George Deem was a leading painter among contemporary artists using the technique and the images of the old Masters. Deem encourages and expects the viewer to be aware of the original source of his subject. Their knowledge and familiarity with the subject will extenuate the viewers perception of his deliberate restyling. The trend in Deem's paintings is away from the elaborate symbolic apparatus and towards reduced, less obvious cleverly disguised symbol- ism.
Deems' paintings are more than allegorical as they imply some warning or moral purpose for his contemporary viewers. Deem has taken to using Vermeer's images not for purely aesthetic ends alone, but to illustrate in 1979 how the meaning attached to these traditions has dropped away. What remains is ample evidence of Deems' wish to be "read" as metaphorical and even arcane through his use of the traditional. For example, Deem has used Stuart's portrait of Washington and added white face taking a deadly humorous and political stance in attacking our aesthetic and moral values.
Deems work has, for the intellectually curious, allusions, puzzles and hidden meanings that are used to make all sorts of jokes and puns on contemporary and traditional concepts of imagery. Deem has manipulated these aspects to delight the nimble mind and has created an image of significance to survive and help secure his fame. Many artists currently using masterpieces as direct models in their work employ a blatantly contemporary technique and medium. Deem retains a stylistic interest in the painting techniques and medium of the Old Masters. Working in oil, with a dead- pan and skillful "trompe l'oeil" he exhibits great technical expertise in seemingly painting in the old manner. Born in Vincennes, Indiana, in 1932, Deem lived in New York where he exhibited regularly since 1963 at the Allan Stone Gallery.
If imitation is a sincere form of flattery, Mr. Deem’s admiration of his artistic forebears was carried out on his own canvases. Gifted at reproduction, he concentrated on making explicit references to other painters and other paintings, uncannily recreating the style, the light, the brushstrokes as well as the details of artists he loved.
But in addition to the explicit references, there were always subtle — or not so subtle — alterations. By leaving out familiar elements or adding elements to known works, or reconfiguring components within them, he made his work a visual commentary on the history of painting, dating to the Renaissance. His “School of Mantegna,” for example, placed desks and a blackboard within the architectural and religious elements of an Andrea Mantegna painting.
Other artists who commanded his attention were Caravaggio, Chardin, Ingres, Homer, Matisse, Picasso and, especially, Vermeer, whose works he returned to again and again. He painted Vermeer’s studio without Vermeer in it. He reproduced “The Concert,” leaving out two human figures. He painted “Seven Vermeer Corners,” comprising similar parts of different Vermeer rooms set next to one another on a single canvas.
George Deem passed away in 2008 from Lung Cancer.