‘A Beautiful, Pathetic Object’

It’s a pleasure to meet William T. Wiley, who moved and shook in a West Coast “funk art” scene while steering clear of wealth and fame. It’s no surprise that agreement on what exactly defined the funk art movement was nugatory. For example: “It wasn’t, for starters, redolent of New York in the heyday of Minimalism.”

Based at the University of California, Davis, [Wiley] shared his idiosyncratic wisdom, or “Wiz-dumb,” as he called it… He exhorted his students to remain open to everything, except for theory or ideology.

Wiley’s Weltanschauung emits a whiff of California cool that’s quaintly boomerish — like praying for peace. This article evokes the vibe in alluding to “a now-vanished scene informed by Mr. Wiley’s communitarian spirit.” It must be said, an artist whose idea of real life was “to go salmon fishing or deal with tree limbs” has found purpose.

This tribute leaves me with a sole sticking point:

Mr. Wiley’s affection for Western lore and the myth of the lone rider was undercut by an opposing fascination with the meditative proclivities of the Far East. He was a devotee of Zen Buddhism, in which he was deeply read, and his friends wondered whether it explained his permanent air of detached mellowness.

I’m far from understanding why devotion to Zen is perceived to “undercut” and oppose affection for cowboy mythology.

(Deborah Solomon, “William T. Wiley, ‘Funk Artist’ Who Spurned Convention, Dies at 83,” NYTimes, 5-5-21 )

(c) 2021 JMN

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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