Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Farewell George Deem

George Deem, "Words by Ronald Vance"

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.

Goodbye, George.

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


Blogger Brian Olewnick said...

Wow. I remember coming across reproductions of Deem's work in some surveys of new realist and photo-realist work during the 70s. Already being a confirmed Vermeer lover, his paintings caught my eye. But it was way pre-Net and I don't recall seeing any monographs of his work at the time and, truth to tell, it's been years since I've thought of him at all, certainly never googled on him. Until now.

4:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I received Ronald's card in yesterday's mail and found this site today through Google.
I knew George for 55 years, going back to our school days in Evanston and Chicago. Although I had to sell several early paintings when I moved to a retirement community, I kept a very large oil of two women sitting in a concourse at Grand Central which hangs over my computer, and a print of "St. Sebastian in the Kitchen," which appropriately, hangs in my kitchen. I had not seen George in several years but we were always in some sort of communication. I will miss him.

11:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

george was a friend for over fifty years.  there's a big hole in my "heart" and a terrible sadness because he is gone.he painted my portrait in italy in l972.  it is a thing of beauty.  it was a joy to sit for this.  we traded risque stories about friend and foe and drank the local red in between.  one hilarious occasion ronald, george, and moi went to spoleto to see the dance theatre of harlem.  the only tickets available were so high up all we could see of the dancers were their calves and toes.on the rather lengthy trip to spoleto passersby kept shouting "olio" at george who was driving the volks.  the same thing happened on our way back.  why were they shouting "olio" at us??after they dropped me off they discovered what the "olio" calls were about.  the car had run out of oil and was smoking all the way to spoleto and home.  the damage was in the hundreds of dollars!!george added much to my life.  we always had good times and laughed ourselves silly all too often.  my three "kids" knew and loved george as well.  his art work was incredible and so was he.  i have a stack of letters from george when they lived in cortona -time to retrieve them, re-read them, and shed some tears.love,m.e.

2:58 PM  
Blogger Peter Cherches said...

Sad as I am about George's passing, I'm pleased that I was able to provide a space for other friends to share their memories.

3:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn, I wish I knew George.

RIP - Mr. Deem

7:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

George Deem was my first art teacher at the University of Pennsylvania. This was around 1966 or '67.

He was a nice guy. I remember him chiefly for one thing: He gave us an assignment to create a composition. I painted a sitting, roundish woman in the middle of a square canvas. The area around her was painted flat orange.

He said that it was an interesting image, but not a very good composition because it had no visual rhythm -- no asymmetries to keep the eye moving.

That lesson is something that I've remembered and used ever since.

12:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

George and I were roommates in Chicago the last year he was at the Art Institute of Chicago and I was at the University of Chicago. I was thinking about George today in the following context: He invited me to attend one of his Art History classes with him at the Art Institute. George was taking the third year of Art History even though, if I remember correctly, he only had to take two years to satisfy his course requirements. Even then (1958), George had a keen interest in other artists and their work. What was really fun was going to an exhibition with him. I will really miss our luncheons together - which is how we saw each other in the recent years. He made all the difference.

7:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I met George when we were in basic training (Army) in 1953 and he had just turned 21 (I turned 18 a few days later). During the boring classes we had to sit through, George drew pencil sketches of some of the other boys in our group on the backs of lesson plans (which I still have) and I knew he was a very good artist. Later he painted a portrait of me that must be one of his earliest works. He thought it was funny that I had to roll up my sleeves and pant legs (the smallest uniforms the Army supplied were way too big for me) so showed me in my fatigues.I followed George’s career over the years and was truly pleased to see him become an internationally famous and recognized artist of great skill and imagination. The world is a much better place because he was in it, and I know that many people will miss him

7:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

George may have been the first contemporary artist I ever saw or at least read about (fall 1963 or winter 1964 -- Allan Stone show) who based his entire approach on appropriating other art. (A close second was Sante Graziani.) He was indeed post-modern avant la lettre, but in one respect he was resolutely pre-modern, in that his appropriations were loving homages, free of cynicism, full of wonder and exploration, and based on an at-least solid technique and a marked sensitivity to light and, yes, composition. His painting was about looking, seeing, finding, remembering, and returning.
-- Peter Frank

5:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I married into an amazing "family" that includes an array of loving people living lives of art. How lucky I am that this family included dear George. I treasure the stories but mostly I treasure the love and enthusiasm he lavished on all. He was all art and wonder and life. Our yearly gathering will have an unfillable hole in it. Rest well dear soul.

12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I met George and we became friends in 1955, when we were both students
at the Art Institute of Chicago. Our friendship continued after I moved to New York in 1960, and George is inextricably bound up in my memory of those early New York years. We spoke almost every day and often would meet in the evenings, he walking up from his loft on Fulton Street, me walking down from mine on the Bowery. When we would meet, we would immediately and spontaneously start laughing. Everything seemed to take on a comic spin in the most magical way. I don't think I have ever laughed as much or with as much comic joy and abandon as I have with George. Everyone should have a gift of such laughter.

In recent years George and I would meet for lunch when I came east from Los Angeles. They were wonderful lunches, with great conversation and art talk. There were certain aspects of art I felt we could discuss with complete mutual understanding. I so treasure the memory of those lunches, along with so many other memories. I am very sorry there will not be more. George was an original and unique personality and a beautiful and intelligent painter. His work had it's own very original and unique voice.


4:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's terribly sad that our Uncle George has passed away. I'm glad he had so many friends and was respected in his profession. He was truly a kind and fascinating figure. Thank you for your comments.

Ken Knight

3:54 PM  

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