cover image George Bellows: American Artist

George Bellows: American Artist

Joyce Carol Oates. Ecco Press, $22 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-88001-437-3

Born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1882, George Bellows journeyed east in 1904, against his conservative father's wishes, and reinvented American art with his poetic realist canvases of New York City's teeming street life. Novelist/essayist Oates articulates what was radical in Bellows's approach: the formally sophisticated presentation of the dynamic, the vulgar, the authentic, the brutal. She finds his ``perversely ecstatic'' vision of urban tumult Whitmanesque in its embracing of disorder and its unswervingly optimistic mysticism. Yet Bellows, who died of a ruptured appendix at the age of 42, also did throbbing, visceral seascapes, allegories and urban dreamscapes that call to mind Albert Pinkham Ryder. These works, in Oates's estimation, reveal Bellows as a visionary, a poet of violent emotions, akin to van Gogh, Gauguin and Emil Nolde. Oates's assured, uncannily insightful essay brings us closer to Bellows's spiritual center than most scholarly studies of him. Illustrated. (Nov.)