Thursday, September 1, 2016

Bill Cumming, Last of the Northwest School

William Lee "Bill" Cumming (1917-2010) was not one of the "mystic" school of Pacific Northwest painting. The best-known of that crew were Mark Tobey, Morris Graves and Guy Anderson. As a young man in the late 1930s, Cumming got to know them and other Northwest artists who were not quite so mystic, such as Kenneth Callahan. He also became considered as part of that larger group.

Cumming was a colorful character, undertaking seven marriages, tuberculosis, Stalinist Communism (until he got sick of it) and teaching, -- while doing his art when not hospitalized or following Party orders regarding this or that.

As for his art, Cumming was a prolific sketchbook artist whose main interest was the movements and postures of the clothed human body. His later tempera and oil painting usually eliminated facial details so the viewers might focus on the rest of his subjects.

His Wikipedia entry is here. Not-so-favorable commentary by a former Seattle Post-Intelligencer art critic is here, and his Seattle Times obituary is here.

Cumming wrote a book titled "Sketchbook" that was published by the University of Washington Press. Here are two excerpts.

Page 60: "My dream of Paris didn't vanish. It simply melted into life in 1937 Seattle. I was never again able to summon up one scrap of the kind of restless and unsatisfied dreams on which young provincials have traditionally motivated their treks.... To my small-town sensibilities Seattle was a reasonable facsimile which had fattened my imagination....a soggy seaport town wedged into the furthest northwest corner of our United States...."

Page 238: "For the most part my teaching has been in what is shallowly called commercial art.... The invidious distinction of commercial art and fine art is poppycock. There is only art."

My interest in Cumming is not his art, to which I am indifferent. Rather, I found his book interesting because it was a gossipy account dealing with local artistic personalities whose names I am familiar with and a few of whom I met many years ago when I myself was young.

Gallery

Untitled - 1940
A standard-issue Depression-era depiction of proletarians.

Evening Conversation - 1956
Cumming was still including faces at this point.

Sailboat - 1965

Drawing - 1972

Sketchbook page

Good News and Bad Weather - 1985

Street Corner - 1990
This is part of a Seattle Parks series of paintings. As best I can tell, there is no evidence of a street corner. The inclusion of both baseball and football players is a bit puzzling because these sports tend to be played at different times of the year.

Pike Street Figures - 1996

Summer Afternoon in the Park - 2008
A painting made when Cumming was 90 or 91 years old.

"Sketchbook" book cover - 1984

4 comments:

Paul Sullivan said...

Don—
This is just a note to tell you what a wonderful job you are doing in presenting the work of such a variety of outstanding talent. Your site is both fun and educational.

Paul

Pico Elgin said...

Did you know Ward Corley?

Donald Pittenger said...

Paul -- Thank you for following this blog. Greatly appreciated.

Pico -- No, but I was in an all-city (of Seattle public schools) art "class" at the Seattle Art Museum that was "taught" by Guy Anderson, one of the Mystics. I put in the quote marks because Anderson smoked his pipe while we did whatever we were doing. My main takeaway was my date for my Senior Prom who went to a different high school.

Pico Elgin said...

I've been following this blog and your automotive blog for many years. Ward was my uncle. I have his last painting; left unfinished by his passing.