William T. Wiley was the very heart of California’s exuberant, colorful, political, and completely irreverent Funk Art movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Funk art was about narrative, about the events of the world, the stories of the day. With the help of Mr. Unnatural—a stand-in for Wiley who often appeared in Wiley’s works—expressing anguish over nuclear spills and the despoliation of the natural world, Wiley told the stories of the world using vernacular otherwise found in comic books and children’s books.
Wiley—widely considered to be the most influential art teacher in the Bay area in the 1960s—famously exhorted his students to remain open to everything except for theory or ideology. Importantly, funk art was blossoming in California while New York was diving deeper and deeper into cool Minimalism. But funk art was not only about the rejection of Formalist Reduction theory. It was about the opposite—it was about content, message. And that, obviously, is all very apparent in this work.