George McNeil

George J. McNeil (1908-1995) was a pioneering and influential artist whose career spanned the entire Post-war American art era. Born in New York City, McNeil developed his artistic foundation through an extensive education at the Pratt Institute and the Art Students’ League, where he had the privilege of studying under esteemed artists such as Jan Matulka and Vaclav Vytlacil. His artistic development further deepened from 1933-37 as he studied with Hans Hofmann, eventually becoming Hofmann’s monitor (assistant).

McNeil was actively involved in the W.P.A. Federal Art Project during the 1930s, which played a crucial role in the development of American modern art. In 1936, he became one of the founding members of the American Abstract Artists group, a collective that significantly contributed to the acceptance and understanding of abstract art in the United States. His work gained notable recognition when it was selected for display at the New York World’s Fair in 1939, where he was among the few abstract artists featured.

During World War II, McNeil served in the U.S. Navy. After the war, his career took a turn towards education. In the late 1940s, he taught at the University of Wyoming before securing a long-term position at Pratt Institute, where he taught art and art history until 1981. McNeil also imparted his knowledge at the New York Studio School until 1981, influencing generations of young artists with his innovative techniques and deep understanding of art.

A pioneer of the Abstract Expressionist movement, particularly noted within the New York School, McNeil held over forty solo exhibitions throughout his lifetime. His first solo exhibition was at the Egan Gallery in 1950. McNeil’s art evolved from pure abstractions in the early 1960s, where his subject matter was expressed through passionate metaphors, to dynamic compositions featuring dancers, bathers, discos, urban life, football, and graffiti. His high-energy content was brought to life through his masterful use of oil paint, characterized by rich textures and vibrant colors that defined complex abstract volumes.

In recognition of his contributions to the art world, McNeil was elected to the American Institute of Arts and Letters in 1989. His work is included in numerous prestigious museum collections across the country, such as the Museum of Modern Art (NY), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY), the Whitney Museum (NY), the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Walker Art Center (MN), among others.

George J. McNeil’s legacy is marked by his relentless exploration of sensation through abstract art and his profound influence on the generations of artists he taught and inspired. His work continues to be celebrated and studied for its innovative approach and expressive depth.

George McNeil, Debonair Disco, 1984

George McNeil, Debonair Disco, 1984

*Collection of Brooklyn Museum

George McNeil Debonair Disco