Bumble Bee (Untitled), c. 1950s, tempera on Masonite, 36 x 24 inches, signed lower left
About the Painting
Reflecting on his art, Robert Vickery explained, “I am searching to transform the harsh and unsightly aspects of the everyday into newly realized forms of beauty.” He continued, “It’s a certain emotion I am seeking – how an observer reacts seeing radiant light hitting a windowpane or the shadows of leaves floating across a surface. I guess it’s just my way of finding the magic in the commonplace.” In Bumble Bee (Untitled), Vickrey finds beauty and magic in an abandoned carnival sitting in a golden field of grass beneath dark and brooding clouds. The billboard to the right features a daisy and bumble bee while two poles with pennants lead our eye into the distance. As in all of Vickrey’s work, the artist renders the smallest details with equal parts precision and mystery. We know exactly what we are seeing, but the combination of elements challenges our perception of reality. When the carnival comes to a small town, it is a time when communities come together and enjoy one another in a whirlwind of movement as rides spin and townspeople flit from one attraction to another. But, this carnival is abandoned and motionless, leaving us with a feeling of loneliness and loss. One cannot help but wonder whether Vickrey was in some way reacting to the greatest of the magic realist painters, Andrew Wyeth, who was about a decade older than Vickrey. In 1948, Wyeth painted his masterpiece, Cristina’s World (collection of the Museum of Modern Art) which also depicts an expansive field of grass below a gray-blue sky with structures in the distance just beyond a rise in the terrain. In the foreground is Anna Cristina Olson, Wyeth’s neighbor who suffered from a degenerative muscle condition which left her unable to walk. Cristina is prone and motionless at the bottom of the hill poised to start the long crawl up the incline. Both are quiet introspective paintings where the landscape is as much about our own inner worlds as the external physical environment. And, both leave us with a feeling of isolation which for some is comforting and for others disconcerting.
About the Artist
Robert Vickrey was one of the most fascinating and technically accomplished magic realist painters of the second half of the 20th century. Born in New York, Vickrey studied at the Art Student’s League with Reginald Marsh and Kenneth Hayes Miller before completing a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Yale University in 1950 where he learned the renaissance technique of painting in egg tempera which was the basis of his artistic practice. Even before his graduation, the art world took notice of Vickrey’s skills when his work was selected by Lincoln Kirstein for inclusion in the exhibition “Symbolic Realism” in New York and London. In 1953, Vickrey’s painting Labrinth was accepted to the first of nine Whitney Biennials in which he would exhibit. The Whitney purchased the painting for the permanent collection, and it is currently on display at the museum next to works by Man Ray, George Tooker, Paul Cadmus, Jared French, Kate Sage and the other important magic realist painters. From the early 1950s through the end of his long career, Vickrey was consistently represented by some of America’s premiere galleries, including Midtown Galleries and ACA Gallery. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Vickrey resisted art world expectations by continuing reject abstract expressionism and surprisingly, he beat the odds by building a significant following of collectors, curators, and gallerists. Time commissioned Vickrey to complete a series of covers for the magazine including portraits of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Vickrey had over fifty one-person shows and exhibited at the most important group shows in the country, including at the National Academy of Design. His paintings are in the permanent collections of over sixty American institutions. In addition to the Whitney Museum of American Art, these include the Butler Institute of American Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, the High Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the New Britain Museum of American Art. He is listed in Who was Who in American Art and all other standard references.