Bill Viola Biography

Born in 1951 Bill Viola is known internationally as one of today’s leading artists. His videotapes and architectural video installations “envelop the viewer in image and sound focusing on universal human experiences of birth, death and the unfolding of consciousness. As he began with his arts he was inspired by spiritual traditions of Zen Buddhism, Islamic Sufism and Christian mysticism. 

For 18 months in 1970 Viola lived in Florence, Italy where he was the technical director for one of the first studios in Europe called Art\Tapes\22. In 1973 he graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Experimental Studies. After graduating he then studied and recorded traditional permanent arts in Soloman Islands, Java, Bali and Japan. He then teamed up with avant- garde composer David Tudor, a member of Rainforest ensemble from 1973 till 1980. In 1977 he was invited by Kira Perov to show his videotapes at Latrobe University in Melbourne, Australia. A year later Kira Perov ended up moving to New York to live with him and later they married. 1980 took Bill and Kira to Japan for a year and a half on a Japan/ US cultural exchange where they studied Buddhism with Zen Master Daien Tanaka. He then became the first artist in residence at Sony Corporation’s Atsugi research laboratories. Viola and Perov then went on a mirage in the Sahara, studied animal unconsciousness at San Diego Zoo, and did a photographic study of Native Americans rock art sites. They then traveled for five months in American Southwest recording nocturnal desert landscaped with cameras specially designed to capture such things. Recently Bill Viola recorded a prayer blessing with Dalai Lama in Pharamsala, India.

In 1987 Viola showed three major installations and videotapes at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Beginning in 1992 in Europe there was a large exhibition touring 6 venues which were organized by Kira Perov and Kunsthall Dusseldorf. In 1994 at the Wien Modern, Konzerthhaus premiered a video Deserts which went along with Edgard’s Varese music. In 1995 he represented the United States at the 46th Venice Biennale where he premiered five new works, “Buried Secrets.” The Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles invited Bill Viola to be a scholar in 1998. Going Forth by Day was an ambitious project in 2002 which Bill undertook. It was a five part projected digital “fresco cycle” in high definition video. It was commissioned by the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin and the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The Passions exhibited at J. Paul Getty Museum Los Angeles in 2003. The Passions then traveled to National Gallery in London, then Fondacion “La Caixa” in Madrid and finally to the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. In 2004 Bill collaborated with director Peter Sellars, executive producer Kira Perov and conductor Esa- Pekka- Salonen to create Richard Wagners opera “Tristan und Isolde.” It was presented in December of 2004 and the complete opera world premier was in April 2005 at Pera National de Paris, Bastille.

Bill Viola has been honored with many awards in his year of film making. In 1989 he received the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. In 1993 received the first Medien Kunstpreuis in Germany. He received honorary doctorates from Syracuse University (1995), The School of the Arts Institute of Chicago (1997), California Institute of the Arts (2000) and the Royal College of Arts in London (2004). Also in 2000 Viola was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Science. Through his works and awards it is clear why Bill Viola is internationally known as one of the worlds top artists.
--Jessica Bock, 2006.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art>

Bill Viola