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Edwin Dickinson: Dreams and Realities


The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts announces a groundbreaking exhibition of 94 paintings and works on paper by Edwin Dickinson (1891-1978). Considered a "painter's painter" due to his ambitious, multifigured compositions of ambiguous and fanciful content, Edwin Dickinson: Dreams and Realities is the first retrospective of this largely unknown, but acclaimed, American artist in more than 20 years. The exhibit will run from September 21, 2002 through January 12, 2003.

The 67 paintings and 27 works on paper include landscapes, self-portraits, still lifes and nudes giving us insight into an artist of immense talent, whose skill as a draftsman and mastery of color is causing critics to reevaluate Dickinson as one of the finest painters of his time. Organized by the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, New York and curated by Dr. Douglas Dreishspoon, the exhibition invites audiences on a biographical journey spanning 50 years of artistic discovery. What emerges is Dickinson's amazing draftsmanship and poetic handling of pictorial space that blends traditional figuration with surrealistic imagery at a time when abstract painting was at the forefront of American art. (left: Self-Portrait, 1949, 23 x 20 1/8 inches, oil on canvas, Collection of the National Academy of Design, NY)

The exhibition addresses four very distinct subjects and styles, revealing Dickinson's broad range of expression. The first section of the exhibition devotes itself to his brooding self-portraits, beautifully rendered and conveying the intense nature of the artist who had led an unhappy childhood, losing his mother to tuberculosis as a young boy, his brother to suicide and his closest friend who died in World War I.

The largest gallery contains perhaps his best-known works, his "symbolical" paintings, usually of monumental scale. Even after undergoing multiple transformations, often over a period of years, some never achieved completion before they were sold or exhibited in venues like the Pennsylvania Academy. These works were executed without preliminary studies and were often a source of agony for the painter. Ruin at Daphne (1943-53) is one of the primary examples of his ambitious "symbolical" paintings, representing the imaginative dream-like quality seen in so many of his works. Many of these works are remarkably modern and display an impressive knowledge of burgeoning movements outside of the United States, considering his relative geographic isolation in Western New York, where he spent so much of his time.

Dickinson's bipolar personality evidences itself in his "premier coups;" a term well known in Europe to describe spontaneously executed paintings. Painted in a matter of hours, these rapid-fire executions were usually painted en plein air, allowing Dickinson an escape to the outdoors, freeing him of the constraints and the stresses associated with his studio work. These studies, which were intended to represent a direct connection with nature, symbolize reality in stark contrast to his earlier symbolical works. The fourth dimension of the show includes the artist's very powerful graphite drawings beautifully rendered with tremendous care and skill. Dickinson was never without his drawing supplies and took this aspect of his work very seriously. (left: An Anniversary, 1921, 72 x 60 inches, oil on canvas, Collection of the Allbright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY)

Edwin Dickinson's life and his art are inextricably joined. As one of his students later commented, "Dickinson didn't think independently of his life and what happened on the canvas or the drawing paper -- they were exactly, identically the same thing." At important junctures during his life, Dickinson confronted himself in the mirror as a subject, constantly evaluating both his surroundings and himself. Dickinson painted about 28 self-portraits, destroying those he felt to be unsuccessful. The culmination of the exhibition will end dramatically with 11 of these self-examinations -- the earliest a premier coup -- Self-Portrait of 1914 and the latest, a haunting ghost-like Self-Portrait completed in 1954. And in this sense the exhibition, Edwin Dickinson: Dreams and Realities, stands as a remarkable reflection of one man's inner world of observed realities melded with his personal struggles and imaginings. It was precisely these characteristics that attracted the attention of a new generation of artists, known today as the Abstract Expressionists, such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning in the 1940's and 1950's to eventually eliminate subject matter entirely and find new relationships between forms.

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