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Studio Visit: Wiley Wallace

This ASU grad creates 'mind collages' but doesn't look 'arty'

 by Mindy Lee  published on Thursday, October 6, 2005

Wiley Wallace sits at home with some of his art. The paintings above his head are paintings one through three of his series
Wiley Wallace sits at home with some of his art. The paintings above his head are paintings one through three of his series "The Essense of Friends," which explores his changing perceptions of his friends. His work will be on display at Four White Walls art gallery, with the opening reception held at this month's First Friday art walk. His work is also on display at Sunset Clothing Exchange, 1628 E. Southern Ave.


Wiley Wallace doesn't look like an artist. Rather, he doesn't look like what most people imagine when they think "artist." He doesn't have a beard or goatee, and his apartment doesn't smell like nag champa. When you're talking to him, you don't feel like his mind is off somewhere else. The 23-year-old Wallace is tall and built with a sleek physique. He talks fast, with a sprinkle of the native Valley accent. But when you ask him about his art, his eyes gleam and his words slow down as he describes his paintings.

"[My paintings] are mind collages. I take a surreal approach. I take from dreams and personal imagery," he says. "They're almost like painted journal entries of what's going on in my life at that time."

If Wallace could have his way, he'd be more comfortable just showing his work and standing back as an observer.

"Just watching someone look at your work and pay attention to it, it's really rewarding. I like being there to see people react to my art," he says. "It is nerve-wracking because you're putting yourself out there, but at the same time these are things that I want to put out there. This is something that I'm proud of."

Wallace has been proud of his work since childhood. Growing up in Scottsdale, he was born into a family of artists and has been drawing and painting since he was a kid. He participated in art shows, like Phoenix's First Friday series, when he was in high school with his fellow advanced placement art students, but he says he never really knew if art was in his future.

In 2000, Wallace started ASU as a marketing major.

"I was doodling in class every day. It took two weeks before I realized I should go back to art," he says.

One thing he never changed his mind on was swimming. Throughout his collegiate career, Wallace was on the swim team -- captain his senior year -- and twice named an All-American in the sport. Although he loved swimming, he retired after his last collegiate meet to pursue painting.

"Even while I was swimming, I had art and music going on," he says. "I had a social life outside the swimming social life."

Wallace adds that being a student-athlete and an artist wasn't hard. He says he never saw the two as being at two different ends of the spectrum.

"It's who I am, it's not like a split personality," he says. "Once you show your work and it's good, it doesn't matter what else I do. Your work shows for itself."

Wallace calls his work "pop-surreal." There are vibrant colors, overlapping textures and realistic, yet fantastical, images. He says he paints his friends, people he made up, things that he's seen and not seen, and things he dreams about. His current series is called "The Essence of Friends," which he says is a portrayal of the continually changing perceptions he has of his friends.

"When I think about my friends, it's not a stagnant visual thought. It's fluid, it's a motion, a memory of that person doing something or saying things over the time I've known them. So I paint them with multiple expressions," he says.

Each painting in the series is of one face, almost translucently layered over another painting of the same face. This technique is done over and over again, until your eyes start deceiving you and you feel dizzy. You realize that the painting, even amidst its chaotic layering, has always stayed in focus and it's actually you that's out of focus.

Wallace is quick to point out that although his paintings are personal, his idea is to have people draw their own personal experiences from his work.

"I leave them open so people can draw their own interpretation," he says. "As an audience member, you project yourself into it. To me, there's no wrong interpretation. I want to guide them but leave it open-ended enough. I have to get my point across, but it doesn't matter if you agree with it or not."

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