1906 (Gee Village, near Canton, China)
1963 (New York City)
New York/California / France/China
Often Known For
modernist landscape, figure-genre painting, mural
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|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Known as a Modernist painter and the creator of a style he called
"diamondism", composed of fragmented forms vividly colored, Yun Gee was
born in Gee Village, now called Chu Village, near Canton, China in
1906. At age 15, he arrived in San Francisco in 1921, joining his father, a merchant who traveled there frequently from China. However, his mother remained behind with his younger brothers and sisters, and Yun Gee never saw her again. He was able to become an American citizen because of his father's claim that his own citizenship papers had been destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire.|
Yun Gee settled near Chinatown and enrolled at
the California School of Fine Art under Gottardo Piazzoni and Otis
Oldfield. Both of these men had strong influence on Gee, especially Oldfield who became a close, life-long friend. They took a
sketching trip together in 1928 to the gold mining area of California. It was written that "Oldfield's Cezanne-inspired paintings would come to inform Gee's aesthetic. Lessons in forming volume from areas of contrasting warm and cool colors resonated through his work for the rest of his life." (yungee.com)
Gee became a part of the San Francisco avant-garde, which included poet Kenneth Rexroth and artists Dorr Bothwell, Ruth Cravath, John Ferrin and Oldfield. In 1926, he formed, along with several other artists dedicated to
abstraction, the Modern Gallery, which bordered Chinatown and was located on Montgomery Street. With
this action, Gee renounced his earlier commitment to academic painting
and burned all of his work that reflect the conservative method and
style. That same year, he formed the Chinese Revolutionary Artist' Club, and gave classes in painting techniques and theory. It is thought that his theory of Diamondism was developed during this time.
Reflecting the early, uprooted period in his life is an oil painting, Where Is My Mother,
dated 1927. It is "a portrait of himself weeping, next to two other
people, one of whom is also crying." (Goodman, 194) Above them is an
abstract landscape with a female figure and a ship in the distance.
Under the patronage of Prince and Princess Achille Murat, Yun Gee
went to Paris in 1927 to pursue further study. Again he associated with prominent avant-garde persons and exhibited his painting at the Salon des Indépendants. He also had a solo exhibition at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in 1929. Influenced by a combination that included Taoist philosophy, Chinese love of word play, and fragmented references of Gertrude Stein, he frequently attached his own poetry to his paintings. There he married Princess Paule
de Reuss, a poetess, and because of the marriage, her family disowned her.
For financial reasons, Gee was forced
to return to New York during the Depression of the 1930's without his
wife, and they divorced in 1932, which sent Gee into a deep
depression and into the alcoholism he battled the remainder of his life. Although he exhibited in major galleries in New
York City area, including the Brooklyn Museum, he stopped painting
during this dark period in his life.
Living in New York from 1930 to 1936, he painted and wrote poetry, which met with
indifference. Of this period it was written: "Despite his inclusion in exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum in 1931, and at the Museum of Modern Art in 1932, Gee struggled greatly throughout the Depression. Remaining closely involved with the Chinese community, Gee was an active fundraiser for causes in China. He completed a large mural on K Street as a contribution to the Chinese Flood Relief Campaign. He participated in art programs sponsored by the WPA, such as the Easel Painter’s Project. From this period onward, Gee would sporadically produce paintings and drawings with overtly political subject matter. One of his paintings included in MoMA’s Murals by American Painters and Photographers is considered to be his masterwork. Wheels: Industrial New York did not fit neatly into the late Futurist or the Social Realist camp, but rather created a dynamic synthesis of cubist influences and an ironic sense of realism." (yungee.com)
He returned to Paris in 1936, and felt more accepted and received positive responses to his work, which was exhibited widely. But three years later, chased from Europe by the war, he settled in
New York City, where he lived until his death in 1963. In 1942, he married Helen Wimmer, and they had a daughter, Li-lan, who became an artist. Wimmer and Gee were divorced in 1947, and several years Velma Aydelott became his companion for the remainder of his life. In the 1940's amidst much personal turmoil, Gee's painting career ended; he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940
Jonathan Goodman, "Yun Gee and Li-lan", Art in America, November 2008, p. 194
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