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 Robert Pearson McChesney  (1913 - 2008)

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Lived/Active: California/Missouri      Known for: abstract expressionist and mural painting

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Ad Code: 3
Robert Pearson McChesney
from Auction House Records.
Arena #3
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Post-War California artist, Robert Pearson McChesney became an Abstract Expressionist painter, assemblage artist, printmaker, sculptor and teacher.  He was born in Marshall, Missouri, and with the exception of a year in Mexico, 1951, and World War II military service aboard a ship, he spent his career in California where he moved in 1936.  He lived and had his studio north of San Francisco in Petaluma, atop Sonoma Mountain.  Considered one of the "progenitors of Bay Area abstract expressionism", he had influence far beyond his home town.  Exhibition venues were in New York at the Whitney Museum, Chicago at the Art Institute and San Francisco at the Museum of Modern Art.

He studied at Washington University School of Fine Arts in St. Louis, Missouri from 1933-1934, and the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles from 1936 to 1937 with Fred Conway.

Robert McChesney worked in the mural division of the Works Progress Administration from 1938-1940, and in this capacity did ship murals for the "USS Monterey" and for the 1939 Golden Gate Exposition where he collaborated with twenty-five other artists.

In the 1940s he was assistant to Anton Refrigier in creating murals for the Rincon Annex Post Office in San Francisco.  During World War II, he was a merchant marine who regularly shipped in and out of San Francisco.  He later attributed of his interest in abstract painting to this period when he, aboard ship, would spend hours watching the shapes and forms in the water and the play of light upon them.

McChesney's working method has been to lay the ground for his painting on a flat surface, apply paint with a squeeze bottle and then add found objects.  He said: "When this whole thing sets up, I've got what I call a 'chaotic condition', and it's my job ot get rid of the chaos and build an abstract composition.  It's amazing --- the different shapes and forms and how they colorize together and produce this chaos. After it sets up, that's where the work begins." (Howell)

McChesney was married to Mary Fuller McChesney, artist and author.  He taught at the California Labor School, Art Department, 1948-1949; California School of Fine Arts, 1949-1951; and served on the San Francisco Art Institute Board of Directors, 1965-1966.

In July 2000, at the time of the opening of a McChesney's retrospective of seventy paintings in Santa Rosa, he was described by newspaper writer Daedalus Howell:

"The usual adjectives used to describe active octogenarians don't apply to McChesney.  He isn't spry, for example--he's goddamn robust.  His conversation is peppered with such anachronistic hipsterisms as "You dig?" and his eyes actively search his surroundings.

Often garbed like some order of beatnik cowboy in a turtleneck, cowboy hat, and full silver beard under which lurks a bolo tie, McChesney is more than an "American painter.  He's an American original--and it shows in his art."

Solo Exhibitions included Raymond & Raymond Gallery, San Francisco, 1944; Pat Wall Gallery, Monterey, 1946; Lucien Labaudt Gallery, 1947, 1951; San Francisco Museum of Art, 1949, 1953; Gump's Gallery, 1952, 1953, 1955; California School of Fine Arts, 1957; Reed College, Portland, 1959; Bolles Gallery, San Francisco, 1959, 1961, 1962, (New York), 1970, 1971; San Francisco Art Center, 1964; Twentieth Century West, New York, 1965; San Francisco Art Commission Gallery, 1974; San Francisco Cultural Center, 1984; California Museum of Art, Santa Rosa, 1988; Carlson Gallery, San Francisco, 1990.

Group Exhibitions included: First Spring Annual Exhibition, California Palace of The Legion of Honor 1946; Annual Painting and Sculpture Exhibitions of the San Francisco Art Association at the San Francisco Museum of Art, 1948; The Oakland Museum, California. A Period of Exploration: San Francisco 1945-1950; 1973; San Francisco Museum of Art, Painting and Sculpture in California: The Modern Era 1976; Laguna Art Museum & San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The San Francisco School of Abstract Expressionism, 1996.

Daedalus Howell, 'Enduring Visions', Sonoma County Independent, July 6-12, 2000
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art
David J Carlson, Carlson Gallery
Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Marshall, Missouri on January 16, 1913, Robert McChesney attended Washington University in St. Louis (1931-34) and the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles (1936).  He moved to San Francisco in 1937, worked on the Federal Art Project, and with 25 other artists painted huge murals for the Golden Gate International Exhibition.

During the 1940s he assisted Anton Refregier with the murals in San Francisco's Rincon Annex Post Office.  He was also a merchant seaman who continued to ship in and out of San Francisco during WWII.

He taught serigraphy at the California School of Fine Arts (1949-51) and Santa Rosa Jr. College (1947-58).  McChesney lived in Petaluma, CA until his death on May 10, 2008.

Raymond & Raymond Gallery (San Francisco), 1944; San Francisco Museum of Art, 1945, 1949, 1953, 1960 (1st prize); De Young Museum, 1947; Labaudt Gallery (San Francisco), 1947, 1951; Art Institute of Chicago, 1947, 1954, 1960, 1961; Gump's (San Francisco), 1952, 1953, 1955; Whitney Museum, 1955 (prize); Sao Paulo (Brazil) Biennial, 1955; San Francisco Art Commission, 1955, 1969 (prize); Corcoran Gallery (Washington, DC), 1957; San Francisco Art Institute, 1957; Reed College (Oregon), 1959; California Palace of Legion of Honor, 1962, 1964; Sonoma State College, 1970; Oakland Museum, 1972, 1973; Santa Rosa City Hall, 1974; UC Hayward, 1977; Lincoln Art Center (Santa Rosa), 1978; Marin Civic Center, 1980; Art Exchange Gallery (San Francisco), 2002.

Art Institute of Chicago;  California Palace of the Legion of Honor; Whitney Museum (NYC); San Francisco Museum of Art; Oakland Museum; San Francisco Art Committee.; Social Services Bldg (San Francisco); Muskegon (MI) Museum; Washington State Art Commission.
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Interview with the artist or his/her family; Art in the SF Bay Area 1940-1980; SF Chronicle, 5-31-2002.
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Annex Galleries:
Robert McChesney, painter, printmaker, sculptor, and teacher, was born in Marshall, Missouri in 1913.  He studied at the School of Fine Arts at Washington University in St. Louis between 1931 and 1934 and the Otis Art Institute between 1936 and 1937.

During the winter of 1937, McChesney arrived in San Francisco and found employment on the WPA Art Project.  He was assigned the mural project for the Federal Building for the Golden Gate International Exposition which opened in 1939 on Treasure Island.  He set-up his studio in Bohemian North Beach in San Francisco. Politically vocal, McChesney joined marches against racial, labor, and governmental injustices and was an organizer for the Labor movement.

During World War II, he joined the Merchant Marine and sailed to various ports in the South Pacific.  These exotic cultures had a profound impact on the imagery of his shipboard paintings.  After the war, McChesney returned to San Francisco where his first solo show was at the Raymond and Raymond Gallery in 1944.  He joined the faculty of the California School of Fine Arts in 1950 and taught serigraphy and life drawing.

During this time he lived in Point Richmond where he shared a house with Hassel Smith and Edward Corbett, also faculty members.  Finding the climate of the school in flux, McChesney left in 1951 for a year in Mexico, and the following year he relocated to Sonoma County, California.

He has had over forty solo exhibitions, including retrospectives at the Fresno Art Museum, the Nevada Museum of Art, and the San Francisco Art Commission Gallery. He won several awards and his work is included in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, Oakland Art Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, Worcester Art Museum, Fresno Art Museum, Nevada Museum, Laguna Art Museum, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

His life and art are chronicled in the book,  Robert McChesney: An American Painter.

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Robert McChesney is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Abstract Expressionism

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