For more than 30 years, Deem has dedicated himself to the work of the masters throughout art history, not simply “appropriating imagery,” but delving deeper into the artist’s work to reveal ever more about the secrets that lie within those masterpieces. While a wide array of artists and styles have engaged George Deem, from Mantegna to Chardin to Ingres to Matisse, it is Vermeer that he has most notably turned to for painting ideas to explore. In this exhibition, the artist’s life-long commitment to and passion for Vermeer are in full symphonic view.
Each of the paintings is based on a painting by Vermeer. Sometimes Deem adds, sometimes he subtracts from the original and sometimes he lifts a small detail to create a jewel of a painting as in the “Two Vermeer Chairs.” Deem invites the viewer to closer and closer examination of the rooms we know so well by the Dutch master. There is light, there are windows, curtains, tile floors, familiar architecture and cabinet details, but in most of these paintings Deem has removed Vermeer’s human figures. These are paintings that have distilled the essentials for meditation and contemplation. The palette feels familiar, the dryness of the paint is recognized; it is as if we are viewing old friends anew.
Peter Frank has written about George Deem’s work: “Something of what is known as the ‘post-modern’ sensibility is embodied in the work of…George Deem. It is not a post-modernist concept merely to quote from the past, but to devote one’s whole oeuvre to a constant reconsideration and reworking of images from art, literature, and history is assuredly post-modernist. Deem has been quoting from famous artworks of the past for at least two decades, not copying other people’s paintings, but making painting of them. In these he re-examines and incorporates all the droll cliches, misunderstandings, and personal reinterpretations that have accrued to well-known pictures since they became well-known.”
Of Deem’s 1994 “Vermeer’s Chair,” Christiane Hertel writes: “A rather different painterly emulation of Vermeer is George Deem’s Vermeer’s Chair of 1994. Taking as his point of departure several Vermeers, among them Young Woman with Pearl Necklace (c. 1664)...the artist creates a new “Vermeer” while staying as close as possible to the original¹s style, painting technique and color harmony. There is a subtle irony in Vermeer’s Chair in the way that this chair is inaccessibly placed to the left, in the corner of a spare Vermeerian interior that to the right appears to come forward toward the beholder, and then gradually dissolves into the abstract self-evidence of the canvas. While thus visualizing the difficulty of understanding Vermeer’s places he also suggests that as painter, that is in the process of painting, he can temporarily hold his place in a Vermeer. Perhaps more than any other of Deem’s many “Vermeers,” Vermeer’s Chair, in its simplicity, pays homage to the seventeenth-century painter.”