Edwin Dickenson is one of America's great painters. I'm going to post a few of his paintings to give you some idea of his profound talent. He was a student of William Merrit Chase and Charles Hawthorne and I was privilidged to have him critique my work at Yale in 1965. After viewing some digital photos, pehaps you would like to read what I can tell you about him and I can direct you to some good resources concerning his life and work.
Edwin Dickenson, Helen Souza
Edwin Dickenson's understanding of the complex issues in painting is the antithesis of the vacant premises behind Pop Art and the decline of American painting that it ushered in. When you engage with a Dickenson painting you know that every visual concept you've learned about, heard about, or imagined has been pursued to either a temporary or complete conclusion. When you look at the best of Andy Warhol, that kind of visual IQ is absent but the confidence in understanding how easy it is to reflect commercialism is present.
Jack Tworkov, Chairman, Yale School of Art, 1963-1969, hired Dickenson to critique MFA students in 1965. Jack was not only one of the original Abstract Expressionist generation, he was an intelligent and thoughtful proponent of the avant garde. He told me that his fellow students used to destroy his paintings because he wanted to "paint like Cezanne". So he knew what it felt like to be harrassed by those of lesser creative spirit and lesser visual and intellectual IQ. For students at Yale during Tworkov's tenure, this was both a blessing and a curse depending on how one reacted to Jack's pedogogical philosophy. In other words, whatever was evolving within American painting, he would bring the painters leading that evolution to Yale as faculty, lecturers, or to run seminars and participate on panels. At the same time Jack valued great painting of any generation and therefore he hired "traditional" painters whom he believed to be opening up modernist directions. Therefore......Leland Bell, Nick Carone, Bernard Cheet, and Lester Johnson were faculty and Edwin Dickenson gave critiques. At the same time Al Held and Knox Martin were faculty and James Rosenquist and Jim Dine held seminars and Frank Stella, Richard Lindner, and Alex Katz gave critiques. Panels with Fairfield Porter, Robert Rauschenberg, and Robert Motherwell futher indicate the range of ideas Tworkov provided for Yale graduate students. But I want to stress that Jack hired the stongest proponents of a particular "movement" and Dickenson was the stongest proponent of highly progressive traditonal painting. Consider the images I've posted and think of this man, born in 1891, a student of Chase and Hawthorne, and who understood Cezanne's achievements and who was influential to an upcoming generation including Lennart Anderson. He was certainly meaningful to me.
I can't resist this diversion. I came across this very fine Anderson......
What was so significant to me during my critique with Edwin Dickenson was his suggestion about my use of color. Another painter
was accompanying him as they made their rounds through the grad student’sstudios. The other painter gave a very lengthy analysis of my paintings and then asked Dickenson what he thought. He said to him, “You're very intelligent but I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Dickenson was a classic gentleman so this wasn’t meant to be an
insult. It was simply stating afact. His much simpler statement to me
was equally direct and accurate. He said, “Your color is rather spotty isn’t it?”
I didn’t take it as anything but an honest response from a brilliant
tonal painter. I don’t recall any of what the other painter said and I won’t mention his name although he is a rather well known painter and teacher in NY.
I’ve spent many years with Dickenson’s statement echoing in my head
because I’ve always been intensely interested in how color functions in a painting.
During that time, I was an assistant instructor in one of the Alber’s color and drawing courses at Yale. Sewell Sillman was teaching those courses with Alber’s blessing. (Alber’s said that Sillman was the only one doing the course as it should be done). Alber’s book, The Interaction of Color, remains the definitive pedagogical text on the subject.
At the time, I was working with color as an abstract element and not using it to form representational imagery. For me, if acolor crossed over the inttraspace between two different colors in an interesting way and functioned to pull the painting together, it was very involving
and exactly what I should be doing. This was before I became committed to representational or realist paintings after leaving Yale. So I spent years in coming to understand the importance of Dickenson’s statement to me. And to understand the limitation of his statement for some painters who must find their way at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century.
Here's an interview with Dickenson conducted by the Smithsonian in 1962. http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-edwin-w-dickinson-11644
One other point I want to make about the character of this man.....Some of you may recall the 60s as a highly revolutionary time of social and political change. There were demonstrations and riots worldwide. Dickenson was the American painter represented at the 1968 Venice Bienalle. Rioting students were threatening to enter the gallery in which his work was hanging and destroy his paintings. He stood in the doorway saying, "You will over my dead body!!" They did not enter. These students had no clue about this gentleman and what his work represented in terms of the highest quality international aesthetic. In a way, that kind of misunderstanding is still going on when one considers the complete ingnorace that some painters have about Dickenson's accomlishments.