NEW YORK TIMES, January 2, 2009
Question of Women
Fredericks & Freiser
For more than five decades John Wesley has been creating poetically resonant paintings in a formally acute cartoon style. Most of the paintings in this lovely show date from the mid-1990s and depict young women who look like fashion models. There is much exposed flesh and in several cases hints of Sapphic intimacy, but carnality is quickened by something more subtle, a preoccupation with the erotic intercourse of speech.
"The Liar" is a closely cropped picture of two women's faces. One in profile is saying something as the other gives her a suspicious, sidelong glance. In "Whisper" a woman speaks into the ear of another, who, naked, reclines with a beatific expression. One of the show's oddest pictures is "Good Night," a close-up of two sets of much enlarged, voluptuous lips, one above the other. They seem to hover between speaking and kissing. There emerges the sense of a privately shared language of the feminine, a language of implication, misdirection and ambiguity. You might say that the painter is listening for the oracular voices of his own inner female.
The beauty of Mr. Wesley's paintings is as much in the abstraction as in the imagery. The reduced palette of pinks, coral reds, black and sky blue; the sensuous flux of curvy contour lines; and the perfect fitting of large shapes into the rectangle of the canvas — combine all that with the tantalizing imagery and you have paintings that are nearly impossible to look away from.