George McNeil

 George McNeil, an Abstract Expressionist painter who turned to the use of vibrant colors and explosively painted figures in works that suggest the joyous anarchy of children's art, died on Tuesday at his home in Brooklyn. He was 86.The cause was congestive heart failure, said Julian Weissman of ACA Galleries, his dealer.Mr. McNeil was an important member of the second wave of Abstract Expressionists, the group of American artists including Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning who achieved fame in the 1940's and 50's. In the early 1950's he had four one-person exhibitions of abstract paintings at the Charles Egan Gallery, a leading center for the new style.But in the 1960's Mr. McNeil began to include roughly rendered figures in his canvases, prompting critics to associate his later work with the deliberately crude style of Jean Dubuffet and the heavily painted images of such artists as Asger Jorn. "I wanted to celebrate a Mediterranean, Dionysian sense of pictorial and human richness," Mr. McNeil wrote of these paintings, in which figures and backgrounds are carefully balanced in vivid near-abstractions.




 
He remained remarkably prolific until his death, regularly exhibiting new work. In recent years he began to include a wide variety of materials in his paintings, from sand to mops, scraps of cloth and images from magazines.His work also became more openly expressive of charged psychological states and violent emotions, as he based his paintings on such contemporary phenomena as disco dancing, punk rock and street life in New York City. As he wrote in 1984, expressionism of the sort he pursued "seems to demand extremism; to distort, disturb, negate and agitate seems to be the name of the game."




But his use of bold, bright colors and energetic compositions made his paintings seem as much playful as tormented. In a typical late painting, figures of widely disparate sizes appear as if seen from above, their thickly painted forms entwined on the canvas.
John Russell, reviewing a 1983 exhibition of Mr. McNeil's work in The New York Times, wrote: "The dark night of the soul plays no part in these paintings. McNeil sees the world as a place in which people kick up their heels as often as they can, and he has taught his paint to do the same."
Born in Brooklyn, Mr. McNeil attended Saturday art classes at the Brooklyn Museum as a high school student, and in the early 1930's studied with Jan Matulka, a Cubist painter influenced by Picasso. His understanding of modern art was strongly influenced by Hans Hoffmann, with whom he studied from 1932 to 1936.






In 1935 he joined the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration, and the following year helped form the American Abstract Artists, a group that protested the rejection of contemporary American abstract art by most museums and galleries. Following service in the Navy during World War II, Mr. McNeil began a distinguished teaching career, first at the University of Wyoming and later at the University of California at Berkeley and the New York Studio School and the Pratt Institute in New York City.
As director of Pratt's evening program from 1948 to 1960 he hired fellow artists, including Philip Guston,Franz Kline and Adolph Gottlieb, as instructors. He remained on the Pratt faculty until 1980, and taught at the Studio School from 1966 to 1981.In 1969 Mr. McNeil received a Guggenheim Fellowship, and in 1982 he was awarded a prize by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. (The New York Times )






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