WW discusses his life in photography in this short film from The Art of Photography.
I've been using postcards in may paintings since the 1990s. My selections have evolved over the years. When I began it was interesting to connect two disparate scenes, adding a third and a fourth. In some cases I used scores of cards to create a new and enveloping space.
I preferred the cards that had no borders so I could make them disappear. In these paintings the eye could drift from one card to the next seamlessly. Horizon lines became irregular and at times references to cubism emerged. Later it became interesting to capture the card perspective and construct a more convincing whole. Interior scenes with picture windows (and pictures in frames) could be created. Museum spaces were alluded to at times. As a challenge I made a conscious effort to use cards with borders and strong graphic divisions within them to construct another kind of space -- a kind of modernist reference to Kandinsky, Stuart Davis, Mondrian, Leger, and others.
As always the painting starts easily and finished slow. Like all painters I worry about the upper left hand corner and the lower right. My problems may be solved by finding just the right card and that invokes shuffling through my considerable and unorganized collection. I tend to stay away from really beautiful collectable cards. Out of respect.
For more on WW's postcard paintings, have a look at the new book William Wegman: Painting, which features essays from Bob Elliott, Martin Filler, Amy Hempel, Robert Krulwich, and Susan Orlean.
Fay's 12 Days of Christmas is a 30 minute video piece I made in the early 90's for children (of all ages). It takes its form from the dog alphabet and numbers I created using my dog Fay Ray and three of her puppies Batty, Chundo, and Crooky.
I used the simple trick of running the track backwards to make it appear as though the dogs fell all by themselves into these number configurations. As I recall, I had the hardest time getting the devilish Crooky to lie flat for any length of time. If you look closely you can see her fidgeting.
As the countdown proceeds to the big day we see the Fay family (in full dress prepare) in various ways. Fay makes fruitcake, other family members wrap presents, make cookies, cards, popcorn chains etc. Of course to accomplish these complicated tasks the dogs would need human hands. For that, my assistants Andrea, Jason, Lisa, and my sister Pam delivered them superbly and hilariously. For the arm/hand providers this is not an easy task, for they have to keep hidden from the camera while performing. It has always amazed me what a convincing illusion this is. I wish you could have seen it. It is even more amazing live than on tape. Oh well, perhaps another time. But that is not likely. There was only one Fay Ray.
Or were there two?
As an artist I have a lot of freedom. I can do whatever I want. No one can tell me what to do. It's all up to me.
But sometimes I can't figure out what to do. I have to look outside for inspiration. In my photo work, there are my dogs. They give me ideas and lead me in many directions.
Painting to me is a different world. The weight of history is immense and can be an awful burden. I majored in painting in college. But by the time I got to grad school, a hard edge, minimal style as was dominant in the art magazines. I turned to installation, performance and ultimately video and photo.
But by the mid 80's, I missed painting and dreamt of returning to it. But I was lost. I found myself asking the question, "What is a suitable subject for painting?"
Books, picture books, encyclopedias…all have been helpful when I go shopping for subjects to paint. As child my favorite encyclopedia was the Book of Knowledge (circa 1950).
When I returned to painting I thought it would be smart strategy to skip everything I learned in art school which lead me out of painting and go back to my childhood sources for inspiration. In high school the artists who painted the "Breck Girl" were my idea of great.
I began to use the history of painting on itself. A work of mine that stands out for me in this regard is a painting of tents. Tents are made of canvas...paintings are made on canvas. Midway through I noticed the painting resembled Cezanne's paintings of mountains.
The path of Modernism was no longer straight and narrow, and this seemed like a fruitful and heady direction for me. All I ever needed was an excuse to paint. And now I had one.
In a few years I began to use postcards in this way more and more, First on paper, and later on wooden panels where they can be glued to the surface. Today they dominate my work and I have too many cards to stop.
Recently I have found inspiration in the work of other artists represented in postcards. One of the artists who I always turn to is Picasso.
But even more useful to me currently is Kandinsky. Kandinsky inspired a lot of cartoonists. When a cartoonist wants to lampoon modern art Kandinsky-like imagery is solicited. In my postcard paintings Kandinsky has been there for me repeatedly. They are easy to capture and extend. I can lose myself in Kandinsky and by so doing find myself.
William Wegman: Artists Including Me is on view now at the San Jose Museum of Art.
I was born in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. The house was old, and my bedroom was in a garret. It was scary to find the bathroom at night, so I peed into a vent in my bedroom closet. (Unfortunately, the vent was right above the kitchen table. )
WW is the guest editor of the October 2015 issue of Wallpaper magazine. Here are a sneak peek of a few of the images from the shoot. Also, be sure to to check out this video Wallpaper produced on how WW works, and an interview about his visit to the studio of iconic furniture designer George Nakashima.
photo Kimberly M. Wang / eardog.com
Lately, I’ve been listening to spectral composers, Gérard Grisey being the most notable (no pun intended). Tristan Murail is another, and while I’m at it, Philippe Manoury is worth a try. And by all means, try Kaija Saariaho, whose music the opera and theater director Peter Sellars calls " an obsessive, immersive and magical weather system bringing ecstasy, cleansing, and renewal."
I have this music on all the time in my studio while I paint. Hopefully, when you look at my paintings you will hear some of this. Here are some of my current favorites:
Gérard Grisey, Les Espaces Acoustiques, 1976, and Vortex Temporum, 1994
Tristan Murail, Winter Fragments, 2006
Philippe Manoury, Fragments pour un portrait, 1998
Kaija Saariaho, Works for Orchestra, 2012
In honor of a photo shoot WW did last week with a group of young subjects, we're reprinting an excerpt from William Wegman: Puppies, about the first time he photographed Fay's puppies:
"Photographing puppies in the first two weeks is simple. Just set them down, or up, and shoot. Group them together in various formations. Watch them flow into one another – one organism, seeking heat and its mother’s scent. Their eyes don’t open until they are about two weeks old. Fay didn’t mind me photographing her and her puppies. She looked sweet and slightly cross-eyed, high on life.
She did, however, pay close attention whenever I took a puppy away for a picture. As long as they were in view, Fay was okay. But separating one from the rest was upsetting to the puppies. They needed to be returned quickly to their mates…….
At a couple of days old, the puppies were more alien than cute. Their tiny footpads and flip-tab ears made them look like cheaply made vinyl toys. Their ears were sealed shut, as were their soft, bulging eye sockets. And they were striped! These markings were to fade to gray in three days, which is typical, but at that moment, when I first began to photograph them, the puppies were the most beautiful velvety gray with silver stripes running down their backs."
Photographs courtesy Kimberly M. Wang/ eardog.com
The photographs in William Wegman: Good Dogs on Nice Furniture, currently on view at Imago Galleries in Palm Desert, California, show Wegman’s always agreeable dogs posed on furniture by Herman Miller, Charles and Ray Eames, and George Nelson. In honor of this new body of work, we're looking back at one well-loved prop from the early days: namely, a chair that made its way back to him from California to New York, years after he left his studio there.
Here’s what WW has to say about that chair:
“This chair was in my studio in Santa Monica. That was about the third year I was working on photos. I started in Wisconsin, then when I moved to L.A., I was teaching at Cal State Long Beach and living in San Pedro. I got Man Ray the first month that I moved to L.A. in 1970, and he became an occasional prop and collaborator both in video and in these early photo pieces.
This chair was one of six like it. I don’t remember how I got them. They became used as a simple prop. A chair is always used in philosophy as a demonstrator, and so I used it in that sense, too, just as a basic prop. I like the way that it was so simple and non-decorative -- kind of absurdly so in some of them. The most significant work that I can remember is a video called Massage Chair, where I specifically pretend that it is one. As far as the photo pieces, I used it in one sentence work Paris In The Spring, where I added another “The,” which you may or may not notice.
When I moved to New York--I thought temporarily -- I loaned and then ultimately gave my studio to John Baldessari, and when I was stopping in to visit my studio and John, I noticed a chair there and was really excited about it. John mailed it to me two or three years ago, and that is why I have it.”