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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Gregory Gillespie

Myself Painting a Self-portrait, 1980-81, Gregory Gillespie--one of his best.
Self-portrait Triumphant,
2000, Gregory Gillespie
One of the first things I look for when contemplating an artist for inclusion among the august group of creative minds I've expounded on here is a self-portrait. Very rarely do I not find one, though it's not a "deal-breaker" if I don't. A few artists are not "into" that sort of thing, and a few more simply aren't "up to" it. They know they're not portrait painters, so they don't even try. Occasionally I'll run into an artist having painted quite a number of self-images for me to choose from. With the possible exceptions of Rembrandt, van Gogh, and one or two others, very rarely do I come upon an artist who has painted as many self-portraits as Gregory Joseph Gillespie. One might almost come to the conclusion that he painted little else. In fact, his many self-portraits are probably the most interesting element in his work.

Bill, 1984, Gregory Gillespie
(Yes, that's a self-portrait in the corner.)
Self-portrait, 1990s, Gregory Gillespie
I've not the time nor inclination to count the number of self-portraits Gillespie has done over the years. I've culled a group of ten and there are easily that many more. His Myself Painting a Self-portrait (top) from 1980-81 may well be his best while Self-portrait Triumphant (above, right) from 2000, his most obnoxious. Judging from his many painted self-indulgences, I don't think the man even owned a shirt. Suffice to say the majority of his self-portraits depict him bare-chested. That's not to say he didn't in fact paint portraits of other people. And, as modern-day portrait painters go, he was what I'd term "fair." His Bill (above) from 1984, has a richness of character as well as texture somewhat uncommon in his painstaking, highly detailed, later work. Notice the unfinished self-portrait in the lower right corner.

English Landscape, 2000, Gregory Gillespie
Inhabited Landscape, 1997, Gregory Gillespie
Lest you get the idea that Gregory Gillespie painted only figures (mostly his own), his life's work also include a number of stylized landscapes (above) and still-lifes. He's often labeled a "Magic Realist" as his Inhabited Landscape (right) from 1997 might suggest, though I've never been comfortable with that term. I'd call him simply a Surrealist, in that even without the dream-like (or nightmarish) content usually associated with Surrealism, there remains an otherworldly element in nearly all his work associated with some of the less intense surrealist genre. However, when he wants to be, Gillespie can be just as Surrealistically "weird" as Dali, de Chirico, Magritte, or Ernst.

Back Entrance: Williamsburg, Massachusetts, 1972, Gregory Gillespie
Self-portrait on the Steps with Fran,
Gregory Gillespie
Gillespie was born in 1939 in Roselle Park, New Jersey. He studied at New York's Cooper Union and in San Francisco at the San Francisco Art Institute. He twice won Fulbright-Hayes grants allowing him to study in Europe the works of the Renaissance masters. He also won numerous other grants and fellowships, becoming a member of the National Academy of Design in 1994. The Hirshorn Museum owns fourteen of his works while others hang in numerous museums around the country, as well as in his own studio. There, on April 26, 2000, his wife, Peggy, found that he'd hung the ultimate self-portrait--himself.

Greg and Peg, 2000, Gregory Gillespie


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