MSU, Zagreb: William Anthony – Perfect Imperfections

NO Gallery, 24 July – 26 August 2014

William Anthony – Perfect Imperfections

Very few artists take advantage of mistakes in the drawing technique as the starting point for their entire work. This is precisely why the work of William Anthony, a New York-based artist of Croatian origin, is interesting and stimulating. How did it all begin? Teaching drawing in an art school led him to build his own artistic expression. For educational purposes, he tried to demonstrate and point to beginners’ mistakes in painting to his students by deliberately exaggerating. Wanting to show how not to draw, he used irregular, grotesque, over-dimensional and disproportionate human figures. He described the result of such a didactic method in his book A New Approach to Figure Painting, published in the mid-1960s. However, through the use of irony and parody in the first steps in painting a human body he soon noticed a certain aesthetics and embraced such a satirical treatment, turning it into a new painting style which he consistently maintained throughout fifty years of continuous work.

Anthony’s works, therefore, are characterised by a specific pseudo-naïve graphic approach inspired by mistakes. The intelligent use of such ‘naïve’ drawing allowed him to satirically reinterpret and comment on the icons of art history, the artists themselves, but also historical events and social daily life.

Thanks to such an ironic and grotesque approach to drawing in New York he soon received a series of commissions, like the one by Andy Warhol for Interview magazine, and his drawings are also gathered in several books – Bible Stories, Bill Anthony’s Greatest Hits and War is Swell.

In addition to drawings and paintings, in the mail art project – stamps printed in small runs – Anthony uses a mixed technique of drawing and painting in a miniature form, often accompanied by text in the form of a comic book.

The drawings inspired by World War II were compiled in a book under the title War is Swell, with the additional ironic subtitle A Kid’s Idiotic Vision of WWII. The scenes depict a historical reconstruction of WWII events from the point of view of a seven-year-old American. Anthony re-enacts the wartime events familiar to him, as a boy, from the media – newspapers, television, letters, comic books. The drawings are the expression of a boy who experiences the war full of undoubted confidence in the ‘good guys’’ victory, without caring one bit for the mistakes in the drawing. Childlike clumsy and naïve drawings are accompanied by humorous comments devoid of emotions and politically correct speech. Scenes like D-Day, Battle of Stalingrad, Pearl Harbor Hell seem like a children’s playground, packed with soldier ‘figurines’ arranged in countless small, unconnected battles.

In a similar, satirical way Anthony approaches the art world too. His works referring to the visual culture world are engaged in a dialogue with emblematic works – from old masters to contemporary artists, revealing at the same time his wry sense of humour. The aesthetics of his works stems from the Pop Art movement, which was in full bloom in the sixties, when he began his creative path. His connection with Pop Art and its protagonists is also evidenced in his choice of artists whose works he caricatures: Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Richard Hamilton. What Hamilton in his work Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? depicted as the ideals of American society’s mass culture (appliances, athletic man, attractive wife), Anthony turns into satire: a decrepit body of a one-eyed man holding a giant lollipop in his hand is far from ideal. While a woman is having fun in front of the TV, a war is raging outside…

With subtle humour and skilful composition he ‘appropriates’ other known masterpieces by artists like Bosch, Redon, Matisse, Ensor, Munch, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Duchamp, Magritte, Boccioni, but also Carolee Schneemann, Chris Burden, Bruce Nauman or Rineke Dijkstra. These drawings not only reveal a painstakingly elaborate unique style based on deliberate mistakes and irregularities, but also inspirations drawn from stylistically diverse sources. For instance, his drawing Earthly Delights was, of course, made after Hieronymus Bosch’s hallucinatory vision of The Garden of Earthly Delights. Next to recognisable interventions taken from the art environment, like Warhol’s Campbell soup cans or the events in recent history, like the mushroom cloud made by the atomic bomb, Anthony introduces several other protagonists and famous symbols in his vision. An informed audience will recognise: Piero Manzoni is pleasantly sitting on the toilet bowl while ‘producing’ his work; a head peeks from the background with a large eye directed to O. Redon; probably the most widespread symbol, a ‘smiley’ designed by Harvey Ball, is hanging from a giant plant; Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta is shown with a glass pane on her chest; Nabokov’s Lolita is sitting with a lollipop and heart-shaped sunglasses next to Humbert the seducer; and there is also a rat with a bagful of dollars, inspired by Bosch’s painting Death and the Miser.

Anthony also finds inspiration in different cinematic references, comic books or photographs ingrained in American mass culture. In brief, his works present a keen and twisted view on well-known stories, like the media-based saga of Charles Manson and his disciples following him in the trial.

Finally, we all agree that Anthony’s drawings are completely inappropriate and twisted… but also extremely witty and unexpected in their incorrectness, because challenging the elitist oases of unquestionable values of ‘high art’ is indeed fun!

Curator: Kristina Bonjeković-Stojković

William Anthony, American painter and draftsman, was born in 1934 in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. Anthony studied art briefly with Josef Albers at Yale, where he received a B.A. degree in European History in 1958. He also studied with Theodoros Stamos at the Art Students League in New York and at a number of art schools in San Francisco. He lives and works in New York.

Anthony’s drawings have been commissioned for Artforum, The Paris Review, Parnassus, Art in America, and by Andy Warhol for his magazine Interview.

Anthony has exhibited extensively in America and Europe.

Anthony's work is represented in following museum collections: Denver Art Museum, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY, Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Ludwig Museum, Cologne, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum of Modern Art, NY, National Gallery of Art, Reykjavik, National Gallery, Prague, National Museum of Art, Oslo, Seattle Art Museum, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC, Whitney Museum of American Art, NY, etc.

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