WELLIVER--Neil. It is with deep sadness that we mark the
death on Tuesday of our dear friend Neil Welliver.
The magnificent light filled paintings of his beloved
Lincolnville woods will live on along with his great and
generous spirit. Our condolences to his wife Mimi and
surviving children Titus, Ethan and John. In lieu of
flowers, contributions may be sent in Neil's memory to Waldo
County General Hospital, PO Box 287, Belfast, ME 04915. A
memorial service is planned for 11 AM on July 22 at St.
Margaret's Episcopal Church in Belfast. Phil Alexandre
Alexandre Gallery, New York alexandregallery.com
NY Times (editorial) obit:
April 8, 2005
Neil Welliver, 75, Painter of Large-Scale Landscapes, Is
By KEN JOHNSON
Neil Welliver, a painter widely admired for his large-scale
Maine woods landscapes, died on April 5 in Belfast, Me.,
near his home in Lincolnville. He was 75.
The cause was pneumonia, said Phil Alexandre, Mr. Welliver's
New York dealer.
Mr. Welliver came of age as an artist in the late 1950's and
60's, at a time when nonrepresentational styles of painting
like Abstract Expressionism and, later, Color Field and
Minimalism were accorded the highest critical prestige.
Along with artists like Larry Rivers, Alex Katz and Philip
Pearlstein, Mr. Welliver strove to paint representational
images without sacrificing the formal innovations that the
Abstract Expressionists Jackson Pollock and Willem de
Kooning had introduced to modern painting.
In the mid-1960's, Mr. Welliver began painting large-scale
pictures of nude female models in forest settings. Exhibited
to critical acclaim at Alexandre Gallery in 2001, those
pictures were animated by tension between the realistic
illusions of nature and human bodies on the one hand and the
surface patterns of wide brushstrokes, on the other. By the
mid-70's, Mr. Welliver had eliminated the figure from his
work. Typically, he would paint outdoor studies of trees,
grass, snow, rocks and streams encountered in places around
his home and then translate the small paintings onto large
canvases in the studio. Rendered with emphatic, generously
paint-loaded brushstrokes, the myriad details filling the
picture would create a kind of sensory overload of
representational lucidity and abstract texture.
He had his first solo exhibition in 1954 at Alexandra Grotto
in Philadelphia and his first solo show in New York at the
Stable Gallery in 1962. His paintings have been collected by
the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and
the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Born on July 22, 1929, in the lumber town of Millville, Pa.,
Neil Gavin Welliver graduated from high school with a class
of 21. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the
Philadelphia Museum College of Art (later the Philadelphia
College of Art, which is now part of The University of the
Arts) in 1953 and, in 1955, an M.F.A. at Yale University,
where he studied with the formalist painter Josef Albers.
Mr. Welliver stayed on to teach at Yale for the next 10
years, and then he became chairman of the University of
Pennsylvania Graduate School of Fine Art, from which he
retired in 1989.
In 1962, at the urging of his friends the painters Alex Katz
and Lois Dodd, Mr. Welliver visited Maine and soon bought a
106-acre farm. Eight years later he moved to Maine
permanently, continuing to commute to his teaching job in
Philadelphia. Over the years, he expanded his property to
1,600 acres and took up organic gardening on a large scale.
Meanwhile, a series of misfortunes occurred. A fire
destroyed his farmhouse and studio in 1975. The following
year, a baby daughter died of sudden infant death syndrome,
and his second wife, Polly, died shortly thereafter from a
strep infection at 37. And in 1991, his 21-year-old son,
Eli, was murdered while on a trip to Thailand. Despite those
events, Mr. Welliver continued to paint with the
determination that gave his paintings their Thoreau-like
combination of the pragmatic and the spiritual.
Mr. Welliver's first marriage to Norma Cripps and his third
marriage to Sheila Geoffrion ended in divorce.
He is survived by his wife, Mimi Martin Welliver of
Lincolnville, Me.; three children, Titus B. Welliver of Los
Angeles, Ethan A. Welliver of New York City and John W.
Welliver of Rockport, Me.; and two grandchildren. Another
son, Silas B. Welliver, also died before him.
This really pains me. Welliver's son Titus is an actor and co-star of mine
on DEADWOOD (he plays Silas Adams, Swearengen's newest henchman). I knew
Titus's father had been ill and I'm sorry to learn of his passing. What I
was unaware of, despite the fact that I recently spent some time in
conversation with Titus regarding the recent tragedies in my own life, was
what a repeatedly devastating set of events had occurred in his own: the
loss of a sister, a stepmother, and two brothers in recent years, and now
his father. Very sad.
BYLINE: Matt Schudel, Washington Post Staff Writer
Neil Welliver, whose large-scale paintings evoked the
majesty and mystery of the Maine landscape in which he made
his home, died April 5 of pneumonia at a hospital in
Belfast, Maine. The 75-year-old artist had suffered from
heart ailments and other health problems in recent years.
Overcoming considerable hardship in his life, including the
deaths of three of his children, Mr. Welliver was acclaimed
as one of the leading American landscape painters of his
generation. He was often said to combine two seemingly
contradictory styles: abstract expressionism and pure,
He did not, for the most part, paint panoramic, cheery
pictures of sun-filled places. Instead, he was known for
strong-shouldered works, sometimes as large as 8 by 10 feet,
that depicted boulders, stumps, snarled clumps of fallen
brush, beaver lodges, rushing water and rocky hills. He
favored intimate, enclosed spaces in which darkness
encroached on sunlight and everything was suffused in a
bleak, brooding emotional tone.
On one level, his paintings had the simple clarity of Asian
art or even paint-by-number works, yet on closer examination
they contained the density and energy of abstract works.
"Welliver's huge paintings of the Maine woods are among the
strongest images in modern American art," the critic Robert
Hughes wrote in Time magazine, adding that the paintings
contain "an emotional intensity that goes beyond the
ordinary limits of realism."
Mr. Welliver's works hang in many major museums, including
the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Metropolitan
Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art in New York and
Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.
A gruff, muscular man who chewed tobacco and somewhat
resembled Ernest Hemingway in both appearance and machismo,
Mr. Welliver was born in the Pennsylvania lumber town of
Millville on July 22, 1929. He graduated from the
Philadelphia College of Art (now part of the University of
the Arts) and received a master's of fine arts degree from
Yale University, where he studied with the noted abstract
artist Josef Albers.
Mr. Welliver taught at Yale from 1956 to 1966, even as his
own style evolved from abstract color-field paintings to
watercolors of domestic and small-town scenes. After
discovering Maine in the early 1960s, he switched to oil
paintings and often portrayed female nudes in outdoor
settings. By the mid-1970s, he had eliminated the human
figure from his work, focusing on his closely observed
impressions of the Maine landscape.
He would hike deep into the woods, carrying 75 pounds of
equipment on his back, to make open-air oil sketches. Later,
in his studio, he meticulously plotted his works on large
canvases, beginning in the upper left-hand corner and
finishing in the lower right. He never revised his paintings
once they were complete.
From 1966 to 1989, Mr. Welliver taught at the University of
Pennsylvania Graduate School of Fine Art, commuting to
Philadelphia for 19 years after he had settled permanently
in Lincolnville, Maine, in 1970.
In 1975, Mr. Welliver's home and studio, and all the art in
them, were destroyed by fire. ("Most of those paintings I
should have burned myself," he later said.) He had another
farmhouse moved to the same site and rebuilt.
In 1976, a daughter died of sudden infant death syndrome,
followed six months later by the death of his second wife,
Polly, 37, from an infection. In 1991, Mr. Welliver's son
Eli, 20, was killed while studying in Thailand, and a second
son, Silas, later died.
After the death of his son Eli, Mr. Welliver hired private
detectives to find the killers and ended up getting death
threats himself. He went into seclusion for a few years
before emerging with more paintings of the stark Maine
"That wildness," poet Mark Strand wrote, "those turbulent
waters, those trees and rock-strewn hilltops -- they are the
images by which Welliver chooses to be seen and through
which Welliver sees himself."
Mr. Welliver's first and third marriages, to Norma Cripps
and Sheila Geoffrion, ended in divorce.
Survivors include Mr. Welliver's fourth wife, Mimi Martin
Welliver of Lincolnville; Titus Welliver of Los Angeles, a
son from his first marriage who plays the role of Silas
Adams on the HBO series "Deadwood"; another son from his
first marriage, Ethan A. Welliver of New York; and a son
from his third marriage, John Welliver of Rockport, Maine.
In his paintings, Mr. Welliver searched for what he called
"places of power."
"For me," he said, "these places are often nondescript
corners, small things, not the big 19th-century vistas of
the Hudson River School. I can't put their meaning in words,
but I try to do it in paint."
Survivors include Mr. Welliver's fourth wife, Mimi Martin
> Welliver of Lincolnville; Titus Welliver of Los Angeles, a
> son from his first marriage who plays the role of Silas
> Adams on the HBO series "Deadwood"
Is it a coincidence that his character is named Silas?
I don't know. I wondered about that myself. I can say from experience
though that it would not be beyond David Milch.