Interview with George Nick Part Three, On George Bellows
You’ve expressed affinity with the Ashcan School of Painters, such as George Bellows. What aspect of this work interests you the most? Is there such a thing as Neo-Ashcan, and if so, would you be a part of it?
Well, first of all, I don’t think George Bellows is part of the Ashcan School. I think there were several others that were considered that group.
I love George Bellows a lot, and I like the Ashcan School, but I don’t think they’re affiliated. I think they’re about the same time. He was not a typical — they all did these scenes of the Third Avenue Elevated, and the people in the backyards with wash, and all this kind of stuff. Drinking in bars — all this local genre kind of painting.
Bellows didn’t do any of that. He did some really wonderful landscapes. He did some wonderful portraits and he did these series of making public art for a name for himself, about the fighters and things like that, and portraits of his daughter. That was his classical period.
I think he’s really a fine artist, and I’m really impressed with the smaller ones he did of lakes or little views of Maine or something like this. Very inventive, very emotional, very tied in with the idea of expression. He’s not in any school. I’m not a joiner, so I wouldn’t be a part of anything like that.
But those are some of the things about Bellows that I liked a lot. I missed getting a book of his, because $140 was a lot for a small book. I thought about it twice; by the time I thought that I should get it — it was a book in black and white of a lot of his landscapes. And I missed that, and I don’t even know how to find it now.
But there’s some beautiful things that I’ve seen him do, beautiful things, and of different styles, because he was changing his styles while he was growing. But he died early, in his forties. I think he is a major American painter. There was so much life in him.
There’s like one painting — I think it’s at the National Gallery — of the view of New York from building the tunnel or a bridge, or something like this, in the snow. It’s a really remarkable, crude, evocative painting. It’s very raw, and it’s very vigorous, at the same time. I think he’s one of most dangerous, inventive painters of the period.
In that painting that’s in the National Gallery, that you were just describing, that was all done in the studio from studies, or memory?
No, I don’t think so. I think those are done on the spot.
It really looks that way, but it just seemed like it was so large, it would have been very difficult.
What do you mean? I’ve worked outside on a 50 x 80 inch canvas.
Well, I know, I guess thinking of all the people, and the horses and the snow.
Well, he’s away from that. I’m sure nobody paid any attention to him. I mean, it’s a cold, winter’s day and they’re working. Nobody’s sitting around on a hot summer’s day having lunch. They were all working. So, he was working, too. They didn’t pay any attention to him, I don’t think.
It’s an amazing painting.
Right, that’s one of the reasons I like him so much. If you keep looking around, I found a painting up — I forgot where we were. We were coming through Maine, and we stopped off [in] a little town, where there was this college it was Colby College, and they had an art collection, and in that — oh, they had a roomful of Alex Katz that somebody had given to the school. They built this wing for Alex Katz.
But around the corner was this little painting of a couple of waves, almost in black and white, and it was the most beautiful thing I saw. It was a Bellows.
It’s wonderful to see that. Seeing that water was unbelievable; I mean, unbelievable painting. The solidity of water on a gray day, falling wave — a falling wave, that’s all it was. A small painting, maybe about 16 x 20 or something like that. And it was one of the most powerful things I’ve ever seen.
(note to readers, I was unable to find this exact painting from Colby College – if anyone has a link to this image or know its current location, please contact me and I will try to include it in this article)
Excellent. Do you have anything else that you want to say about George Bellows? Or your work in relation to his? What inspired you from seeing his work?
His work is good.
There you go. That’s a connection.
To Interview with George Nick, Part One, On Edwin Dickinson
To Interview with George Nick, Part Two, On Fairfield Porter
To Interview with George Nick Part Three, On George Bellows
To Interview with George Nick Part Four, On Cezanne and color
To Interview with George Nick Part Five, On Drawing
To Interview with George Nick Part Six, On The Trojan Horse and thoughts on Teaching