George Ortman (1926–2015)

William Grimes reports in the New York Times that the painter George Ortman died last Wednesday in Manhattan. Known for his abstract works, including a series of geometric works based on Botticelli, da Vinci, or Seurat paintings, he was deeply influenced by Surrealism. Based in New York since the 1950s, he also taught for thirty years at the Cranbrook Academy of Art near Detroit, Michigan where he was the head of the graduate painting department.

He was born in 1926 in Oakland, California, where he began taking art classes at Mills College. He also enrolled for a time at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland but left after a year and a half for New York. There he made etchings and engravings at the Surrealist printmaker Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17 workshop. After moving to Paris, Ortman studied at the workshop of the Cubist painter André Lhote, where he began experimenting with cutting into his paintings and incorporating objects into them. Upon his return to New York in 1950 he studied with the painter Hans Hofmann, began showing at Tanager Gallery, and married the actress Julie Bovasso with whom he founded the Tempo Playhouse in the East Village.

Ortman was included in the seminal exhibition “Toward a New Abstraction,” at the Jewish Museum in New York in 1963, and two years later the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis mounted a retrospective of his work. After returning to New York from his time at Cranbrook, he began showing with the Mitchell Algus Gallery, later Algus Greenspon.