William Wolff lived his entire life in San Francisco, coming of age at the beginning of World War II, he was a close friend and colleague of several artists of the Bay Area Figurative Movement, sharing a studio with James Weeks for several years. His woodcuts were rarely done in editions, and usually only survive as proofs, each unique from the others.
Born in 1922 in San Francisco, William F. Wolff was primarily known for his bold woodcut prints on literary and mythological subjects. Wolff studied at the California School of Fine Arts, (now the San Francisco Art Institute), in the early 1940s. Returning to his studies after military service in World War II, Wolff received a MA in art in 1951 from the University of California at Berkeley. In the summer of 1950 Wolff studied at Mills College with visiting German artist Max Beckmann, whose powerful personality left an indelible stamp on many Bay Area painters including Wolff. In 1951, his first major exhibition was at the Lucien Labaudt Gallery, a showcase for young artists which introduced many artists of the Bay Area Figurative Movement. He taught art at the San Francisco School District’s Youth Guidance Center from 1957 to 1983.
Wolff initially worked in a painting style that brought abstract improvisation and Cubist structure to traditional subject matter such as the figure, landscape and still life. He shared studio space with Bay Area Figurative artist James Weeks in the early Post War years and both artists shared an interest in experimenting with materials and techniques.
In the early 1960s 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, and served as president of the California Society of Printmakers from 1988 to 1990.
A retrospective of his work was held at St. Mary’s College in Moraga in 2002. His work is in several private and public collections, 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..