PRINT November 1963

Three California Artists: Robert McChesney

OF THE GENERATION OF Western artists, who shortly after the last War emerged as a powerful group of abstractionists, McChesney has seemed to me the steadiest and most deliberate, and in some ways the most sensitive and refined. If he was less eager to abandon representationalism than were some of his contemporaries, his eventual commitment to his own abstract vis ion of the natural world has been no less total or searching than theirs. Moreover, his considerable technical gifts, including meticulous brushwork and remarkable control of palette, only enhanced his very personal art. Indeed, it may have been McChesney’s technical resourcefulness which led Alfred Frankenstein to describe him as a “master” in a review of his work. Whatever the justice of this encomium, in an age when only a few great men seem incontestable masters, there can be no doubt that certain aspects of McChesney’s art, among which I would single out his grasp of composition, may well be described as masterly.

McChesney’s oils, especially the “Mexican” series of the 1950’s, particularly exemplifies McChesney’s philosophy of a freely developing natural world, governed by organic—almost biological—order, within the strict, arbitrary borders of the rectangle. There is a profound social analogy in such works: line is employed fluidly but not loosely, composition rationally but not dogmatically, in order to free—rather than to confine or constrict—the liberal splendor of color.

In later works McChesney has further enriched color with original textural effects—the “sand and enamel” technique. I am confident that the method will take him far if he can pursue it as he int ends and explores themes developed over the past year or two. McChesney is not so much a slow developer as he is a periodic blossomer. His work seems to gather force over rather long cycles, rising to crests every two to three years. Partly because of his fine personal modesty and his understandable reluctance to clamor in the crude market place that is the contemporary gallery scene, and partly because of his geographical isolation on a mountaintop north of San Francisco, where he lives in great simplicity in a small, beautiful house built with his own hands, McChesney has never enjoyed the financial security which would give him precisely the peace of mind he cherishes and which is expressed in the calm power of his best paintings but he remains a prodigious worker, constantly at the easel.

Allan Temko