Consider the experience of an archaeologist: the sensation of being immersed in earthen substances and the ceaseless curiosity that keeps one searching. Imagine clay and grime under your fingernails, the damp smell of a cavernous hole in the ground, and the inexplicable wonder upon discovering a hidden mystery preserved in the earth. In addition to the associations we have with the physical acts of archaeological digging, think of what it means to be doing archaeology: to investigate and search for evidence of the past in order to learn more about ourselves in the present. This interpretation can serve as a platform for approaching the work of Michael Wille and perhaps abstract painting itself. Upon seeing his recent work, I am confronted with two observations: the physicality of the paintings and the inevitable desire to uncover relationships of non-objective forms within a field saturated with history. Similar to archaeology, Wille’s work is teeming with the seductiveness of material, the struggle of searching, and the awe of discovery in light of the past.
Michael Wille departs from previous methods of constructing images in the exhibition New Day. In earlier bodies of work, he gathered visual information from specific locations and translated them into the language of abstract painting. Semi-circles referenced the architectural characteristics of Roman rooftops and gridded conduits recalled the structures of a Cleveland baseball stadium. In his most recent work, this translation process is abandoned in order to commit to a deeper investigation of abstract painting. Perhaps the relinquishing of a pre-determined process is similar to climbing into an unknown abyss, in search of a relic of explanation.
Unidentifiable geometric shapes dance across the paintings: a stratum sea of color and material. Windows uncover the history of the object, allowing us to see past the closest layer, while other forms are barriers, cloaking information, as they float over and above the surface. Despite the impulse to identify non-objective forms in abstract painting, Michael Wille’s work does not require this. While individual paintings may subtlety reference a mountain range, an architectural structure, or even a vague scrap of cardboard, these associations barely skim the surface. Perhaps this was the artist’s challenge and goal; to push non-objectivity as far as possible, so that the forms become independent of what is expected, nameless, yet very much there. This nameless presence is what keeps this body of work rooted in human experience; the phenomenal and emotional currents that we experience beyond the manifestation of words.
Michael Wille was born in Pontiac, IL and currently lives and works in Normal, IL. He received an MFA in painting from Bowling Green State University and a BFA from Milikin University. His work has been exhibited at the Space Art Gallery in Pittsburgh, Hoffman LaChance Contemporary in St. Louis, Resolution Gallery in Johannesburg (South Africa), and many others. In 2007 Wille was featured in Mapping the Terrain: New Directions in Abstract Painting in Louisiana and has been featured in New American Paintings many times. He has lectured about his work in places such as Temple University in Tokyo, Japan and the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg (South Africa), where he was an artist-in-residence in February 2009. In addition to keeping an active studio practice, Wille is an Associate Professor of Art at Illinois State University in Normal, IL. He teaches a wide range of courses to undergraduate and graduate students within the Painting and Drawing curriculum.