Cauldron of Excitement: The Paintings of George McNeil
September 10 - November 1, 1999
This exhibition of paintings by George McNeil covers the work from the 1980s, the period of McNeil's "rediscovery" by the neo-expressionists, up to his death in 1995. In these paintings and prints, McNeil adopted characters from ancient and modern myth, filling his canvases with agitated images of disco dancers, shamans, outsize magic birds, punk rockers, as well as visionary landscapes. These are paintings in which youth and old age converge. They are full of edgy lies, clashing colors and truculent figures. They share the frenzied, Dionysian quality of works by much younger painters like Jean Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. At the same time, however, they have a reflective melancholy that comes only with the passage of time and experience.
Born in Brooklyn, McNeil had his formal training as a painter at The Pratt Institute. There he won a New York Art League scholarship, and in his own words, "fell in love with painting." McNeil pooled ideas from various artists. From 1932 to 1936, McNeil studied with Hans Hoffman where he got, "the big ideas about space" so that "…he would never have to think about the spatial problem…." Influences also came from Jan Matulka's classes where McNeil learned about structure and solidarity in painting.
Despite the changing trend in art, George McNeil remained steadfast in his exploration and expression of feeling. His paintings are clamorous, luxuriant, colorful, audacious, and dauntless. Figures vibrate across the canvas: bold patterns of disjunctive color, drifts of paint, graffiti, big shoes, and funny hats fill the canvas. Purple and green-haired anthropomorphic figures dance, while airplanes and taxis move indiscriminately around. Visionary landscapes are visited by dazzling women and hip-hop scene makers. Men of bravado and bejeweled women seem unable to decide what their next move should be.