Gerald van de Wiele was born and raised in Detroit in 1932. He attended Cass Technical High School when one day, a recent grad by the name of Ray Johnson visited his class “singing the praises of a place called Black Mountain College.” In 1950 he attended the Art institute of Chicago on a National Scholastic Scholarship to study art.

van de Wiele received his acceptance letter to attend Black Mountain College on the same day he received his draft notice. Following his service in the 2nd Marine Division based out of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, and further enticed by a letter from his friend Jorge Fick, he decamped to study art and poetry at Black Mountain College in 1954.

At the time of his arrival in September of 1954, the faculty at BMC featured poet Charles Olson (Rector Designate), writer/director Wes Huss, painter Joe Fiore, and composer Stefan Wolpe. Although there remained a range of visiting artists coming to the campus including writer Robert Duncan and poet Robert Creeley (who van de Wiele punched out in love tryst over student Martha Davis), the student body featured only a handful of students that came and went including Fielding Dawson, Jorge Fick, Joel Oppenheimer, Dan Rice, Ann Simone, Naomi and Mona Stea and Jonathan Williams.

Despite the failing conditions at the college, van de Wiele didn’t mind. He was “looking more for a place to paint than to pile up credits.” When classes were suspended during the winter of 1954, van de Wiele returned to Chicago. While there, he convinced two friends, painter Richard Bogart and sculptor John Chamberlain, to follow him back to BMC in the spring 1955.

At BMC, van de Wiele grew close to artist Joe Fiore and poet Charles Olson who in 1956 composed and dedicated “Variations Done for Gerald van de Wiele.” van de Wiele told Martin Duberman in 1968: “I don’t believe I ever in my life felt that I belonged any place as much as I felt I belonged at that school. I loved that place.” His work from this period ranged from quick portrait studies to fully realized gestural works in paint.  

van de Wiele returned to Chicago in the late Spring of 1956 and upon learning that BMC was closing for good, he reconnected with a tough band of young avant-garde artists that included Robert Natkin, Judith Dolnick, Richard Bogart and John Chamberlain. These young artists, including van de Wiele, were either first year art students or just considering art school when Willem de Kooning’s Excavation arrived at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1951 and won first prize at the Institute’s 60th Annual American Exhibition: Painting and Sculpture. The painted turned the emerging art scene in Chicago on its head.

In the Spring of 1957, van de Wiele married fellow painter Ann Mattingly and later that summer he and the gang of artists led by Natkin, opened a co-operative gallery in an old storefront at 1359 North Wells Street financed some leftover money from the Natkin/Dolnick wedding in March and some financing from chemical-engineer-turned-artist friend, Stanley Sourelis. The group “took over a down-at-the-heel shop that had seen better days as a restaurant, and sad days as a plumbing establishment,” and named the gallery The Wells Street Gallery. The folk singer, and later civil rights icon, Odetta lived upstairs.

van de Wiele had his first solo show at the Wells Street Gallery in October 1957 and in November of the same year, his work was selected by guest jurors Franz Kline, Philip Guston and Sam Hunter to be included in the Chicago annual exhibition Momentum 57.

By late 1959 nearly all the members of Wells Street including van de Wiele had joined John Chamberlain in New York City. Seeking to establish himself, van de Wiele walked into the Leo Castelli Gallery. That introduction lead to part-time work and later, his first solo show in New York City at the gallery. The large oil on canvas titled Castelli (1962), headlined van de Wiele’s show at Leo Castelli Gallery in 1962. The work along with others in this series was inspired by the bird-wing paintings of Albrecht Dürer.

In 1963, van de Wiele was included in a group exhibition of drawing that included works by Lee Bontecou, Nassos Daphis, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Moskowitz, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, and Jack Tworkov.

The critic, Dore Ashton, in a July 1964 Studio International article on the artist described, “His paintings reflect a dreamlike shifting of perspective, from the elaborate and certainly strange manners of [Carlo] Crivelli and [Cosimo] Tura to the equally elaborate and strange idioms found in recent American painting […] phrased as they are in a language of abstract form and fanciful color, they assume qualities and associations derived from a symbolist inclination.”

However with the rise of Pop-Art, and van de Wiele’s own move away from abstraction towards more representational pursuits, the artist left Leo Castelli for the Peridot Gallery exhibiting there on and off until the mid-70s. He continued to support himself and his family of five children working odd jobs including as a framer at Dain and Schiff.

In 1975, van de Wiele was offered an artist residency at Harriman State Park. For ten weeks and with family in tow, he painted and sketched on the 47,500-acre park generating work not necessarily directly from life, but from memory. The culmination of the work was presented in a regional exhibition curated by Alan Gussow at the Joslyn Art Museum in 1976.

During the late 70s and 80s, van de Wiele found a foothold as a freelance photograph re-toucher. In 1983 at a dance party off Bowery, van de Wiele met his second wife the painter and sculptor Lynn Rosenfeld who had studied at the New York Studio School with Sidney Geist and Nicolas Carone. The pair continue to share a loft on Allen Street where they live and work.

van de Wiele’s work from this decade features a return to abstraction and a strong affinity for symbolist’s preoccupation and surreal-like dreamscapes. It also features the introduction of woodcarving and sculpture.

Although van de Wiele’s work slipped out of circulation from the mainstream comings-and-goings of the New York art world, his connections to artists, poets, and composers remained true. A color-rich painting from 2005, on view in the retrospective, is dedicated to his neighbor and friend the painter Pat Passlof. The work shares their expressive vision.

As interest in the artists and the history of Black Mountain College increased, so did the interest in van de Wiele’s work. He was among the few featured in Black Mountain College: Experiment in Art, curated by Vincent Katz for the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, in 2002. More recently a selection of his early drawings were included in Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957, the first comprehensive exhibition featuring the artists of BMC to tour the United States curated by Helen Molesworth for the ICA, Boston. The exhibition toured Hammer Museum, Los Angeles and the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus. His work was also featured in a major re-visit of the Wells Street Gallery in an exhibition organized and curated by Jason Andrew.

Gerald van de Wiele continues to paint and play with poetry from his studio on Allen Street in New York City.


The work of Gerald van de Wiele is in the public collection of The Asheville Art Museum, Asheville, NC; Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, Asheville, NC; Chase Manhattan Bank Collection, New York, NY; Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH; University Museum of Contemporary Art, Amherst, MA; Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, CA; Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, NE; Smithsonian Art Museum, Washington, DC; Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence, KS; among others.