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 William Douglas McGee  (1925 - 1999)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: abstract, color-block painting, collage, art education

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William Douglas McGee
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:

William Douglas McGee (1925-1999)

William Douglas McGee was a prolific artist and teacher. His time at the historic Black Mountain College placed him in the center of the art world and drove his development as an accomplished artist.  He is best identified by his early abstract oil paintings, mixed media collages, and large color field paintings that are exhibited in MOMA, Dallas Museum of Fine Art, Chicago Art Institute, etc. or through one man shows at galleries such as Grace Borgenicht, Max Hutchinson, Martha Jackson, or Galerie Simone Stern.

William McGee initially took an interest in art by viewing Norman Rockwell illustrations at a young age.  Oddly it was at a WWII prisoner of war camp that he began to develop his talent.  He was placed within a French compound and began to share his drawings with a French artist named Gaston Rous.  This developed into a student - teacher relationship and was the beginning of his artistic development.

After the War, with the assistance of the GI Bill, William traveled to the University of New Mexico (1947-1951) to pursue an undergraduate degree in Painting and Art History.  At the University of New Mexico William drew inspiration from faculty such as Agnis Martin, Raymond Johnson, and Randall Davey.  Dick Dieberkorn arrived to the campus in 1949 as a Master’s student and became his biggest influence. They formed a group called “The Nines” to share events and Dick was the leader.

“During this period in New Mexico I discovered the new American advent-garde in painting and sculpture.  It began with John Marin and progressed to Pollock.  From Pollock of course the others came along.  I was especially influenced by Motherwell and Kline.”

While searching for a graduate school William discovered Black Mountain College by accident.  He attended the summer institute in 1952 which the resident painters were Jack Tworkov and Franz Kline.

 “It was Franz Kline who I became a close to both as a dear friend and painter.  Towards the end of that summer I gave a one man show of black and white oil studies.  The work was strongly influenced, obviously, by Franz Kline – however there was a distinct sense of my own form, and pictorial space that was unlike Kline which was generally more 2 dimensional.”

After Black Mountain College William was awarded a teaching fellowship at Indiana University and completed his Masters in 1953.  This began his teaching career at the University of Cincinnati from 1953-1956.  William left anxiously to go back east and was named professor at Brown University.  While at Brown, William began to shift his art from Black and White oils to an intense study of collages.  The collages were fragments of painted paper, torn and repainted, often canvas and magazine reproductions were glued in and letters and were brought in for abstract purposes not for their original meaning.  He was signed to the Grace Borgenicht Gallery where the collages were shown at several one man and group shows from 1956-1962.

In 1962 the turmoil of divorce drove William to a new job at Hunter College in NY and stopped his painting for 6 months.  The discovery of Color Field painting brought him back to creating art with a new energy, which became his new approach to painting.  His distinct style during this period earned William the opportunity to sign with the Max Hutchinson Gallery where he had several one man and group shows, before later signing with the Leslie Cecil Gallery (when Max sold his gallery in 1972).

“The sheer notion of color and scale as the form of my painting was indeed challenging and exciting. Color Field had a certain spirit, color was symbol; I didn’t worry about drawing, imagery, or finish; just blue and red! black and green!  This colors were my soul my form. Doug Ohlsen called Columbus the best painting he has ever seen.”

In 1978 tragedy struck as Williams house burnt down destroying about 30% of his life’s work.  The tragedy brought an end to the Color Field period and William reverted back to collage period by making assemblages of cloth, paper, and metal from the wreckage.  William remained a very active artist until his death in 1999.

Defining Periods:
Abstract Oil Paintings   1951 – 1958
Mixed Media Collages  1956 – 1962
Color Field Paintings     1962 – 1978
Assemblages                1978 – 1999

Displays at:
Museum of Modern Art
Philadelphia Print Club
Chicago Art Institute
Dallas Museum of Fine Art
University of New Mexico
Chrysler Museum
Yale University
American Academy of Arts and Letters
American Federation of Arts

One Man Shows or Group Shows at:
Grace Borgenicht Gallery
Galerie Simone Stern
Benny Smith Gallery
Martha Jackson Gallery
Max Hutchinson Gallery
Leslie Cecil Gallery
Hudson River Museum

Education and Teaching Credits:
1947-1951  University of New Mexico (undergrad)   
1952 (Summer)  Black Mountain College                       
1952-1953  Indiana University (master’s)      
1953-1956  University of Cincinnati (prof.)       
1956-1962  Brown University (prof.)      
1962-retirement  Hunter College (prof.)

Sources:
Exhibition announcements
Long Beach College, 1954
various newspaper articles 


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