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George McNeil

By Esteban Vicente

My friend George McNeil was a teacher, but first he was a painter, whose work embodies a full understanding of the nature of painting. He was never influenced by fashions or trends, to alter this primary concern for painting.

As we know, the pursuit of creativity denotes a loneliness for the Creator—a separation from the “others”—aloneness is a necessary condition worked out in the privacy of the studio, be it for poet, writer, composer, sculptor, or painter.

George McNeil often appeared gregarious and yet he was too alone—alone to paint his own particular vision, and to communicate the language of painting. Good painters are rare, as rare as good teachers. Perhaps teaching is a way to escape the loneliness, and to participate in a changing world through students … links which keep art going.

George McNeil understood and lived with a very intense teaching commitment, particularly at Pratt Institute and at the New York Studio School. His students were openly interested in George’s work and his ideas about art and its history.

In spite of the pressures of fashion and correctness the Studio School still honors the study of painting in a non-academic, yet disciplined, environment. Students learn that art requires personal sacrifice on various levels … all of which suited George’s temperament and his often fiery passions.

Memorials are very important, but how to explain, in an orderly fashion, the character and accomplishments of the deceased is very difficult. Thinking about life and death we are all in the same situation … we don’t know how and when we were born, and at the end … in the same way … we don’t know how we’ll go.

Perhaps at a memorial event, the question of memory becomes mysterious. To refer to George as the late George McNeil is not accurate … because he is very much in this room … in this place … his character, example, personality, loneliness, and achievement are surrounding us. They are alive, not memories.

I thank George for his friendship, vitality, and persistence, and am very honored to join you in celebrating his wonderfully full and successful life.

Read by Paul Resika at the Academy Dinner Meeting on April 2, 1996.

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