Neil Welliver: Chosen Terrain
Paintings from Nature
YONKERS , NY . August 8, 2006 — When Neil Welliver died last year, the art world lost a monolith of modernism. A leader of Painterly Realism emerging from Abstract Expressionism, Welliver (1929-2005) devoted himself for some 40 years to the passionate study and depiction of the Maine landscape.
Neil Welliver: Chosen Terrain at the Hudson River Museum, September 30, 2006 through January 7, 2007, includes 32 paintings and prints that show the range of the artist’s mature style. Welliver, the painter, also worked in every print medium—silkscreen, lithograph, etching, aquatint and woodblock.Several of the prints show wildlife, from a deer to a heron, woodpecker, and trout. Lenders to the exhibition include Alexandre Gallery, New York, Farnsworth Art Museum, Flint Institute of Arts, Neuberger Museum, and Smith College Museum of Art. Neil Welliver grew up sketching in the woods of rural Pennsylvania and studied at Yale under Bauhaus master Joseph Albers during the heyday of Abstract Expressionism. But Welliver never lost his love of nature and its realities. Though he acknowledged his debt to Albers’ color theories, Welliver was in the vanguard of a group of painters as diverse as Alex Katz, Philip Pearlstein, and Wayne Thiebaud, who re-examined representation using the tools of abstraction.
Welliver’s Working Style
A genuine lover of nature who lived the holistic lifestyle growing vegetables, generating power with windmills, and buying land to protect it from development, Welliver followed his single-minded desire for perfection in his art in his “chosen terrain.” He began a work by hiking the woods and mountains near his home and in public preserves such as the remote Allagash region of northern Maine. He might visit and sketch a site repeatedly before choosing it for a painting that would begin as an oil study and be completed on the spot over a three-day period. If Welliver pursued a large version of the painting, he would create a full-scale drawing, transfer the linear outlines onto a canvas, and begin to paint at the upper left corner. Bit by bit, working down and across diagonally, Welliver lavished attention of every inch of the canvas, never going back over a spot he had painted. In the studio, he was concerned only with making a good painting; he never tried to copy precisely the color or appearance of what he had seen outdoors. This focus on the painting as object is a major hallmark of his modernism.
Painting Inspired by Poetry
Chosen Terrain, the exhibition’s title, is taken from a quote by U.S. Poet Laureate Mark Strand, who said about Welliver, a lifelong friend:
. . . His landscapes compel our attention as no one else’s do…. What we see--and what moves us--are the force and depth of his connection to his chosen terrain. There is nothing ambivalent about his passion. He will paint nothing else. The woods are not only his, they are him. . .
Both the poet and the artist had strong ties to Maine, where Welliver also lived not far from the New York School poet Edwin Denby. Welliver’s art was influenced by poetry and several of Denby’s late sonnets about Maine are very close in spirit to Welliver’s paintings:
. . . leaf-green the far shore Woods, that fir-boughs blue-black intersperse The tokens of a vanished forest Whose shade secludes my hope’s darkness.
A Welliver portrait of Denby standing in front of one of his paintings, Edwin before Osprey Nest, 1980, is a highlight of the show. A color brochure accompanies the exhibition.
The Hudson River Museum is located at 511 Warburton Avenue, Yonkers NY. minutes from the Saw Mill River Parkway, exit 9, north or southbound.
Information and directions: 914.963.4550 and www.hrm.org.
Museum admission: Adults $5; Seniors 62 & older and children 5-16 $3. Fridays 5 to 8 pm to galleries and the planetarium free