“Cliff’s vision…and mind and methods and craft and dedication
…opinions passion…heart!…. He was a powerful and important
artist for many people…remarkable and ordinary.”
William Wiley from H.C. Westermann West

West of Westermann is a review of work by West Coast artists who have been influenced by the life and work of H.C. Westermann. The show includes work by Jeremy Anderson, Robert Arneson, Richard Marquis, James Melchert, Ron Nagle and William Wiley as well as drawings, sculpture and watercolors by H.C. Westermann.

Westermann was a strong influence on the development of the Funk art movement in northern California as represented here by the work of James Melchert, Robert Arneson, Ken Price and Richard Marquis. He was also the catalyst that pulled together the Chicago Hairy Who imagist movement, a group of artists in the ’60s captivated by extreme humor. Westermann’s career has been well documented with numerous gallery and museum exhibitions, and a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1975 (Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art will host a major retrospective of Westermann’s work in 2001). These artists have been honoring him since the 1960’s in the most genuine of all forms of flattery – imitation.

One of Westermann’s earliest influences was his grandfather, George Bloom, who, in honor of his recently departed wife, made a series of twelve boxes with personal messages such as Think of me kindly inlaid in the wood. Years later, Westermann began to also use inlaid wood often inscribed with the titles of his pieces. In Ken Price’s Specimen CJ1303 from 1964 and Jeremy Anderson’s My Cheating Heart / Your Cheating Heart from 1978, the artists’ use of painted text on a wood base, an often overlooked element of sculpture, is not only the platform from which the rest of the sculptures rise, but the stage on which the dialogue of each piece takes place.

Westermann’s color palette and comic-driven style broadened the way in which visual artists deal with subject matter in their art at a time when world wars, domestic political strife and the separation between high and low art were profound. In the 1960’s the country’s sympathies were moving from Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art. Although Pop Art is often described as having been born and bred in New York, artists in California and the Midwest were working in the Pop style concurrently with Oldenburg and Warhol. Westermann’s Pillar of Truth, 1962, a monument to the Coca-Cola bottle as an icon of commercialism’s influence on our culture, is one of the earliest examples of the Midwest influence on Pop, which in turn migrated to California.