Jay McVicker has come up a few times on the blog, so it was something of a surprise to me when I realized that we’ve never done a focused post about works by him in the permanent collection. This week’s post is based on research by students Emily McLain, who wrote about The Road, and David Duncan, who studied The City. The paintings they investigated, despite being only four years apart, reflect a dramatic change in the style and subject matter of the former OSU Art Department head.
Jesse Jay McVicker (1911-2004) was a student of Indiana native and former Oklahoma State University Art Department head Doel Reed, which is evident in his early focus on nature. In fact, most of McVicker’s early work was regionalist in subject matter. The Road is an excellent example of this naturalistic tendency.
This striking watercolor landscape depicts a country road, which was a frequent image in McVicker’s early paintings. The sharp lights and darks are painted with a sure hand in broad brushstrokes, creating a quiet, thoughtful scene. These impressionist brush strokes mark the painting as modern, despite its mundane subject matter.
McVicker was a painter, sculptor and printmaker, dabbling primarily in the abstract genre in landscapes and later in more geometric style. Born in Vici, Oklahoma, McVicker spent most of his life in Oklahoma, around the Stillwater area. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Oklahoma State University in 1940 and a Masters in 1941. Thereafter he stayed at OSU as a faculty member, eventually becoming Head of Department from 1959-1977. McVicker retired in 1977. His work has been featured in numerous museums across the country including the Art Institute of Chicago, Dallas Museum of Fine Art, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
As McVicker’s career progressed, he moved away from the regionalist subject matter and began to work in a more abstract and hard-edged geometric style.
In his painting of The City, McVicker shows what looks like an aerial view of a large metropolitan area, with different vibrant colors to symbolize the activity within a typical metropolitan area. Painted in 1952, this oil on Masonite is 40 inches tall and 28 inches wide. From a distance, it appears as many small squares placed randomly throughout the composition. Upon closer inspection, small brushstrokes can be seen to give the painting a sense of direction.
Large circles, semi-circles, U-shapes, and quarter circles are evident when analyzing the lighter tones within the painting. Subtly, the lines help guide the viewer’s eyes around the composition, drawing attention to every small nuance with color. While the shapes remain simple, the organization is quite complex. No color seems to dominate an area more than another, inviting the viewer to imagine a city broken down, showing only the essential, basic shapes of structures. Viewed this way, the city remains intricate, indicating that there is a lot more to be seen if the scene could be viewed closer. One might interpret the rectangular shapes as vehicles, indicating a robust highway system or connected roads. This gives the feeling that McVicker wanted to portray a busy scene, perhaps inspired by the growth of cities—expanding, full of tall buildings, with millions of people and evolving economies—in this period.
Emily McLain and David Duncan were students in History of Twentieth-Century Art in Fall 2010. I have edited their original essays in order to fit the format of our blog.