For more than 50 years, Marin artist William T. Wiley created art that defied classification and commented on a range of social, political and philosophical topics.
Wiley died last year at the age of 83, leaving behind a massive body of work and several generations of artists whom he influenced through his work and his teaching.
This month, Wiley is the subject of, and inspiration for, two Marin exhibitions. The retrospective show, William T. Wiley: & So… opens on Saturday, Feb. 5, at the Bolinas Museum. On the same day, MarinMOCA opens its annual artists exhibition, What Is Art For?, based on Wiley’s 1999 show of the same name.
Curated by Bolinas Museum Director Jennifer Gately and Marin Art Commissioner Jennifer Wechsler, William T. Wiley: & So… showcases Wiley’s breadth of work—often associated with the Funk art movement—and displays acrylic and watercolor paintings, sculpture, film and even some of Wiley’s music.
“He was revered in Marin and the Bay Area,” Wechsler says. “Whether you wanted to fish with him or paint with him or learn from him, he was the go-to artist.”
Wechsler describes the Bolinas show as a personal exhibit showing in conjunction with a larger exhibit running at UC Davis, where Wiley taught for many years.
“This is a homegrown show that many people will relate to who knew him or knew about him,” Wechsler says.
Bolinas Museum based its exhibit’s title on the wordplay Wiley used in his painting’s titles and incorporated into the work itself. Wiley often opened his musings with “& So” and used the ampersand symbol in his work.
“If you read [the text on] his pieces, it’s just loaded with thoughts, puns, sarcasms and humor,” Wechsler says. “He was known for his critique on issues of the times and … his wordplay was created to make people laugh and think.”
MarinMOCA’s upcoming exhibit—featuring work by the museum’s artist members—is inspired by Wiley and Mary Hull Webster’s 1999 Oakland Museum of California exhibition, in which Wiley declined an invitation for a solo exhibit in favor of showcasing art being produced across the region.
That 1999 show—also titled What Is Art For?—emphasized community, collaboration and inclusivity, and MarinMOCA uses that jumping-off point to highlight its diverse array of artists.
“It’s fun to be able to do this all at the same time,” Wechsler says. “To have UC Davis going on with MarinMOCA and Bolinas Museum.”