Neil Welliver, who died this week, painted the Maine landscape with rigorous vision and an all-over technique inspired by abstract expressionism that gave his work a Thoreau-like spirit of both the pragmatic and the numinous.
He settled on a daringly simple method of painting. Starting from the top of his large, usually square paintings, Welliver would finish a corner, then a horizontal strip and work his way down the surface of the work until he painted his way out in the last corner. There is a freshness of seeing and paint in these works that bring to life both the crisp light of Maine and the inner workings of Neil's richly intelligent and humorous mind.
Neil Welliver, Vickie 48"x48" oil on canvas 1970
"Courbet looked very hard and had a method. Bierstadt did not
look very hard and had a method, and de Kooning makes it up as he
goes along. I think I relate much more to de Kooning because I look
very hard and then I make it up as I go along.
The way I paint is totally focused and intense and complete -
every mark is a form that's not going to be covered up later. I don't
go over it. I go down the canvas to the bottom and out, and that's it."
-Neil Welliver, from a conversation with Edwin Denby, 1981
"Years ago, Neil said to me that his goal as a painter was to make a natural painting as fluid as de Kooning. And he repeatedly acknowledges that the vitality of his own art comes from Abstract Expressionism, and that he has a natural affinity for pure abstraction. What is truly remarkable about his paintings is their success in, at once, organizing the picturesque elements of nature without loss of phenomenological integrity, and at the same time, achieving abstract structure without the feeling of the imposition of a natural order."
-Frank Goodyear, 1993