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 William Ballantine Dorsey  (1942 - )

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Lived/Active: California      Known for: landscape and coastal view painting

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Ad Code: 3
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Wildflowers on the Dunes
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
These Notes from AskART represent the beginning of a possible future biography for this artist. Please click here if you wish to help in its development:
The following is from Mary Dorsey:

In 1964 William B Dorsey mapped the Copper River Delta for Fish and Game, tagged the fish in wilderness area and painted Alaska. He homesteaded in Tutka Bay and went Salmon seining in the summer and painting in the winter.

His paintings can be found throughout Alaska.

Biography from Bluebird Gallery:
Landscapes of California are 'home' to the art of the plein-air painter, William Dorsey.  The dominant theme in the artist’s oils is the scenery he experienced while growing up in California.  Come rainy season, William would traipse with his father, meteorologist Herbert Grove Dorsey, on weekly trips along the coast to maintain weather station gauges.  The Dorseys meandered behind locked gates on ranches, from Pine Mountain Summit to San Simeon and Hearst Castle when it was still a private ranch, around Lake Nacimiento, and even along the Melville Mine Road near Big Sur.  The trips ended but not the memories, and hidden trails through meadows and eucalyptus would become recurrent themes in the artist’s work.

That same pristine beauty of the pre-war landscape that impressed early-day master impressionists similarly transfixed Dorsey.  “I was seeing a lot of California that was disappearing,” Dorsey recalls.  His wife, Mary, says that her husband sometimes paints on location but more often paints from memories.  She cites Harmony, a tiny Central Coast town, population about 10, as remaining “much the same.”  But nothing else is so unchanged.

Light and color are essential in plein air, or painting in the open air. Twilight is a favorite Dorsey time.  “It’s not painstaking detail but what you can accomplish in strokes.  I try to recreate a moment,” says Dorsey, who paints standing up.  “You don’t even have time in that moment to mix colors.”  Titles of paintings in Dorsey’s portfolio reflect nature and specific locations such as “Grace of Eucalyptus” and “Coachella Valley, Winter Homestead.”

Dorsey’s father was in the Air Force, prompting almost yearly moves and major adjustments for a young kid.  “Travel was in my blood.  I didn’t develop a lot socially because I was kind of cross-eyed,” recalls Dorsey.  He lived in a number of states before landing in the Southland.  Dorsey’s attachment to art was clear even at Nordhoff High in Ojai, where he devised ways to circumvent conventional classes: “I took two art classes a day and hid the rest of the time.  I created a huge body of work hidden away in Ventura County schools somewhere, he says.

Fleet of foot as well, Dorsey found jobs, one arboreal in nature.  “I trimmed almost every eucalyptus tree in Ventura County,” he said.  “Now, I just paint them.” 

Dorsey would go on to graduate from the Famous Artist Course in Westport, Connecticut.  But gallivanting about the countryside is a lifelong habit.  “My dad went to Harvard.  My mom went to Smith.  My sister went to Berkeley, and I went to Alaska.  I thought that would handle my BA and MFA.”

His major influences have been the early California Impressionists, as well as Alaskan painter Sydney Laurence. The eclectic Dorsey brims with talent in many other areas, from being a pilot to writing songs (sung by such groups as the Monkees) and playing the keyboard.  Dorsey calls his wife Mary an important stabilizer.  “She runs the other end of the zoo. If I had to worry about the phone bill, I couldn’t paint.” The prolific master can even count posters in his stable of works, but the medium of painting is still his most cherished. “When you have one of these scenes, it opens up the world,” he says reflectively.

Biography from Stewart Galleries, Inc.:
William Dorsey was born in 1942.  As a twentieth-century California painter, Dorsey has had work in auctions alongside early California Masters of plein-air painting.

Dorsey is a 1960 graduate of the Famous Artist Course, Westport, Connecticut, and is currently a resident of Ojai, California, and Red Mountain via Homer, Alaska.  He was influenced and inspired by Alaskan painter Sydney Laurence and the early California Impressionists.

Painting oil landscapes primarily of California and Alaska, Dorsey travels extensively. He has painted and exhibited his work in Stowe, Vermont; Taos, New Mexico; Sun Valley, Idaho; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; as well as California and Alaska.

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