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 Dean Chapman  (1937 - 2001)

About: Dean Chapman
 

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Lived/Active: Georgia      Known for: western genre, cowboy paintings

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:

The following was submitted by the artist's daughter, Clarissa:

Chaman served as a military artist until his enlistment ended in 1959.  He was a member of the Georgia Air National Guard's 116th Fighter-Interceptor Wing at Dobbins Air Force Base in Marietta, Georgia.  Painted a rendition of Major General George G. Finch, Commanding General, 14th Air Force, which was briefly mentioned in a local newspaper.  The painting was meant to decorate a wall of the new Wing headquarters building at the time.
 
He was uncharacteristically captain of the football team at Avondale High School.  However, he never followed sports in his adult life.
 
When he was very young he studied under George Beattie, Ben Shute, and Robert Stockton Rogers.  While studying under Beattie, he met Ben Shute at a Piedmont art exhibition.  He bad-mouthed the Art Institute of Atlanta, claiming the school was "opposed to everything I believe in".  Shortly thereafter he humorously realized Shute was the director of the school.  Regardless, Shute suggested he try out for a scholarship, which he did.  He ended up receiving a full scholarship.  During this time he also modeled nude in life art classes for extra cash.
 
Also around this time he presented a portrait of Principal J.E. Burgess of Avondale High School where he had attended.  Possibly related, a committee arranged for a portrait of the late Ben Burgess, clerk of Dekalb Superior Court.  The painting was presented at multiple ceremonies and to the clerk's office.  I'm not sure if these two Burgess men are related.
 
When he was 21 years old he painted a 33 foot by 10 foot painting entitled Samson Slaying the Philistines.  Several articles were written about this feat in The Atlanta Journal and other local newspapers.  It was reportedly the largest painting ever created by one single artist in 50 years (at the time).  He was given space at the Avondale Methodist Church gymnasium and spent 14 months painting it.  Pepper Helms, Miss Atlanta of 1958, was used as the model for a Philistine princess in a chariot drawn by white horses.  The project was funded by Richard Newton, an Atlanta art supply dealer.  The canvas was rolled up and driven to multiple cities looking for a purchaser.  The size and biblical subject matter proved difficult to sell.  Months later it was sold for $8,500 to a collector in Phoenix, Arizona.  To display it to him, my father used a staple gun and hung the painting in a carport.  The doctor planned to install the mural in the lobby of a new hospital he was building.  In 1962, the mural was loaned to G.T. Smothers, president of the Bank of Scottsdale. 
 
In 1970, he painted a portrait of Richard Nixon standing in front of the large Stone Mountain Memorial Carving in Stone Mountain, Georgia.  Nixon was supposed to show up for a memorial ceremony but Vice President Spiro Agnew attended instead.  The 38" x 33.5" painting was presented by Georgia Governor Lester Maddox.  The painting was later delivered to President Nixon at the White House.  Color photos of the painting were then autographed by Nixon, and sent to the governors of every state.
 
My father was included in the December 13, 1982 edition of People Magazine.  A short article about Tracy Nelson, daughter of singer/actor Ricky Nelson, featured a photograph of a painting owned by the Nelson family.  It is a near-life-sized depiction of Ricky Nelson from the 1959 film "Rio Bravo".  The painting was given to Ricky Nelson by my father as a gift.  David and June Nelson also commissioned a painting, which was paid for by Ozzie Nelson in 1961.  I assume this is a portrait of the couple, but I have never seen it.  Ricky's portrait is likely still part of the Nelson estate.  I have letters from the Nelson family in my possession.
 
He was commissioned by actress Ali McGraw for a portrait, which I assume she currently owns.  Actors Peter Brown and Russ Tamblyn commissioned paintings as well.  He painted in oil, created only one small sculpture I'm aware of, and a few jewelry pieces.
 
Chapman always wore cowboy boots, and was against ties and was never seen wearing one.
 
He lived the life of the stereotypical starving artist - alcoholism, extreme eccentricity, always after women, big ego, charming, charismatic, poor, refused "real" jobs, agnostic.
 
He felt he could only be an artist and that any other employment would be beneath him.  He had constant arguments with his father over this matter and never reached an agreement of any kind.  Though consistently struggling financially, he was a very good father, protective, sensitive, and caring.  He was also loud and argumentative but never sadistically.  He had a very intense personality and could be somewhat overbearing during casual conversation.
 
He always had money problems and never paid child support for any of his kids, but charges were never pressed.  He often borrowed money or gave paintings as payment instead of cash.
 
He was an alcoholic during his early years but was finally able to stop through AA after his last wife (my mother) divorced him.  I was very young and hardly remember his drunken days, but my older brothers do not have fond memories of that time period.  His drinking habit was very severe, only requiring a small amount of alcohol to be completely intoxicated.  Withdrawal was difficult for him, but he was finally able to quit, and never drank again.  As a little girl, he had me attend the AA meeting where he received his one-year chip.  He wanted the chip to be given to him from my hand.  After several years of sobriety it was no longer a struggle, and not even considered.  He strongly urged his kids not to drink or even smoke, though that's one addiction he was unable to give up.
 
He loved women and was quite the gigolo.  He frequented strip clubs with friends and in general, was pretty successful with women.  He was quite snobby thinking he was very handsome and the best artist ever born, but it made him a charming character, rather than an egotistical jerk.  He often asked me the rhetorical question, "Clarissa, why is your father so good-looking?".  He watched MTV frequently, even in his later years, specifically to see scantily-clad women.  In one of the houses he lived in he even installed a large mirror on the ceiling above the bed.  He jokingly referred to himself as a chauvinist pig but was actually always respectful of women.
 
Riding in a car with him was always an uneasy event.  He had extreme road rage and screamed and honked at everyone even for the slightest thing.  His pride and joy for a long period of time was a 1964 Mustang Fastback which he had painted black.  Unfortunately he did not treat the car responsibly and it continuously broke down.  I recently found a document where he stated after his death the car would become mine.  At this point it's just pieces though. 
 
He always had a dog throughout his life, but I only remember Choctaw, a chow mix, when I was really young, and later the huge and beloved Desperado who was part wolf, part German Shepard.  Though appearing quite intimidating, Desperado was very gentle and sweet, and was cared for dearly.  Desperado went with him everywhere, even to Native American and Western art fairs and Pow-wows.  Desperado seemed to have separation anxiety and followed him everywhere.  He died just two months after my father at quite an old age.   
 
He enjoyed antique shopping and had many old items.  These are now in the possession of my brothers and myself.  All of his artifacts were Native American related and/or symbolic of the Old West.  He was old fashioned in certain ways, never having a bank account, credit card, cell phone, and certainly not a computer.
 
He loved meat and spicy food.  Though he claimed to be an excellent cook, no one else agreed.
 
He took me to museums, plays, and musicals frequently.  He was a big fan of movies, old and new, and would beg, even force his kids, and occasionally others, to watch movies he loved.  He also enjoyed music, though not to the same degree, listening only to jazz and oldies.
 
He was a huge fan of Billy the Kid and had numerous books about him.  He knew every detail about his life and even painted his image a few times.  He disliked movies about him that were not accurately factual.  He saw this as a huge insult to the true legend.
 
He rarely traveled and only did so to sell his art, usually "out west".  He never left the country and oddly had no real interest in doing so.
 
We suffered from extreme family drama near the end of his life.  He and his sister fought for years about their parents' wills and property.  This caused some erratic behavior by some, and had a very harmful effect on all involved.
 
Though there is no official documentation, he was convinced of our Native American heritage.  Choctaw and Creek are in our bloodline along with Scottish and Irish.  There is however official ancestry documentation stating we are related to Johnny Appleseed (Chapman).
 
His favorite artists were the "Old Masters", such as Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and DaVinci.  He also appreciated Dali but only for his technical ability.  He believed Dali's art had no feeling.  He rarely liked art that was created currently, and only studied paintings by artists from long ago.  He disliked modern art immensely and always bad-mouthed it during museum visits.
 
He painted portraits as requested, but considered them less important and just for money.  His original paintings were difficult to sell and often priced too high.  He focused on one, small market but refused to compromise.  He paid attention to detail and was able to realistically portray the people and animals (mostly horses) he painted.  The paintings varied in size, and for a long period of time he stretched the canvas himself.  His paintings always had very sharp characteristics as opposed to a "soft" style. 
 
It's somewhat impossible to date his paintings and he didn't keep thorough records.  His style gradually grew more and more detailed, showing wrinkles, muscles, etc. quite clearly.  The realistic nature of his art continuously improved with time.
 
He never sketched pre-designs for any of his paintings, and hardly ever sketched in general.  Very few pencil, charcoal, and pen sketches exist today.
 
Figures were typically painted nude first, with clothing added later.  He said this made people appear more realistic.
 
The artistic nature began with his father, who was also interested in the Old West.  My grandfather was constantly drawing and creating carpentry masterpieces.  The skill was passed down to my father and even all of his children, whose professions are all art-related.
 
He only created one known sculpture.  It is the bust of a random Native American man and is currently in my possession.  He used clay and now it is extremely cracked and fragile.
 
Ironically he was somewhat color blind and frequently got reds, blues, and greens mixed up.  There were several times he asked me to confirm a color before putting it on the canvas.  This also caused a little trouble while driving, but luckily not often. 
 
He sold his paintings privately, at art shows, and to galleries.  I'd say most of his artwork is located in Georgia galleries and residences.  My brothers and I have several of his paintings and prints and do not ever intend to sell.
 
In his own words: "I've been told that viewing my art is a spiritual experience, but I do not think of myself as a religious person in the accepted manner.  Because of my detail people say I'm a realist, but I think of my form of work as a form of Magic Realism and Romanism.   I never make preliminary sketches!  I like strong use of space in my compositions.  The human and animal world is my forte with landscape following as a necessary backdrop."


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