THE EARLY YEARS
James Francis Gill is considered a co-founder of American Pop Art. Gill was born in Tahoka, Texas in 1934. In high school, Gill founded a rodeo club with friends to fulfill his dream of becoming a cowboy.
Even before high school, he discovered his passion for art by making model sketches for his mother, who worked as an interior designer. Even in the Marines (from 1953), his passion for art does not let him go. Among other things, he made murals in a military hospital in Honolulu and came into contact with the design of sculptures for the first time. Just like Warhol, Wesselmann and other Pop artists, James Gill designed adver tising posters at an early age.
In 1956 Gill worked in Midland (Texas) and Odessa (Texas) in an architectural of fice. During this time he meets Bruce Goff, one of the most influential architects of the 20th century. This encounter has an influence on Gill‘s art, as Goff is an avid collector of works by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. After this period, Gill studied painting with the help of a scholarship at the University of Texas at Austin.
ENTRY TO THE ART MARKET
HIATUS FROM THE ART WORLD
Gill had a special encounter with his own artistic past when he visited the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco. It was there that he first came into contact with the art of Gerhard Richter. What he saw was absolutely fascinating to him. The paintings Richter showed there resembled his own, which he made in the 1960s, in a startling way. Richter, like Gill, moved between realism and abstract art. Both Richter and Gill each developed their styles, which were similar in many ways, completely independent of each other without
ever having met.
Gill‘s art is not limited to one direction. He reinvents himself again and again over the decades. Art collectors all over the world appreciate Gill‘s vers atility and his immense wealth of ideas.
Around 1980, Gill also rediscovered his interest in architecture and continued to work in the architectural field and design houses until the 1990s. During this time, he learns the computer program AutoCAD, which is used to create technical drawings.
During his time in exile, Gill is very active artistically and, away from the public eye, lays the foundation for his late work. He never stops painting. His experiences in architecture are reflected in many of his drawings. Thus, in the early 1990s, he creates numerous drawings and watercolors of houses. His experience gained in architecture also inspires him to use the computer to develop studies of his art.
As a young artist, Gill moved to Los Angeles, where he met his first gallerist, Felix Landau, in 1962. Felix Landau was one of the most respected art dealers of the time. He recognizes in Gill‘s works influences of Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Francis Bacon, with whom he trades at the time. In addition to a nude, Gill has with him three di f ferent works of women getting out of automobiles - the „Women in Cars“. These paintings completely change Gill‘s life in one fell swoop. Landau takes him under contract and finances a studio including painting equipment.
Arriving in Los Angeles shortly af ter the death of Marilyn Monroe, James Francis Gill was inspired by media images, especially an issue of „LIFE Magazine“ in August 1962. He created his painting „Marilyn Triptych“ (1962). This was described by William C. Seitz, then curator of the Museum of Modern Art, New York (MoMA), as follows:
"The three port raits, one cheerful, one angst-ridden, and the third sullen and nude, refer to the contradictions of Marilyn‘s fascinating career. In the cinematically shifting photographic images in the background, the t ragedy of her descent, f rom a dazzling entrenchment as an American sex goddess toward agony and death, is revealed step by step."
Marilyn Monroe is seen in the left part of the image wearing a red dress in which she seems to bask in the limelight of happier times. In the months before her demise, she gradually becomes the unhappy Marilyn, naked in the right par t of the picture.
In December 1962 Landau organized a first solo exhibition for Gill in New York. This resulted in the purchase of two works by MoMA. These are „Marilyn Triptych“ (1962) and „Woman in Striped Dress“ (1962), which shows a woman getting out of an automobile.
Gill‘s works are regularly shown at MoMA in the mid-1960s with works by Edward Hopper, Robert Rauschenberg, Pablo Picasso, Heinz Mack, Alexander Calder, Ernst-Ludwig Kirchner, Claes Oldenburg, Jasper Johns and others. Museums such as the Whitney Museum of American Art , the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Peter Ludwig Foundation subsequently include Gill in their collections as well.
Gill was asked by the U.S. Navy to participate in the "Art Cooperation and Liaison" program, which captures significant contemporary events for the public. In 1966, he was invited on board the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise. The art work created there remains in the collection of the National Museum of the U.S. Navy, Washington, D.C., to this day. Aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, Gill has a defining experience. He is most impressed by the moment when two armed Marines passed right by him carrying a bomb on a handcart. Chained to a pole above the bomb was a closed briefcase with the warning "Nuclear Trigger". He was quite surprised at how small a nuclear bomb was. He says „That feeling of having a nuclear bomb in f ront of you is just indescribable.“ Even today, he cautions that one must be ver y careful with all that force and potential.
In 1967, William C. Seitz, curator of MoMA, puts together an extensive exhibition of the twenty best young painters in the United States. It is the American contribution to the São Paulo Biennial. Called „São Paulo 9 Biennial: Environment USA: 1957-1967“, Gill is shown alongside Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselmann and Roy Lichtenstein, among others .
In 1968, „TIME Magazine“ commissions Gill to design its cover (Collection of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, USA). He portrays the Russian Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who had just escaped from a Russian labor camp. Gill produces the image in the form of a four-part altarpiece. The figure transforms from a faceless to a smiling man who has regained his f reedom. Gill himself says: "Every man is a political prisoner. A prisoner of a system he was born into.“ The work then hangs in the reception hall of the "TIME-LIFE Building" for about five years.
Hollywood stars such as John Wayne, Tony Curtis, Dennis Hopper and Richard Chamberlain had their port raits taken by Gill or collected his art. Large national corporations such as the Mead Corporation and „TIME-LIFE“ acquire his paintings for their collections.
Under the impression of Gill‘s works in the mid-1960s, the U.S. writer and curator Lucy R. Lippard quotes in her book „Pop Art“ published in the original edition in 1966: "James Gill tries to capture people snapshot-like in cer tain situations with the help of paint and grease crayons. [...] In this way he has port rayed pop subjects such as Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne and President Kennedy in the fleeting st yle of the news picture.“
Henry J. Seldis, art editor of the Los Angeles Times, wrote on this subject as early as 1965: "Gill removes the masks of public figures, revealing their blurred anonymity with a powerful impulse on our consciousness."
American writer William Inge comments "James Gill‘s paintings are as current as the morning paper; but the most important thing we discover in these paintings - what the newspaper overlooks - is an intimate look at the people who star in these cover stories.“
James Robinson Shepley, former editor of „TIME Magazine“ and later president of Time Inc. (later "Time Warner") wrote about Gill‘s ar t in 1968 that „since his first ar tistic success, a triptych commemorating the tragic suicide of Marilyn Monroe in 1962, Gill‘s multiple renderings have reflected di f ferent aspects of his subjects.“ This is a Gill trademark, Shepley added.
Jim Edwards, former contemporary curator of the Salt Lake Art Center as well as the extensive retrospective of Gill‘s body of work in 2005 (San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts, USA), writes of Gill that in his late work the artist „does much more than rehash the successes of his promising beginning“ from the 1960s.
James Francis Gill never planned or actively pursued his return. The distinct footprints he had left in the world of art forced a "rediscovery". It was only a matter of time.
Even though he had retired, his works were still represented in important collections and the specialized literature continued to refer to him.
It so happened that in 1997, art historian David McCarthy wrote an article about James Francis Gill for the Smithsonian American Art Museum‘s art magazine. The meeting with McCarthy laid the groundwork for Gill‘s return to the art market.
In his hometown, a major retrospective of his complete works was curated in 2005 at the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts under the title "Uncommon Places - The Art of James Francis Gill". Other international museum exhibitions followed. Since then, numerous exhibitions have taken place worldwide. In 2012, Premium Modern Art took over the management of James Francis Gill and has since organized gallery and museum exhibitions worldwide.
For example, under the title "The Return of James Francis Gill", a series of exhibition openings took place in England and Scotland in 2019, including Glasgow, London, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Chester and Bath.