eclipse and the Devil in Kanvas. With eyes bulging and tail pointing to a cartoon girl, Satan levitates above a white picket fence, vying for attention with a cyclone-borne house, a pot of gold, a dinosaur and spinning globes. A tangle of penciled graffiti in the background holds its own against these images: "The Land of cyclone and psych loan," "But I thought the devil was in the details," "The Good Book and the Bad Book . . which do you want to read???" and "So . . the moon . . we own it, right?" But one central passage connects the dots between the painting's title and a number of its puzzling images: "Looks to me like the devil's in (me) kanvas and he's playing into our hands . . I'll never [leave] home again."

William Wiley's come a long way from the stripped-down abstract expressionism he abandoned early in his career for what one writer has snidely referred to as "dude ranch Dada." The paintings in "Recent and Relevant," much too deliciously complicated to consume in one sitting, yoke (or maybe even yolk) stream of consciousness to the artist's perpetual, encyclopedic interest in the universe and the folly of human nature. One of the first artists to actually use writing in his art, Wiley continues to morph with the times, while paying wry but oddly respectful homage to the past. At the very least, he's raised doodled dreams to the level of high art.

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