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William Wolff

 (1922 - 2004)
William Wolff was active/lived in California.  William Wolff is known for theater, masks, religious, figurative.

Biography  
William Wolff


Biography from the Archives of askART

The following information is from Julie Armistead, Registrar of the Hearst Art Gallery of Saint Mary's College of California, Moraga, California:

William Wolff was born in San Francisco and continued to live there until his death in 2004. He attended the California School of Fine Arts, and received his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of California at Berkeley. He studied with Max Beckmann at Mills College, and with Gordon Cook, Richard Graf and Rupert Garcia. He has exhibited in the Bay Area and abroad, participated actively in the California Society of Printmakers and the Graphic Arts Workshop, and devoted many years teaching art at the San Francisco Youth Guidance Center.

In Wolff's work you will find enigmatic figures, intellectual humor, and intriguing subject matter expressed in a bold, rough, dynamic manner. Therese Heyman, currently Curator for Special Projects at the Oakland Museum of California, was introduced to Wolff's prints early in her career. She says, 'Today I continue to find added skill in their intensity and more effective line drawing. William Wolff's prints contain strong linear outlines, emphatic shapes, all done in his assured figurative manner.'"

In 2001 William Wolff donated over 50 primarily religious works on paper to the Hearst Art Gallery at Saint Mary's College of California. The gift includes his 8-print series Witnesses of the Apocalypse, as well as images relating to passages found in both the Old and New Testaments, in media such as etching, lithograph and woodcut.

A time line is below for your reference that includes honors and awards.

Biography
1922 Born in San Francisco, CA.
1939 Began evening classes at California School of Fine Arts.
1940-1943 Full-time student at California School of Fine Arts.
1946-1950 Student at University of California at Berkeley. BA, 1950.
1950 Studied with Max Beckmann at Mills College.
1950 - 1972 Shared studio with James Weeks
1951 Received MA in art from University of California at Berkeley
1951 Exhibition of paintings at Lucien Labaudt Gallery
1955 Exhibition of paintings at Lucien Labaudt Gallery
1957-1983 Teacher, special education, San Francisco School District, Youth
Guidance Center.
1960 Began working in woodcut prints.
1962 Exhibition of woodcuts at City Lights Books in San Francisco.
1962-1968 Exhibition at Original Prints Gallery in San Francisco.
1968 Studied etching with Gordon Cook.
1969 Studied lithography with Richard Graf.
1969 - 2001 Active with the Graphic Arts Workshop, San Francisco.
1971 Exhibited etchings and lithographs at John Bolles Gallery, San
Francisco.
1971-1972 Work in animated film. Completed animated short, "The Art of
War,"1972.
1972, 1975 Exhibited etchings and woodcuts at Marquoit Gallery, San Francisco.
1976 Exhibition of "Actor Print Series", Berkeley Stage Company, Berkeley
1981 Exhibition of woodcuts at the Printmakers Gallery, San Francisco.
1984 Exhibition of woodcuts at F. J. Michaels Gallery, San Francisco.
1986 Joined the California Society of Printmakers
1987-1988 Studied with Rupert Garcia.
1987 Exhibition of pastel drawings at F. J. Michaels Gallery, San Francisco.
1988 Exhibition of woodcuts at Warner Roberts Gallery, Palo Alto, CA
1988-1990 President, California Society of Printmakers.
1999 Exhibition of woodcuts, etchings and paintings Fetterly Gallery, Vallejo, CA,
2000 Honored by the Graphics Arts Workshop for artistic contribution to printmaking and to the Workshop.
2002 Exhibition, Masquerade and Revelation: A William Wolff
Retrospective, at the Hearst Art Gallery, Saint Mary's College.
2004 Death of the artist, San Francisco
----------------------------------------------------------------------
EXHIBITION REVIEW

MASQUERADE AND REVELATION:

A WILLIAM WOLFF Retrospective
March 16-April 21, 2002
Reception March 17, 2-4pm
Saint Mary's College of California, Hearst Art Gallery
1928 Saint Mary's Road, Moraga CA 94575

Sometimes the way is beautiful.
(Title from Rouault's print series Miserere)

Those in the Bay Area fortunate enough to know printmaker William Wolff through his artwork or his teaching over the last sixty years cannot but be delighted with this retrospective. The Hearst Gallery at Saint Mary's College featured several Wolff woodcuts in last year's "The Artist And The Bible: Twentieth Century Works on Paper," and has recognized in him a rarity, anomaly, even, in today's art world: a contemporary artist who, like Blake and Rouault before him, finds continuing relevance in religion and literature, and has forged powerful imagery from his investigations.

On view here are over 100 works: woodcuts, etchings, lithographs, drawings and paintings, dating from the 1940s to the present. Art lovers just now discovering William Wolff can join us older fans already clapping our hands for joy. Thanks to Art Hazelwood, editor of the California Society of Printmakers, author of the illuminating catalogue essay, and friend of the artist; and Julie Armistead, Hearst Art Gallery Registrar. Besides creating this show, they have added to the gallery's permanent collection a trove of fifty prints donated by the artist, dedicated to the memory of his late beloved daughter Maria.

A San Francisco native, Wolff has spent his entire career in the Bay Area, studying at the California School of Fine Arts (later SFAI) before World War II, and at Mills and UC Berkeley after his return. He shared a studio with James Weeks and painted from the figure with Charles Griffin Farr's circle; he showed paintings at the Lucien Labaudt Gallery in the Fifties and woodcuts at City Lights Books in the early Sixties. Although he studied etching with Gordon Cook and lithography from Richard Graf in the late Sixties, and pastel with Rupert Garcia in the late Eighties, Wolff's best-known works remain his color woodcuts, with their rough-hewn simple shapes and boldly stylized imagery belying their emotional complexity.

"The Man who never in his Mind & Thoughts traveled to Heaven Is No Artist."
William Blake

It is the emotional complexity, based on Wolff's literary and philosophical sensibility, that separates him from most of the Bay Area figurative painters who are his contemporaries. While their painterly work is fundamentally esthetic, aiming at visual delight, Wolff's work, despite his appropriation of modernist devices (abstraction, simplification, bright flat color, and collage-based composition), has quite a different goal, older, and perhaps impossibly ambitions: the investigation of man's place in the cosmos. Modest enough and bibliophile enough to revere the canons of western drama, mythology and religion, he is also ambitious enough to use them for personal ends, to engage in a dialogue with them.

G.K. Chesterton once described the authentic conservative (as opposed to our current media blowhards) as a man who takes equality so seriously that he does not limit his interlocutors to the living: even his own [artistic] fathers may, after all, be right. In a stylistic/historic sense Wolff's work is conservative, its formal ideas derived from the innovations of the early 20th century. But, like other art that endures, where invention transcends and transforms sources, and creativity sparks matter into life, it is of two natures: partaking of its time (and a window into that time) and timeless. One religious writer (Leon Bloy?) influential when Rouault created his Miserere series ninety years ago opined that the crucifixion and other religious mysteries took place eternally in a perpetual transtemporal present. Good art likewise stays good: why else frequent museums?

"I will not Reason & Compare: my business is to Create."
William Blake

Yet Wolff's art, pervaded by the big questions, never becomes sentimental or dogmatic; it never sinks to the mystagogic kitsch of an Odd Nerdrum. Wolff's mutely expressive figures, often reduced almost to head and hands (indicative of his enthusiasm for puppetry and theater), enact dramas of transfiguration and transcendence. Although we clearly are viewing an allegorical or metaphoric world _the figures belong to no particular period or country, and the buildings and cities are not quite real_ the effects and emotions are felt, and the viewer responds, almost without knowing why. The images strike a chord in us rarely struck these days. They are religious but not religiose, and contemporary viewers haven't learned to tell the difference; or they're uncomfortable with such unfashionable notions in art made after, say, 1800.

Since the early 19th century, artists have, like much of secular society, struggled with the religious urge and the question of where to direct it* (and aren't religious and artistic impulses both efforts to correct life, to paper over the fissures of reality?). According to Art Hazelwood's catalogue essay, "the question of where [Wolff's] beliefs might fit in his art is not easy to answer. To this question the artist has always remained silent." Here's the theory, for what it's worth, of a sympathetic artist.

Wolff, like many artists, dislikes orthodoxy and fixed hierarchies, and he refuses to put himself and his work into categories defined by others. That he is interested in religion as an artistic concern, that he has religious feelings in the broadest sense, of that there can be no doubt: his generosity, modesty and lack of egotism are bywords. No doubt he would consider it presumptuous and discourteous to impose his beliefs (or doubts) on others. Jorge Luis Borges described one of the friends of his youth, aptly named or nicknamed Almafuerte (Strong Soul) as "a mystic without faith."

Wolff would balk at such dramatic terminology, but I believe that mysticism is there in the work. Trends come and go, ebb and flow in the art world, with the Next Big Thing our perfect wave. Bill Wolff has kept at his work, with pencil, paper, graver, ink, and, for burnishing prints, a worn wooden spoon. But the work he has created over sixty years has deep roots, sustains itself in adverse conditions, and is evergreen.

DeWitt Cheng

*Robert Rosenblum's Friedrich, Rothko and the Northern Romantic Tradition details the displacement of religious feelings into the painted landscape and eventually into abstraction.


Biography from the Archives of askART
William Wolff, an artist known for his bold woodcut prints on literary and mythological subjects, was born in 1922.  A San Francisco native, Wolff spent his entire career in the Bay Area, studying at the California School of Fine Arts (later SFAI) before World War II, and at Mills after his return.  He received a MA in art in 1951 from the University of California at Berkeley.  He shared a studio with James Weeks in the Marina district from 1949 to 1955 and painted from the figure with Charles Griffin Farr's circle.  He showed paintings at the Lucien Labaudt Gallery in the Fifties and woodcuts at City Lights Books in the early Sixties.

Wolff found his artistic direction making woodcut prints, using the modernist flattening and compression developed in his earlier paintings to explore the religious, philosophical and literary themes gleaned from his extensive reading in several languages.  He worked for more than thirty years at the Graphic Arts Workshop, a cooperative print shop in San Francisco.  He taught at the San Francisco School District's Youth Guidance Center from 1957 to 1983.  Wolff served as president of the California Society of Printmakers from 1988 to 1990. He encouraged younger artists generously, although he was reticent regarding his own distinctive humanistic work.

Although he studied etching with Gordon Cook and lithography from Richard Graf in the late Sixties, and pastel with Rupert Garcia in the late Eighties, Wolff's best-known works remain his color woodcuts, with their rough-hewn simple shapes and boldly stylized imagery belying their emotional complexity.  It is the emotional complexity, based on Wolff's literary and philosophical sensibility, that separates him from most of the Bay Area figurative painters who are his contemporaries. While their painterly work is fundamentally esthetic, aiming at visual delight, Wolff's work, despite his appropriation of modernist devices (abstraction, simplification, bright flat color, and collage-based composition), has quite a different goal, older, and perhaps impossibly ambitions: the investigation of man's place in the cosmos.  Modest enough and bibliophile enough to revere the canons of western drama, mythology and religion, he is also ambitious enough to use them for personal ends.  Although we clearly are viewing an allegorical or metaphoric world, the effects and emotions are felt, and the viewer responds, almost without knowing why.  The images strike a chord in us rarely struck these days.

William Wolff was an artist and man of great integrity, wisdom and good humor.  In today's art world, William Wolff is a rarity, an anomaly: a contemporary artist who, like Blake and Rouault before him, found continuing relevance in religion and literature, and forged powerful imagery from his investigations.  Although he was never well known in the San Francisco art world, his woodcuts and other prints stand the test of time.  Due to the efforts of a number of artists who work to keep his work before the public, Wolff's prints have been acquired by several eminent museums including the Achenbach Collection at the Legion of Honor, The Whitney Museum of American Art, the New York Public Library, the Oakland Museum of California and the Library of Congress.


Sources:  
William Wolff, The Invisible City by DeWitt Cheng

Submitted by John C. Morris, ArtZone 461 Gallery,  San Francisco, CA


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About  William Wolff

Born:  1922 - San Francisco, California
Died:   2004 - San Francisco, California
Known for:  theater, masks, religious, figurative