Michael Dailey (1938 - 2009)
"I change and rework a painting over and over again until it feels right ... The image changes many times as the painting evolves and I quite literally don't know where I am going until I get there."
Michael Dailey was a producing and exhibiting artist for nearly 50 years. He was an influential teacher for many artists and students, during his thirty-five year tenure at the University of Washington School of Art from 1963-1998.
In the period between the mid-1960s and 2000, there was a thoughtful, progressive development in his work starting with abstract, landscape painting typical of the time and related to other 1960s landscape painters such as Richard Diebenkorn, Wayne Thiebaud, or Elmer Bischoff. In these complex and gestural works, vertical passages of paint collide with horizontal areas as the land, water and sky are flattened and reduced to painterly passages of seductive color.
By the early 1970s and into the 1980s Dailey embraced a kind of sublime sky-scape painting in which the land, or beach, or water seemed increasingly peripheral to the depiction of the ever-changing sky. The horizontal bands widened and seemed to open up the painting as fewer and fewer elements compete for attention. At this point the reference to anything solid was relegated to the bottom edge and, to an even lesser extent, at the sides and top of the paintings. The centers of the paintings became subtle readings of light and color as affected by the times of day, and the sky seemed to stretch from edge to edge, and even beyond, with the suggestion of infinite depth. Of his sense of color the artist notes, "Color is the most emotional aspect of painting and the most idiosyncratic thing. I don't think people see the same colors."
As the work progressed through the mid-1980s, Dailey seemed to be attempting to paint the vaporous atmosphere itself. This kind of ethereal subject has its roots with some of the Hudson River School artists, notably Frederick Church and John Frederick Kensett. Kensett, a favorite of Dailey's, similarly favored an extremely low horizon line, allowing the sky to fill the greatest expanse of his paintings with a glorious depiction of air and light while often reducing the land or sea to the most minimal aspect of the work.
In the late 1970s, Dailey's health, and a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, necessitated a change in medium from oil paint to acrylic. After a period of trial and error, the artist achieved a nearly miraculous transition in medium without greatly affecting the general look of his work. He said of the transition, "Oil has a luminosity and a transparency. When I tried getting the same results with acrylic, I felt like I was painting a wall." Despite this insight from the artist about the inherent difficulty in transition, the shift is nearly undetectable between oil and acrylic paint and the gravity of the work was maintained. (It's worth noting that Alden Mason also left oil painting in the 1970s for medical reasons and went though a similarly difficult transitional period before arriving at a surprisingly different style of painting in acrylic.)
The work of the later 1980s and into the 2000s has been a shift toward a more complex composition where the paintings change from horizontal areas of paint to diagonal or vertical bands that seem to each have their own individual constructs of time or relations to space. If there is a central open space, that space is often framed or held in place by both horizontal and vertical structures. The passage of time and season seems to shift from one distinct area to another as colors and shapes move across the picture's plane. Dailey noted, "There are certainly differences in light between sunrise and sunset. But three in the afternoon is also much different from nine in the morning. I see that and that's what I paint."
Concurrently, his works on paper moved from oil to acrylic with similar effects. The paintings on paper parallel, within their small format of painterly washes and gestural drawing, the shifts that occurred in his larger canvases. The later works on paper revealed a rich variety of media--graphite, pastel, watercolor and acrylic paint--all in service to Dailey's description of the seasons, time, and weather of places both seductively familiar and strangely alluring.
The general scale of the paintings progressed toward smaller canvases, and works on paper, necessitated by the decreased mobility of the artist due to MS. Despite the reduction in size to that of his arms' span or so, the late paintings became almost baroque in comparison to the very spare mid-career works, and came to a full circle ending, again at a complex composition, though decidedly different from where he began.
Francine Seders, now retired, was his long time dealer (representing his work since 1970), and served as a great advocate for the artist in a long and successful partnership. In 2008, in honor of Michael Dailey, Francine Seders and Greg Kucera co-curated a large exhibition of the artist's work in their two respective galleries. Based on their mutual admiration for the artist, the two dealers decided to work together to present a modest sort of retrospective of some of the best of his work. The Seders show presented his more recent acrylic paintings on canvas along with his pastel and watercolor drawings on paper. The Kucera show features earlier works in oil on canvas, paintings illustrating the move from oil to acrylic paint that occurred in the late 1970s, and a few works in oil and pastel on paper.
Dailey received both his BFA (1960) and MFA (1963) degrees at the University of Iowa, in Iowa City. There he studied Chinese art and philosphy with the Chinese art historial Chu-tsing Li. As Robin Updike wrote in her essay for Michael Dailey: Color, Light, Time, and Place, "Dailey found his artist foothold in the basic tenets of Chinese art. To this day, he still refers to Chinese Landscape painting when talking about his own art. He admires traditional Chinese landscapes because they are evocative rather than descriptive; because they are many-layered; and because they look both flat and deep, a trick of shifting perspective that, when expertly executed, cannot help but inspire philosophical meditation."
Dailey's work was the subject of a 2008 retrospective, curated by John Olbrantz, at the Hallie Ford Museum, Willamette University, in Salem, Oregon. Previous one-person museum exhibitions include a 2002 retrospective at the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner, WA, and early surveys at the Tacoma Art Museum in 1975 and 1966; University of Idaho, Moscow, in 1974; University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1967; and the State University of New York, Alfred, in 1963. The artist lived and worked in Seattle after retiring from the University of Washington School of Art.
Dailey died of pancreatic cancer in August, 2009.