Nyehaus is pleased to present Brian Wills: Paintings on view at the gallery from November 18 to January 8, 2011. In order to penetrate the work of Brian Wills lets back up to the years leading up to Wills’ frontal assault in to life as a painter. Historically for instance, when an artist like Robert Irwin began plotting his artistic course, the work began in the studio. Messy albeit beautiful Abstract Expressionist canvases gave way to the Line Paintings, sublime studies of the eye’s ability to discern the slight movement of a horizontal line on a atmospheric background; the steady hand, nonetheless, ever present. These works lead in to the Dot Paintings, convex canvases painstakingly saturated with optically charged red and green microdots across the canvas. Then the Disks, metal or plexi concave disks hovering a few inches from the wall competing with the moon in their majesty. From there the object disappears all together, an empty gallery with an almost invisible intervention of scrim; a fluid and seemingly effortlessly measured path from one body of work to the next. All the work took place in the studio.
The studio is not where Wills’ began his molting process to arrive at these enchanted illuminated fields of motionless liquid. His artistic journey began in the throws of his former career as talent manager, his canvas, a Roman vomitorium of Hollywood egos and excess. Wills, el maestro, glibly conducted this band of wreckage into cacophonous symphony in at least the ears of this community. In the peak of his success, Wills invited me to his studio/garage with the promise of a revelation. He informed me that he was abruptly leaving this world to pursue being a painter. He flung open the doors and I was confronted with the visual equivalent of the world he was exiting; paintings attacked by a man on a mission, earnest, energetic, charismatic even, human in their vulnerability and ultimately brash. Then began/continued the elimination process at an accelerated pace. The way the seduction of the “important” gesture gives way to the hangover of feelings that this mode of creation weighed down by history, becomes garish and self-indulgent, the artist begins a purging process, eliminating all but the bare essentials; the mission, identifying what those essentials are.
First giving up the paintbrush, Wills began to use unconventional materials as his primary mark-making tool. Dental floss, vinyl tape and string are used to painstakingly layered constructions that seem to be in constant flux. At the heart of the work is the artist’s interest in optics and the way the brain registers color, movement and spatial relationships. As the eye is drawn across the lines that argue and agree, the illusion of movement and depth is induced as perception is altered. When viewed from a distance, surfaces morph into shimmering fields of color hovering in an unidentifiable space. The work displays an obsessive dedication to process. The paintings’ intense detail, repetition and variation evoke a meditation on the act of production.
In loosening the composition in this newest body of work, Wills’ has ultimately arrived at a visual language that embraces the legacy of the minimalists ideology indigenous to Southern California, even tracking a transition from the expressionistic to clinging only to the ingredients that support the ephemeral realization of beauty. Unlike East Coast dogma, these Californians don’t apologize for beauty, but celebrate it.
Wills’ formal structures literally are held together by thread—colored thread, that double as modernist composition; grids, zips, horizons. Wills’ surfaces, similar to John McCracken, are a complex layered cake of varnishes and pigments encasing the threads that form his compositions all built up through a laborious process of sanding and building back up. The narcissist could easily be distracted by their reflection in his vibrant pallet, one’s complexion basked in infra reds and blues. Wills’ most radical, almost subversive work removes the background of pigment to let the intrinsic beauty of the grain and tint of wood work its alchemy; the discreet pigment of thread a quiet ocular transformation of the field of timber.
Wills is a graduate of Denison and Harvard Universities. His work has been included in numerous exhibitions in the US and abroad. Recent shows include Swell Art 1950-2010, Metro Pictures, Nyehaus, Friedrich Petzel, NY, String Theory, The Happy Lion, Los Angeles, Themes and Variations at the Torrance Art Museum, CA, Made in California, Selected Works from the Frederick R. Weisman Foundation, Los Angeles, and Consequence at Museum 52 in London. Brian Wills lives and works in Los Angeles.