by Nancy Kay Turner
(OCMA Newport Beach, Orange County) William Wegman is an artist whose diverse and often humorous body of drawings, videos, paintings and the ubiquitous photos of his dogs Fay and Man Ray defy categorization. Wegman began his career as a painter but gave it up in the late sixties because he felt that he could become an "average good painter, but not an average great painter." He began to use the medium of photography, because he didn't think he had to "become a photographer to make photographs."
Linked early on with the conceptual artists, who used text and found and altered photographs, Wegman quickly separated himself from that group via a quirky sensibility and ironic sense of humor. In an interview with David Ross, Wegman says "As soon as I got funny, I killed any majestic intentions in my work".
In Cotto, Wegman's first constructed photograph, the image is banal. Wegman's hand, festooned with little ink circles, is placing a piece of salami (riddled with small globules of fat) on a circular plate with other perfectly round slices on it. The white plate starkly contrasts with the black paint splattered surface. There is a strong formal aesthetic in this work that belies its low-tech and funky subject matter. For Wegman, this photograph was pivotal because he realized he could construct his images in the studio and have total control.
"Double Up," color polaroid,
20 x 24", 1989.
"Framed Portrait," color
polaroid, 20 x 24", 1996.
"To Sleep," color polaroid,
24 x 20", 1995.
"Private Show", 10 7/8 x 14", 1978.
|Among my favorites are his altered photographs of the late seventies, Private Show, and Stick Figure. Private Show seems to be a candid picture of a young boy sitting on a hillside, near a group of grown-ups. Wegman has altered the picture by drawing a television with a person on the penned in screen. This is amusing because the boy is sitting in "nature" and watching television. When you ponder this seemingly simple photograph, other readings become apparent. The boy is isolated, spatially and psychologically as he alone is connected as if by invisible string to the screen. By drawing directly on the surface of the photograph, Wegman creates two surfaces and inserts new meaning. With Stick Figure, Wegman draws a Marilyn Monroe lookalike stuck in the ground of a flat field of grass. Surely, the curvaceous Marilyn isn't a stick figure--or is she? Here, Wegman deftly suggests multiple relationships with his witty title: The only flat object in the picture is the ground. This simple image resonates with provocative thought and questions.
Whether dressing up and photographing his deadpan and exquisitely beautiful dogs, or doodling small primitive sketches, Wegman is always more complex and challenging than he seems at first. His restless mind, highly developed sense of humor and beauty, are evident in this large, engaging body of work.