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Harold Gregor (1929–2018)

Harold Gregor, a painter whose devotion to the American interior earned him the moniker “Dean of the Midwest Landscape,” died earlier this month at age eighty-nine. The artist, who was based in Illinois, rose to national prominence in the 1970s for his vibrant, Photorealist interpretations of the agrarian heartland, which he would go on to render in panoramas, aerial views, and luminous abstractions.

Gregor was born in 1929 in Detroit, where he earned an undergraduate degree at Wayne State University before enrolling in Michigan State University’s master of science program in 1952. He studied ceramics and painting, and, under the tutelage of Jackson Pollock’s older brother Charles, he became captivated by the style of the famous Abstract Expressionist. After a two-year stint in the army during the Korean War, Gregor began doctoral studies in studio art and art history at Ohio State University, and afterward he moved to Southern California to teach. In California, Gregor explored Pop, Abstract, and Conceptual art, but ultimately grew more interested in landscapes, and by the early 1970s he was being heralded for his precise, regionalist Photorealism. In addition to his unpeopled landscapes, he was celebrated for his “flatscapes” and “vibrascapes,” which depict prairies and farms from whimsical perspectives, and for channeling a wide range of inspirations that fused abstraction and realism.

Gregor, who was a professor at Illinois State University from 1970 until his retirement in 1992, was admired by many for dignifying the sceneries of so-called flyover states that are often considered unappreciated by art worlds on America’s coasts. In addition to showing his work widely across the nation, he was the recipient of a 1993–94 National Endowment for the Arts grant and a National Endowment for the Arts Midwest Fellowship. His painting Illinois Landscape No. 120 hung in former president Barack Obama’s Oval Office. As an artist, he once told the Chicago Tribune, “You help people to see the world they’re familiar with in different terms—to find beauty in the things around them.”

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