Farnsworth Art Museum

Rockland, ME




John W. McCoy: American Painter


The exhibition "John W. McCoy: American Painter" will open on June 17 and be on view through October 14, 2001 at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine. This will be the largest retrospective ever mounted to survey the contribution of this important American artist who had strong ties to Maine.

A member of the Wyeth family and the Brandywine School, McCoy (1910-1989) painted in oil, tempera and watercolor, depicting both Maine's evocative rocky coast and coves as well as the beauty of the Brandywine River and the Pennsylvania countryside. Over 60 paintings have been brought together from institutions such as the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, the Brandywine River Museum, the Delaware Art Museum, and private collections including McCoy family collections. Represented are landscape, portrait and still life works in a variety of media. (left: John W. McCoy, Columbine, c. 1981, mixed media on paper, 30 x 22 inches, Mr. and Mrs. Richard S. Burroughs)

McCoy's career began in the years following the Second World War, a time of major change in styles and tastes in art. In a critical and creative climate that increasingly stressed abstraction McCoy followed his own course, continuing and building on the tradition of American realism. As Christopher B. Crosman, Director of the Farnsworth Art Museum, states in the book John W. McCoy: American Painter (published by Down East Books in conjunction with the exhibition), "In a reversal of the nineteenth-century Academy versus avant-garde paradigm, Abstract Expressionism became a kind of new Academy and those artists who never fully embraced its style became quiet rebels beyond the accepted boundary of 'high art' and critical discourse."

While a great admirer of the work of such masters as Thomas Eakins and Winslow Homer, McCoy was also looking at the work of more contemporary artists such as Charles Burchfield, John Marin and Edward Hopper who at the time were at the height of their careers. He was also aware of and very interested in the work of Abstract Expressionist artists and in particular, the work of Jackson Pollock. During the 1950s he began investigating the expressive possibilities of mixed media and unconventional methods of paint application. Pouring, dripping and floating paint on paper, and utilizing combinations of watercolor, oil, acrylic and pastel, he produced works of extraordinary richness and variety. Crosman notes, "in most of his work, sources and influences are subsumed in a highly personal style all his own... McCoy bridges abstraction on the one hand, and representation, modernism and tradition on the other." (left: John W. McCoy, Caldwell Island Picnic, c. 1936, watercolor on paper, 18 x 24 inches, Courtesy of Anna B. McCoy)

Above all McCoy was deeply committed to communicating his emotional response to the natural world. He strongly believed in the power of art to speak in universal terms about enduring aspects of the human condition and its ability to communicate otherwise indescribable states beyond the mere representation of an object, person, or place.

McCoy was born in California in 1910. He moved east with his family first to Woodbury, New Jersey, and several years later to Wilmington, Delaware, where his father worked for the Du Pont Company. He completed a degree in Fine Arts at Cornell University with one year spent studying in France at the Beaux-Art School in Fontainebleau under the painters Jean Despujos and André Strauss.

On graduating from Cornell he returned to Delaware where he worked briefly as a designer and draftsman for the Du Pont Company. He then enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia but after two months he left to study privately with the celebrated illustrator, Newell Convers Wyeth at his studio in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. During this time he met Ann Wyeth, N. C.'s daughter, and became a regular visitor at the Wyeth household. In 1935 the couple were married much to the delight of N. C. who held McCoy in high regard both as an artist and an individual. For one year during his courtship with Ann, McCoy studied alongside Andrew Wyeth in N. C.'s studio. According to Andrew Wyeth, this apprenticeship had a profound impact on McCoy's work. He said, "N. C.'s ability to focus on the most significant feature of the subject and to spiral this element into a heightened sense of excitement was something John had never experienced previously." After leaving N. C.'s studio, McCoy continued for several years to work alongside Andrew. The two artists often painted outdoors together in the area of the Brandywine River and Chadds Ford and in Maine. (left: John W. McCoy, Landlocked, c. 1972, mixed media on paper, 30 x 22 inches, Ann Wyeth McCoy)

John and Ann McCoy upheld family traditions of visiting Maine by spending their honeymoon there. They continued to spend the summer seasons in the area, first at N. C.'s house "Eight Bells" in Port Clyde. Later, as their family grew, they rented various houses, including the huge and empty Wawenock Hotel. In 1949 they purchased their own home on the water at Spruce Head.

Maine was a particularly meaningful source of inspiration for McCoy and some of his most important works were made in the mid-coast region in the vicinity of his summer home. He was one of a group of semi-abstract and realist painters with connections to Maine whose number included William Kienbusch, Alan Gussow, Alice Kent Stoddard, Dorothy Eisner, William Thon, Reuben Tam, Andrew Winter, James Fitzgerald and Stephen Etnier.

A quiet and reserved outward demeanor masked McCoy's deeply passionate nature. His inherent restraint and his concentration on his work rather than on self-promotion has meant that today, while highly regarded by scholars and collectors, his work is little known to the general public. This exhibition aims to place the artist more firmly in the context of 20th century American Art and reveal his exceptional talents to a wider audience. (left: John W. McCoy, Ascending Clouds, c. 1982, mixed media on paper, 30 x 22 inches, Ann Wyeth McCoy)

McCoy said of his art: "What I'm trying to do is report what I see and feel about people and nature - and we are part of the same scheme. I know that you may hate your neighbor or you may love your neighbor, but there is a tension between and there is always a tension between things in nature. That is what makes painting interesting. That's why my painting is about-thats what I try to make it about."

Pamela J. Belanger, Curator of Collections at the Farnsworth Art Museum, organized the exhibition. In conjunction with the exhibition, a major publication written by McCoy's daughter, Anna B. McCoy has been published by Down East Books. It includes a foreword by Christopher B. Crosman, an introduction by Elizabeth H. Hawkes and a commentary by Andrew Wyeth. The exhibition will travel to the Biggs Museum of American Art, Dover, Delaware from November 7, 2001-February 25, 2002.

See McCoy's painting Tule Lake Refuge, courtesy of U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

rev. 5/5/01
Text courtesy of Farnsworth Art Museum and AskArt.com

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