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Bill Gothard: Glimpses of the Human Condition

March 6 - July 3, 2005 


(above: Bill Gothard (b. 1932), Untitled self-portrait, 1971, oil on canvas. Collection of the artist)


This exhibition celebrates the long career and impressive talents of New York native and current Sciota, Pennsylvania, resident Bill Gothard (b. 1932). For decades Gothard has focused on aspects of the human condition in a series of self-portraits and individual and group portraits. These likenesses, real rather than ideal, capture moments in time as well as encapsulating the joys and terrors, twists and turns of daily life. In them, we see the influence of Gothard's former teachers, the masterful realist portrait painters Isaac and Raphael Soyer. Gothard's admiration for such realists as Goya, Michelangelo, and Lucian Freud is also evident. This retrospective installation included about two dozen paintings and drawings. Portraits were featured, along with a selection of still lifes. This exhibition was organized by Dr. Christine I. Oaklander, the Museum's Director of Collections and Exhibitions. (right: Bill Gothard (b. 1932), Artist's Wife, 1968, oil on canvas. Collection of the artist)


Gallery guide text by Thomas C. Burke

Born in Brooklyn in 1932, William Gothard became interested in art at a young age. After winning the Saint-Gaudens Medal for Fine Draughtsmanship at Flushing High School, his work showed enough talent and promise to earn for him a New York City School Art League Scholarship to The School for Art Studies, which he attended nights while working full time for Oxford University Press. There, his burgeoning talent flourished under the guidance of Edward Malcarth, Isaac Soyer, and Maurice Glickman. After four years of service in the Navy, from 1955 to 1957 Gothard studied with Raphael Soyer and Joseph Hirsch at the American Art School, in New York.

To understand Bill Gothard, you need to look at the person, the artist, and his paintings. You will soon find they are one and the same. As a painter and former director of MCS Gallery in Easton, Pennsylvania, I've had the pleasure of interacting with Bill over the last five years and have found him a warm, compassionate, scholarly individual who simply lives life for his art. When you visit Bill, you can expect a warm experience filled with good conversation, entertaining anecdotes, looking at his most recent work, and always, good food! The good food is provided by Peg, Bill's wife, who comes into the studio at 11:00 in the morning to ask if you can stay for lunch.

Bill's reputation in the art world rests firmly on his portraiture. Yet that alone does not encompass his talent. In the truest sense he is an artists' artist. If you gave Bill a choice between a social event and working on his paintings I think he would go for the painting session every time, unless the social event included jazz. If the conversation drifts away from painting, I guarantee it will move to jazz; Bill spent much of his younger life in jazz clubs in New York and has a terrific ear for the music.

On a typical day you can find Bill out in his studio working on portrait commissions or looking through books and magazines to find images that inspire his work. If he can't find a face that intrigues him, he turns his attention to a still life set up. The most important element in Bill's existence is painting -- and painting every day. When a painting session is over, you will find him settled in a comfortable easy chair in his house, just adjacent to the studio, absorbed in reading about art and artists' lives. (left: Bill Gothard (b. 1932), Untitled still life of quinces, 1990s, oil on board. Collection of Richard and Susan Master)

When you walk into his studio, the force of Bill's fifty-year regimen strikes you. You'll find his easel planted under a northern skylight. It takes a few minutes for your eyes to adjust to this soft light, but when they do, you see a studio filled with works of art, his and a selection by artists he admires. If you inquire about a work you quickly realize it comes with a history. As Bill unfolds the story, the work of art becomes a touchstone of memories, a living diary. If you want to feel the full depth of his passion for portrait painting you need to see as many of his self-portraits as you can. Only then will you begin to understand the power of his talent. Like Rembrandt, Bill has chronicled his own life, from youth to maturity, with an unblinking eye. Every element of emotion that one can experience in life is put into paint in these portraits. In addition to the self-portraits, Bill has painted his family for many years. Early canvases show the young Bill and Peg living in a Brooklyn, New York studio apartment. Over the ensuing decades, he has recorded in pen, pencil, and oils the progress of his family to maturity. Bill considers himself a "realist-expressionist with a touch of romance." Anyway you look at it, he has a remarkable ability to capture his subjects at a precise moment in time. His paintings demonstrate an expertise in probing the human psyche. He makes his art the way he lives his life -- honestly and unblinkingly.


(above: Bill Gothard (b. 1932), Untitled (Peg and David Gothard), 1965, oil on canvas. Collection of David and Sharon Gothard)

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