About the artist: Bill Viola

Video still showing a line of grieving mourners with a woman in a red dress at the front

still from ‘Observance’, 2002
video installation, colour high-definition video on plasma display mounted on wall
Photo: Kira Perov
Accession No: WAG 2004.24

Bill Viola was born in New York in 1951. He graduated at the College of Visual and Performing Arts, Syracuse University, New York, where he was awarded a further Honorary Doctorate in 1995. He has been the recipient of numerous awards and honours. In 1998 Viola was Getty Scholar-in-Residence at the Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and Humanities, Los Angeles. In 2000 he was elected to the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Based in Los Angeles with his wife Kira Perov (his creative collaborator and the manager of his studio), he is today regarded as one of the leading artists working in the field of video.

A practising artist since 1973, Viola has used video to explore universal human experiences such as birth, death, self-knowledge, the senses and consciousness. During the 1970s, living in Florence, he was technical director in one of the first video art studios in Europe and later travelled widely, drawn by a deepening curiosity about spiritual practices. He settled in Japan to study Buddhism and became artist-in-residence at the Sony Corporation's headquarters.

His work consequently has its roots both in Eastern and Western art as well as spiritual traditions that include Zen Buddhism, Islamic Sufism and Christian mysticism. Viola's artworks employ state-of-the-art technologies and are distinguished by the precision and simplicity of their presentation. Alongside his contemporaries like Nam June Paik, Bruce Nauman and William Wegman, commencing his career during a period when video as a medium was just developing, he has been instrumental in its establishment as a legitimate artform. In so doing Viola has also helped to expand its reach in terms of content, technology and historical relevance.

Throughout his career Viola has also broadened the scope of his work in collaboration with artists from other fields, including musicians and filmmakers. He has exhibited extensively worldwide, representing the USA at the 1995 Venice Biennale. In 1998 an acclaimed twenty-five year survey of his work at New York's Whitney Museum travelled for two years to six museums in the USA and Europe. His large-scale video installations, notably 'The Messenger' (1996), 'Five Angels for the Millennium' (2001) and 'Going Forth by Day' (2001) are upheld as icons of the video medium. His work is represented in several major public collections worldwide and, in the UK, in the collections of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the Tate.