BIOGRAPHY - George McNeil (1908 - 1995)
George McNeil, a pioneer of Abstract Expressionists, turned to the use of vibrant colors and explosively painted figures. Abstract Expressionism was the first specifically American movement to achieve worldwide influence and put New York City at the center of the western art world, a role that had always been filled by Paris. This group of American artists included painters like Arshile Gorky, Franz Kline, Clyfford Still, Hans Hofmann, Willem de Kooning, and Jackson Pollock.
George McNeil was born in Brooklyn in 1908. McNeil’s art education began when he was in high school and attended Saturday art classes at the Brooklyn Museum. In the early 1930's McNeil attended Pratt Institute and the Art Students’ League where he studied with Jan Matulka, a Modernist painter who had been greatly influenced by Picasso. From 1932 to 1936, McNeil studied with Hans Hoffman, at the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts, where he focused on his understanding of Modern Art. Lastly, he attended Columbia University.
In 1935 he joined the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration, and the following year, 1936, he helped form the American Abstract Artists. This group was established as a forum for discussion and debate of abstract art and to provide exhibition opportunities when few other possibilities existed.
McNeil’s 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.
McNeil began a distinguished teaching career after serving in the Navy during World War II; first at the University of Wyoming and then at the University of California at Berkeley. Later he taught at the New York Studio School and the Pratt Institute in New York City, where he became Director of the evening program.
From the ’70s onward, McNeil explored ways to expand beyond the cannons of the Abstract Expressionism. In this period his work became more figurative, drawing inspiration from the dynamic life of the city, its dancers, discos and sports. Throughout his career as a painter McNeil commanded a mastery technique, capable of creating paintings of rich texture depth and color.
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. Furthermore, he was elected to the Institute of Arts and Letters in 1989.
George McNeil had over forty solo exhibitions of his work throughout his lifetime.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Whitney Museum of America Art, New York
San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, California
Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota