|WESLEY WILLIS, CITY OF MANY DREAMS, 1991, mixed media on cardboard, 74 x 104cm, Courtesy Delmes & Zander|
at Independent Brussels, April 19-23, 2017
At this year's edition of Independent Brussels, Delmes & Zander will present selected works by Wesley Willis (1963-2003) from the mid-80s in an exhibition entitled Rock'N'Roll Superhighway after Willis' song of the same name. The show's underlying theme of music was also at the heart of Disko Girls (Anonymous), the gallery's presentation at Independent New York earlier in the year.
For the two decades prior to his death, American artist and cult rock-star icon Wesley Willis rendered Chicago's Dan Ryan Expressway and geometric skyline with lines drawn in ballpoint pen and felt-tip marker. Willis was a distinct presence within the Chicago music scene; well known to an alternative public for the energetic melodies from his Technics keyboard and his surreal lyrics that explore themes of his daily life, such as fast-food, bus lines, cultural trends and violent confrontations with super heroes. Amongst his biggest fans and advocates are Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys, Die Goldene Zitronen, Urge Overkill and Foo Fighters, for many of which he also played as an opener. His music and drawings go hand-in-hand. They are intertwined and inseparable: "music is the willpower to my artwork", he sings in DJ Quik.
Willis' distinctive and complex works utilise drafting techniques learnt during his years sitting in on drawing classes at the Illinois Institute of Technology. With cars and buses in side and isometric views, his often soft coloured drawings explore the congested Freeway that connects Chicago's South Side with the city's Downtown. Artist Johannes Wohnseifer once wrote of Wesley Willis: "I would like to see Willis' work on paper in an exhibition with drawings by David Hockney, Ellsworth Kelly, Ed Ruscha and H.C. Westermann. It would be obvious to all that his works are on par with theirs".
Willis died at age 40 in Skokie, Illinois.
Delmes & Zander first showed Willis' work in Germany in 2013 and has presented works by the artist ever since. The exhibition Rock'N'Roll Superhighway at Independent Brussels will be accompanied by a new publication on Willis by Benjamin Sommerhalder's Zurich-based publishing house, Nieves.