This artist, probably best known for this painting at the Whitney, died Sunday.* He was a fantastic and unique artist who combined modern inspiration with medieval techniques to great effect. He was also an absolutely lovely man, and I'm greatly saddened by his passing.
I had the opportunity to meet George on several occasions during my time at now-defunct museum. At 89, I'm not sure he was entirely present, but I think that part of the reason I felt that was due to his sheer lack of understanding as to why anyone would want to meet him or discuss his work. He was nonplussed by the public's interest, both in his art and in himself. At the same time, I don't think anyone (even George) could deny that it pleased him, as well.
By the time I met him, he'd stopped painting; a combination, I think, of not feeling that he had anything left to say, and his own declining health. He rarely left his home and rarely had visitors. He had even stopped attending his church, where thirteen of his works still grace the sanctuary.
However, through a combination of enthusiasm and probably some sort of bribery, George agreed to do a book signing last year. As we seated him at the table in the museum, he looked blankly up at us. "You want me to do what?" It was simply beyond his comprehension as to why anyone would want his signature - especially on a book that he'd never seen before. His doubt was quickly forgotten, though, as he gawked at the massive crowd that lined up around him, smiling and eagerly holding their books and prints. The many visitors were delighted to meet him, and he couldn't help but be delighted with their smiles and tears as they explained what his work meant to them.
He resumed painting that week.
He also ventured from his home more often than had been his wont. Several months later, I was shocked to find George at a meeting of local artists. He sat cheerfully and silently in an arm chair as his colleagues flitted about the room. From time to time, another artist would come to sit beside him and engage him in conversation. There were several who utilized the same techniques, and more than one who identified him as an inspiration for their work. I think their enthusiasm and respect for his work took him by surprise - but he couldn't help but be pleased.
"Unassuming" doesn't even begin to describe him.
George lived a long and, I believe, full life. I'm glad that the revival of interest in his work came while he was still around to see it and wonder at it. And I hope he was still painting up until the end.
* Apologies for awkwardly avoiding his name, but Google would out me almost immediately if I included his full name in this post - I make more than a few identifying statements here.