About the artist:
A painter of modernist portraits, he has created many paintings that appeared on the cover of "Time" magazine and has written extensively on his methods of using tempera. He has frequently been called an American Surrealist or Magic Realist and uses symbolism extensively. Sometimes over their hearts, his portrait figures have targets, symbolizing the horrors and violence of war. He was born in New York City, attended Wesleyan University and, in the 1940s, the Yale School of Fine Arts where he received his B.A. in 1947 and later a B.F.A. He also studied at the Art Students League of New York with Victoria Huntley, Reginald Marsh and Kenneth Hayes Miller. He learned the technique of tempera painting from Lewis York, a protege of Daniel Thompson, Jr. who wrote the textbook for the tempera class at the Yale School of Fine Art. In 1950, Vickrey worked with Josef Albers at Yale. Between 1952 and 1963, Vickrey was in nine annual exhibitions of the Whitney Museum and from 1957 to 1968, had 78 works published on "Time" magazine covers. His work is in numerous museums including the National Museum of American Art, the Smithsonian, the National Academy of Design, the Brooklyn Museum, the Butler Institute of American Art, the Chrysler Museum, and the Corcoran Collection. Very few artists have ever attained Robert Vickrey's level of expertise in the egg tempera medium. For nearly six decades he has re-written the various aspects of mysterious type of painting. Having authored two books on the subject, he is easily the most respected artist in contemporary American art in this medium. his dedication to detail and labor intensive process produces a smaller number of works each year. Plans for a monograph about Vickrey are nearly concluded. Dr. Philip Eliasoph of Faifield University in Connecticut has been working on a nearly 50,000 word text for several years, which will be released in the spring of 2009. Dr. Eliasoph is an expert on Italian Renaissance painting and in particular its influences on egg tempera painters of the late 20th century. Painting included in the eighty museum collections will be illustrated plus others from private collections. Mr. Vickrey, who mastered the Renaissance technique of egg tempera painting as a student at Yale, used his consummate skill to create, in his early work, hyper-real scenes suffused by an atmosphere of dread or impending disaster. He was an avant-garde filmmaker on the side, with a deep knowledge of expressionism and film noir, whose shadows, angles and distortions he introduced into his paintings. In the 1950s and ’60s Mr. Vickrey was a highly visible artist. He was included in no fewer than nine of the Whitney Museum’s annual exhibitions showcasing contemporary art. He was also commissioned to paint dozens of portraits for the cover of Time, notably a portrait from life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the magazine’s Man of the Year issue in 1964. As his style of painting fell out of favor, Mr. Vickrey was relegated to the margins of the art world. Critics did not always respond kindly to the more upbeat tone of his later painting, moreover, which seemed closer to Andrew Wyeth and Norman Rockwell than his chilling early work. In the 1980s, a reassessment of magic realism, and of overlooked artists like Paul Cadmus, Jared French and George Tooker (who died on March 27), led to renewed interest in Mr. Vickery’s work. He was the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Art, Science and Industry in Bridgeport, Conn., in 1982, and of a biography by Philip Eliasoph, “Robert Vickrey: The Magic of Realism” (Hudson Hills, 2008). Painting on primed masonite panels, Mr. Vickrey began fusing realism and surrealism in city scenes that showed children making chalk marks on the sidewalk, nuns walking down labyrinthine streets or adolescents caught in a web of luminous halos and shadows cast by bicycle spokes. Lincoln Kirstein, a devotee of Cadmus, French and Tooker, saw his work on a visit to Yale and included a painting in his 1950 exhibition, “Symbolic Realism,” presented in New York and London. Critics wrote admiringly of Mr. Vickrey’s paint handling, less so of his tendency to overload the work with symbolism and his overreliance on technique. In “Comma,” a 1960 picture of a boy seated on a wooden crate, he painstakingly painted more than 4,000 individual bricks in the wall in the background. There was an undeniable spell cast by paintings like “Street Scene,” a close-up view of a curved railing with round stone bollards strung along it like beads, with an eerily empty city street visible in the background. The painting, exhibited in 1962, seemed to anticipate the photorealist style that would make waves a decade later.
A painter of modernist portraits, he has created many paintings that appeared on the cover of "Time" magazine and has written extensively on his methods of using tempera. He has frequently been called an American Surrealist or Magic Realist and uses