Occupation: Video Artist
Movement: Video Art
Education: Syracuse Arts Academy
“Tape I,” 1972
“The Greeting,” 1995
“Silent Mountain,” 2001
“Going Forth By Day,” 2002
“The Passions,” 2003
Bill Viola is an American artist who was the pioneer of video art. He started his career working with the theme of self knowledge and awareness. Later he explored transcendent themes and the rites of passage like birth, death and the suffering in between.
Early Life and Creative Development
Viola was born in Queens in New York City in 1951. His mother taught him to draw when he was a child and by the age of three he had perfected drawing the image of motorboats. His father, who worked at Pan Am, did not allow Viola to join an art school after his schooling and that turned out to be a blessing in disguise for him. Viola joined the Syracuse Arts Academy and took courses in painting and electronic music. The latest electronic equipment at the university and the professors who were well-versed at these new technologies helped Viola to adopt them for his art. In 1970, still a student, Viola picked up the video camera for the first time. His initial perception was that it was a clunky device but after handling the camera he felt that this is what he would be doing for a lifetime. This was a very unviable and impractical feeling as video art was not a career path at that time. Yet he decided to pursue it and in 1972 he made a video titled “Tape I.” The video was an exploration of the self and it featured Viola looking into a mirror intensely and then screaming loudly. The image subsequently vanished after Viola put a finger on the tape. Viola was experimenting not only with a new medium but also with the trend of exploring the self. The camera was an important medium for this as it could explore the self into two dimensions: the visible external self and the internal self, consisting of feelings. Soon video art caught people’s imaginations and practitioners from across the nations came together to form a community of video artists. In 1973 after his graduation, Viola joined the Syracuse Museum as a video technician. There he became the protégé of composer David Tudor, who had collaborated with John Cage and then visited a video studio in Florence and then came back to join as the artist-in-residence at the WNET Channel 13 Television Laboratory in New York. He came in contact with artists like Nam June Paik (whom he assisted), Bruce Nauman and also worked with Richard Serra.
In 1977 he was invited by the artistic director Kira Perov to show in Australia. He married Perov a few years later and now she is executive director of the Bill Viola Studio.
One of his most personal works is a video he made of his mother after her death. He had shot footages of her when she was nearing death but he had no intention of showing it in his work as he had divided his work and his family life into neat compartments. But after his mother’s death he was depressed for three months and then decided to use his home videos in his new work. The result was “Nantes Triptych,” which was subsequently bought by Tate, and it consisted of images of his dying mother intercut with images of a pregnant woman in labor and of a man swimming underwater.
This was huge departure from his early work that mostly focused on his self. This was the time when he moved from the front of the camera to its behind: he moved from telling his own story to telling universal stories. He also embraced the old masters in his work after the death of his mother, and later his father, as a consolation.
This conversation with the old artists can be seen in “The Passion series” in which he tried to come in terms with his parents’ death. Meaning of death and existence are the themes of this work. He also made “The Quintet of Remembrance” after his father’s death, which was shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York after the 9/11. In one of his recent works he has moved to the spiritual world. “Martyrs,” in which he has depicted the crucified St Peter, was displayed at St Paul's Cathedral, and is one of the first videos to be displayed at the church.
1951 - Born in Queens, New York
1977 - Is invited by the artistic director Kira Perov to show in Australia
1984 - Receives Polaroid Video Art Award for outstanding achievement
1987 - Is awarded Maya Deren Award by American Film Institute
1997 - Gets a doctor degree from Art Institute of Chicago
1988 - The Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
1997 - Guggenheim Museum,, New York
2000 - James Cohan Gallery, New York
2003 - The J.Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
2011 - Blain|Southern, London,
2012 - James Cohan Gallery, Shanghai
2014 - Faurschou Foundation, Beijing, China
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Denver Art Museum, Colorado
Des Moines Art Center, Iowa
Fondation Cartier, Paris
Fundacío la Caixa Centre Cultural, Barcelona
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
Art Institute of Chicago
Berardo Collection, Sintra Museum of Modern Art, Lisbon
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Castello di Rivoli, Turin, Italy
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
“Bill Viola” by John G. Hanhard and Kira Perov
“Bill Viola: The Passions” by John Walsh and Kira Perov
“The Art of Bill Viola” by Chris Townsend
“The Unspeakable Art of Bill Viola: A Visual Theology” by Ronald R. Bernier