Farewell George Deem
I learned last night that painter George Deem died on August 11, quietly, at home, after a brief illness.
George was a friend for close to thirty years, a casual friend, the kind of friend you see maybe once every six or seven years, and know you'll see again, until they're gone.
I met George in the late-seventies or early-eighties, when I published some of his work in Zone magazine. I believe the first piece was "Mona Lisa Washington," which had a drawing and text by George. The drawing was a composite of Mona Lisa and one of Gilbert Stuart's portraits of George Washington. It was accompanied by a wacky but slightly disturbing poem. A year or two later I published a collaborative text by George and his longtime partner, writer Ronald Vance.
After the Zone years I saw George mainly at big, round tables in Chinatown. For years I've arranged dinner parties of eight to ten diners at Chinese restaurants on a regular basis. I do all the ordering. I always invite people who don't know each other, composing the guest list for an interesting balance of "flavors" as I would with the menu. George was a great mixer who made an impression on everybody he met. He was outgoing in a quiet way, an understated raconteur, with great stories and enthusiasms. I might go five, or six, or seven years without seeing George, then give him a call about a Chinese dinner and he'd show up. But the last time I saw George was in October of 2005, when he and Ronald showed up in the audience at a reading I did at Bowery Poetry Club.
The work that George was best known for played with the images of the old masters, especially Vermeer. One of George's fixations, for a while, was Mayakovsky. His painting "Hands of Mayakovsky" finds the poet sitting in the room where Vermeer's maid is pouring milk. As a reviewer put it in 2000, "Postmodern before the term was invented, for the past 35 years George Deem has made art that involves the quotation of art-historical masterpieces. His is an art of wit and quiet virtuosity, presenting us with the familiar in an unfamiliar context." Wit and quiet virtuosity indeed.
A gallery of George's work can be found HERE.
Here is the Artnet obituary for George:
GEORGE DEEM, 1932-2008
George Deem, 76, New York artist known for "conceptual realist" paintings that drew on images of Old and Modern Masters, died after a brief illness on Aug. 11, 2008. Born in Vincennes, Ind., Deem exhibited regularly at Allan Stone Gallery in New York from 1962-1977, developing a painting style that employed virtuosic skill to revise classical paintings, with a particular affection for Vermeer. His work was widely exhibited and is held in many collections, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. In 2004, a book of his work, How to Paint A Vermeer: A Painter’s History of Art, featured an essay by Robert Rosemblum, while a collection of his own writings, Let George Do It, is scheduled for publication later this year. He is currently represented by Pavel Zoubok Gallery, which plans an exhibition of Deem paintings concurrent with a retrospective at Allan Stone in January 2009.
Update: NY Times Obituary