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This article by Pat Summers was prepared for the January 30, 2002
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Thomas George’s Vivid Hues
Surrounded by splashes of fabulous color, Thomas George
stands in the middle of a white-walled room, an aptly neutral setting
for his latest series of paintings. They are beautiful in a new way:
uncharacteristically vivid hues in uncommon combinations — all,
his homage to the American Southwest.
"What I did for many, many years was to go outside and draw with
ink and brush on big pieces of paper, like this," says the
artist. "Here" — he points to a black and white image
of a mountain — "the color in these mountains was so muted
— less, actually, than the linear structure, which was
And here" — gesturing toward another black-and-white image
— "this big mass was a shadow, but I didn’t feel the color
in it because the color around it didn’t get to me."
"Many people said, `Why is there no color in these things?’ I
tried and tried, but I had to see it in nature to do it. Then in my
70s, I went to Santa Fe. And there was the landscape with this
color. But it also had the structural elements, the lines, right
That was the answer to this problem I’ve had for all this time. There
was color, there was the form and the lines, and I just put it
"Far Side of the Mountain," paintings from Thomas George’s
Santa Fe series, together with earlier black-and-white drawings, is
on view at the gallery, Mercer County Community College, through
14. The opening reception is Wednesday, January 30, from 5 to 7:30
p.m., with a gallery talk and slide lecture to follow on February
6 and 13 respectively.
The show comprises 30 works — mostly oils and watercolors of
sizes and several drawings. No matter the winter weather, inside the
gallery it’s sizzling with intensely saturated color that practically
gives off heat. From a central position in each wing of the I-beam
shaped gallery, a big painting heralds its smaller, but no less
George says his titles are usually place names, though one glowing
exception here is "The Sun," a work that faces the gallery
entrance. The scarlet foreground of "La Madera" is equaled
only by "Purple Hills," whose waving shapes and shadows echo
its orange-sky patterns. With a teal ground and burning sky,
simply astounds, as does the striped sky in "Santa Fe Range."
The small "Chamita" models classic Santa Fe colors, in layers
cool to hot.
"Autumn" is the show’s single example of an image that George
enlarged from an earlier watercolor sketch, which hangs next to it.
However traditional this practice may be, he finds the process
"Some work doesn’t enlarge, and there’s a scale for how big a
thing can get; if it gets too big, it gets empty," he says, citing
the Calder mobile at the National Gallery as a work he regards as
outsize. "Too big, you lose it; too small, you lose it too."
During an interview at his home-studio earlier this month, the
83-year-old artist was surrounded by still more of the stunning works
that have been inspired by his visits to the Southwest. They represent
for him "a tremendous leap forward in color," he says. A
tweedy, and often twinkly country squire-kind of man, George favors
bow ties, khakis, and earth tones.
Hailed most recently for his abstracted visions, in
oils or soft pastels, of the grounds at the Institute for Advanced
Study, and for his vibrant watercolor florals, George says, "I’m
pleased that I’ve been able to find something which excites me this
much at my age. It’s like falling in love again."
"I saw this," he says, showing a few small landscape
he took near Los Alamos: big sky, mountains, vegetation, maybe some
roads here and there. "It hit me between the eyes." His hunch
that he would find "tremendous visual excitement" in the
had proved right.
He started by working outdoors, with watercolor sketches that he calls
"basically an experimental process" to pick up "in a
way" the landscape elements he saw. These contain hues not
associated with his work: indecorous purples, flamboyant oranges,
and hot pinks, even deep teal tones, along with the occasional yellow
sky. "I’ve got some crazy colors," he says with
"I did a lot of these sketches, then when I got back here, I went
in the studio and just went to town," George says. All the seeing,
photographing, and plein-air sketching resulted in a stream of
his impressions of the Southwest he has experienced. "I had all
this information in here" — pointing to his heart —
this" — gesturing to the work — "is what happened.
When the spirit and intuition are let loose and you trust your
to do it, this happens. I can do this with great authority because
I’ve been doing this drawing for so long."
For anyone ever puzzled by how an abstract work of art can be said
to have come from nature, George makes understanding it easy:
see this blue sky out there, tremendous, powerful. Then you’ll see
this mountain form, full of activity. Then you’ll see a rest, and
then more activity." Talking, he points out layer after layer
of color and shape, top to bottom, in a painting. And he says the
great breadth of the Southwestern landscape calls for horizontal
to better capture the long shapes.
"But you can’t analyze these too much," he cautions. "It’s
a visual experience. In back of everything is the study of nature,
and when people see it in a more abstracted way, they’re going to
realize it’s not just a made-up decoration. It’s got something in
it about the world that’s very real."
George’s Princeton studio is a big, high-ceilinged room with a long
window wall. There, more paintings that meld New Mexico with his
are in progress. He points to a series of orange brush strokes
across the lower half of one. "What I want is a dance. They have
to be a certain size and a certain intensity." When he returns
to this picture, he will cut into the orange shapes with the blue
paint they will finally appear to dance on.
Absent from his New Mexico work are pastels, a medium often associated
with George’s images, and yet one he says would not work for this
theme. In his hands, pastels produce misty, romantic, less defined
effects — not apropos here. "Don’t fight the medium,"
he says, talking of how artists have to pick the best medium to
technically, what they want to say.
With some of the images in this series, George started with acrylics
— the better to block in and paint fast. That way, even the hot
colors, like oranges and yellows, dry overnight. Later, he can
with the same shades with oils and allow the weeks it may take for
drying. In either case, "This is basically drawing with a big
brush. That’s why it’s such fun," George says.
"You’re taking chances and having an adventure, not making a
postcard or an illustration or something. It’s a crazy thing, what
they call modern art. It’s the opposite of taking an order from
and making it to please someone else. It’s a great privilege to be
able to do this. I’ve always felt that way."
Born in New York in 1918, George was one of two sons of cartoonist
"Rube" Goldberg (U.S. 1, May 12, 1999) and a mother he
glowingly as his father’s strong support. He graduated from Dartmouth
in 1940, and also studied at New York’s Art Students League, in Paris,
and Florence. His first solo show in New York was in 1951, and since
then, he has exhibited worldwide.
With Laverne, his wife of more than 50 years, and two sons, George
lived and worked for extended periods near Oslo, Norway, and in 1969,
the family moved from Rockland County, New York, to Princeton. He
is still based in the "so-called barn" — one of the
erected in the 1890s on the Moses Taylor Pyne estate that included
Drumthwacket, now the governor’s mansion. It’s distinctly not a barn
these days, but rather a solid and spacious brick dwelling with a
distinctive round, castle-like tower that originally held water.
Summer has often been George’s period for drawing, with the rest of
the year devoted to painting. His mountain drawings were done largely
in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, Norway, and China, and his travels
to paint or draw have also taken him to Europe, Japan, Nova Scotia,
Maine, and Wyoming. Occasional stints as artist-in-residence or
artist provided him with additional venues.
In 1987, the New Jersey State Museum hosted "Thomas George: A
Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings and Works on Paper," a major
show of the artist’s oeuvre, starting in the 1950s. It included
pastels, and paintings, and reflected both the evolution of George’s
style and a diversity of settings — from England’s Hidcote Manor
Garden to Monet’s water garden to Japanese temple gardens; from Norway
settings to Gueilin, China, to Princeton’s Marquand Park and the
of the Institute for Advanced Study.
A 1999 studio sale of his work to benefit the Arts Council of
was a runaway success, and not the first of its kind. George says
it was his third such event, with earlier ones in Norway and New York
state. "I think you have to pay back the place where you come
from," he says, "and this is how I can do it."
For Tom George, one of the attractions of the MCCC venue is that it’s
a teaching gallery. Beyond talking about art, he is eager to share
with students the importance of getting excited, of having a passion
— about something. "If you have that, you have a
he says. Witness the artist himself: hoping only for continued energy
to pursue his current excitement, making images of the American
"I don’t feel part of any movement," he says, rejecting the
"second generation Abstract Expressionist" label that is
applied to him.
"Usually they say, `Oh, that artist is influenced by Abstract
Expressionism or Photo Realism, or something.’ I can’t deal with that.
I ‘m interested in individual people and work. I look at art history
as a vertical thing, not horizontal, and not by movements — I
don’t believe in movements."
"I believe art history is made up of artists who may have
some affiliation, but first of all, they’re individuals. I feel I
have my roots in certain artists of the past."
With that, George launches into a string of names beginning with
Dove (1880-1946), the "best American painter," whose 1912
solo show in Alfred Stieglitz’s New York gallery was a landmark in
American abstract art. He is eager to ask students in Mercer’s art
program if they know about Dove and his work.
He also mentions West Coast artist Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993),
and Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (1863-1944) as influences, as well
as Bonnard, Cezanne, Monet, Bierstadt, Ryder, Velasquez, Goya and
— "the greatest of all" — Matisse. On the contemporary
scene, George admires New Mexico artist Agnes Martin: "I just
like her attitude, her way of thinking and working and writing."
Surrounded by his brilliant Santa Fe paintings, well aware of and
often lauded for his life-long art, George is asked if deep, deep
down, he lets himself have a little private gloat. His response is
refreshing. "I know it’s good, so I’m not going to say it isn’t.
I can do what I do very well. If I didn’t, after all these years,
— Pat Summers
Communications Center, 609-586-4800, ext. 3589. Artist’s reception
for "Far Side of the Mountain" by Thomas George. Artist’s
talk is Wednesday, February 6, at 7 p.m. Gallery is open Tuesday to
Thursday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Wednesday evenings 6 to 8 p.m.; Thursday
evenings 7 to 9 p.m. Show runs to February 14. Free. Wednesday,
January 30, 5 to 7:30 p.m.
Faces," an exhibit of paintings by Eberhard Froelich, a Princeton
native who created the series over the past year while living and
working in Leipzig. The paintings are inspired by the aquarium at
the Leipzig Zoo. Gallery is open by appointment during school hours.
To February 1.
In the dining room, works by Deborah Paglione, graphic designer,
designer, and freelance artist who is president of the Garden State
Watercolor Society. Watercolors, photographs, and hand-painted prints.
Show may be viewed daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. To March 13.
Paintings by Marc Malberg whose interest in Jewish history is
in many of his works. The Princeton resident is an associate clinical
professor in orthopedic surgery at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
Artist’s reception is February 3 for the show that runs to March 20.
Gallery is open Monday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday, 9 a.m.
to 3 p.m. Closed Saturdays.
"Here and There," watercolors by Terri McNichol and Alan
McNichol teaches watercolor at Mercer County College. Goodheart, a
landscape architect, paints in his Princeton studio. To February 5.
"Artista Cuba," contemporary Cuban folk art from the
of Jorge Armenteros who has been studying and collecting Cuban art
since 1996. Works from the fine art world as well as rustic art made
of found materials. "At its best, Cuban folk art is vivid,
sensual, and inspiring. In it, you will find a purity of appreciation
for light, color, and life’s simple pleasures," says Armenteros.
German Photography" features 15 works by such artists as Dieter
Appelt, Andreas Gursky, Candida Hofer, and Thomas Struth; to March
24. Also "Anxious Omniscience: Surveillance in Contemporary
Practice," to April 1. Klinger to Kollwitz: German Art in the
Age of Expressionism, an exhibit of prints and drawings that comprises
an overview of late 19th and early 20th century German art. Drawing
on a Bargmann family bequest, works address the variety of innovative
and avant-garde styles that transformed the German artistic landscape
between 1871 and 1933. Other artists include Kandinsky, Bunter,
Heckel, and Schmidt-Rottluff. To June 9.
Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.
Free tours of the collection every Saturday at 2 p.m.
609-258-3184. "Not for Myself Alone: A Celebration of
Writers," the debut show for the Leonard L. Milberg ’53 Collection
of Jewish-American Writers that ranges from the early 19th century
to the present day and includes Yiddish-language writers as well as
writers in English. A two-volume catalog accompanies the exhibition.
Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday and
Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. To April 21.
The exhibit includes manuscripts, such as a draft of a poem by Stanley
Kunitz, letters by Hannah Arendt, Nathanael West, Clifford Odets,
Lionel Trilling and Susan Sontag, and photographic portraits of the
In the lobby: "Ukiyo-E: Japanese Woodblock Color Prints,"
showcasing masterworks of the art of Japanese prints by such masters
as Utamaro and Hokusai. The show includes instruction on how Japanese
papermaking, drawing, woodcarving, and printing served this art. To
609-620-6026. "Photographs From a Private Collection," an
exhibition featuring works by a panoply of photography’s luminaries
including Alfred Steiglitz, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Margaret
August Sander, Ansel Adams, and Harry Callahan. Gallery hours are
Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; except Wednesday; Saturday,
9 a.m. to noon. To February 28.
"Collections and Collectibles," an exhibition curated and
installed by students of the gallery club featuring works from members
of the PDS community. Through February 14.
"Digital Odyssey, a show of 20 large-scale digital images on paper
and fabric. Bruner was awarded an arts residency grant last year at
Druckwerkstatt, the printmaking division of the Berlin arts
Gallery hours are Monday 3 to 8 p.m.; Tuesday, noon to 3 p.m.;
1 to 8 p.m., and Thursday, noon to 3 p.m. To February 15.
Geore Street, New Brunswick, 732-524-6957. "The Fabric of Jazz:
A Tribute to the Genius of American Music" by Lauren Camp, fabric
artist. Her original art quilts include tributes to Louis Armstrong,
Duke Ellington, and Benny Goodman. By appointment. To April 20.
"Music is to me a meditation," says Camp, "a place of
peace and space and good cheer. It is a fascinating challenge to
a visual statement of what I hear, and what pleases me, using the
unlikely elements of fabric and thread combined with other bits and
pieces as the mood — and the music — dictates."
"Afghanistan Before," photographs taken in the late 1960s
by David H. Miller. Also "Floral Interpretations," a show
of black-and-white photographs of flowers by Jay Anderson, to February
3. Open Saturdays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays 1 to 5 p.m. To
Solo exhibition of wildlife and nature photographs by Andrew Chen,
a veteran nature photographer whose work has been published in
American Birds." Open Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.;
9 a.m. to 3 p.m. To February 23.
Road, 609-921-3272. "A Collection of Festive and Celebratory Art:
A Retrospective Show of Works by David Raymond." Raymond, who
died last year, was a Princeton resident with a doctorate from NYU
and an early member of the Princeton Artists Alliance. His work is
in many corporate and private collections; to February 10. In the
Upstairs Gallery: "Seeing Eyes on the Environment,"
of the community by students of the Rock Brook School in Skillman,
to January 31. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.;
Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m.
and Model: Working from Life," a theme show featuring 18 artists
working in oil, watercolor, drawing, photography, and sculpture. Helen
Bailey, Jason Burrell, Heather Delzell, Diane Levell, Mel Leipzig,
and Kathryn Triolo are among the artists. Gallery hours are Monday
through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. To February 22.
"Artsbridge to Trenton," an invitational exhibition by members
of Artsbridge, a New Hope and Lambertville artists’ organization.
Exhibiting artists include Paul Matthews, Gail Bracegirdle, Vincent
Ceglia, Joy Kreves, George Radeschi, and Tomi Urayama. Open Tuesday
through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. To February
"Wear It," a show of wearable art by Atelier faculty and
Open Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. To January 31.
609-586-0616. Fall/Winter Exhibition. Open Tuesday through Sunday,
10 a.m. to 9 p.m., year round; Sunday is Members Day. Adult admission
is $4 Tuesday through Thursday; $7 Friday and Saturday; and $10
Annual memberships start at $45. To February 24.
609-292-6464. "George Washington and the Battle of Trenton: The
Evolution of an American Image," an exhibition that documents
the historic context of the American Revolution, the "Ten Crucial
Days" of the Trenton campaign that was the turning point, and
the subsequent commemoration of George Washington’s heroic image by
American artists. To February 24.
Also "Images of Americans on the Silver Screen," to April
14. "Art by African-Americans in the Collection," to August
18. Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.;
Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Website: www.njstatemuseum.org.
On extended view: "New Jersey’s Native Americans: The
Record"; "Delaware Indians of New Jersey"; "The Sisler
Collection of North American Mammals"; "Of Rock and Fire";
"Neptune’s Architects"; "The Modernists"; "New
Jersey Ceramics, Silver, Glass and Iron."
"Small Works," a six-artist show featuring Anne Cooper
Stacie Speer Scott, Mike Filipiak, Susan Stuart, Eleanor Burkette,
and Lisa Mahan. Gallery is open Thursday to Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
To February 24.
Brunswick, 732-932-7237. "The Baltics: Nonconformist and Modernist
Art During the Soviet Era," the first major survey of modernist
art produced in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania during the post-World
War II Soviet period. The show features 150 works from the Zimmerli’s
Dodge Collection produced in reaction to communist repression. Show
continues to March 17. Also "St. Petersburg, 1921," to March
10. $3 adults; free to students and children.
Also "The Victor Weeps: Photographs by Fazal Sheikh of Afghan
Refugees, 1996-98;" to March 31. Museum hours are Tuesday through
Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
Admission $3 adults; under 18 free; museum is open free to the public
on the first Sunday of every month. Spotlight tours every Sunday at
2 and 3 p.m.
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