NEW YORK TIMES, November 26, 1999
Fredericks Freiser Gallery
refined posterish style and subtle mixings of
past and present Americana are so consistent
that it is sometimes hard to notice his little
ups and downs. This show, his 25th New York
gallery show since 1963, is a definite up; every
painting seems perfect and fresh, a charged
drama of formal and human interaction.
Usually the charge is sexual, implicit in the
fastidiously painted female bodies and faces,
and in the contrast of Mr. Wesley’s longtime
palette of nursery pinks and blues which are
invariably brought to attention by crisp additions
of black (beginning with outlines) and white.
The sweetness and measure of these images, and
their slight datedness, lend a veneer of decorum
to an undeniable adult eroticism. In Kissing
Blonde, a man with marcelled hair and mustache
(descended from a barber-shop quartet) kisses
the shoulder of a modern woman; her face registers
pleasure, a sharp sucking in of the breath.
Sometimes the implied relationship is more complex,
as in a close-up image of two heads; a pensive
man in sunglasses, and a rather determined if
waterlogged-looking woman in a bathing cap.
The title is Boat Race, and she’s clearly
more interested in winning than he is.
The same sense of emotional tension and edge
of sadness is also apparent in Boyfriends, in
which we look over the shoulder of a woman as
she looks towards the middle of a lake where
two men paddle toward her in a canoe. Is she
choosing? The space of this painting, while
contradicted as usual by the flat colors, is
generously deep and seems new for Mr. Wesley.
Sometimes the frisson is simply funny. In Wow!
Whoops Oh Boy! As sea gull seems to have been
goosed by an ocean wave whose crinkled lettuce-leaf
edges suggest revved-up Hiroshige. The crinkling
is electric, thrilling, and one of the ways
Mr. Wesley animates his compositions. In addition
to water, he usually reserves it for black hair,
where it intimates a kind of animal strangeness
and emotional turbulence bubbling quietly beneath
the surface, waiting.
Mr. Wesley’s achievement has always been
placed somewhere near to, but outside of, Pop
Art, and this intimation of real-life feeling
beneath his artifice is one of the things that
keeps him separate.