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Dean of Colorado abstraction Dale Chisman dies after a long illness

Categories: Art

DC_Bee-balm.jpg

Dale Chisman, who was born in Denver in 1943 and was widely known for his striking neo-abstract expressionist paintings, passed away on Friday, August 29.

“He stood up, and said ‘I’m dying,' and then he fell to the ground," says Cydney Payton, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver, who was at the artist’s home/studio at the time, as were a group of Chisman's friends and his daughter, Rebecca.

Chisman, as much as anyone, had been responsible for the MCA’s existence; he was among the institution’s founders, and had been a past member of the board of trustees. “He was suffering so much,” continued Payton, “it’s better for him that it happened, but it’s worse for us.”

Without question, Chisman was one of the most important artists to have ever worked in Colorado. And though he was only in his sixties, he provided a bridge to the artists of the mid-twentieth century, because he had been their student. He'd studied with the late Martha Epp at North High School, and later spent a summer working with Mary Chenoweth, now also deceased, at Colorado College. He received both his BFA and MFA from the University of Colorado in Boulder, but left the area for many years, living for a time in London and for many years in New York before he returned to Colorado in the 1980s, and almost immediately established himself as a local master.

Though he’d been in and out of the hospital for the last two years, and on oxygen to boot, Chisman had continued to paint at an extremely high standard, as evidenced by his spectacular solo a few months ago at Rule Modern and Contemporary Gallery (read a review here). One of his most recent paintings included in that show was “Bee Balm" (above), an oil on canvas from 2007.

Based on Chisman's continuing aesthetic vigor and despite his failing health, Payton decided to plan a major exhibit of his work to be presented at the MCA next year, which would have featured a group of new paintings based on the theme of the four seasons that Chisman had already started. But a couple of weeks ago, Chisman pulled out of the project because he felt —rightly, as it happened— that he would be unable to complete the task.

Let's hope that Payton will now instead schedule a retrospective at the MCA, to serve instead as the gifted painter’s memorial. -- Michael Paglia


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