James Gill (artist)

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This article is about James Gill (artist). For other uses, see James Gill.
James Gill
Born James Francis Gill
Tahoka, Texas, U.S.
Nationality American
Known for Painting
Movement Pop art

James Francis Gill (born 1934) is an American artist and one of the protagonists in the Pop-art movement.[1]

A portrait of James Gill in the year 2008

Background and education[edit]

1934 Gill was born in Tahoka, Texas and grew up in San Angelo, Texas. His mother, an interior decorator and entrepreneur, encouraged her son to have an artistic interest. When Gill was around 10 years old, his mother painted a wooden floor in the family home in the style of Jackson Pollock. In high school, Gill and some friends started a rodeo club to pursue their first dream of being cowboys.[1]


Early years and Pop[edit]

Left part of James Gill's painting Marylin Tryptich

1953-1956, Gill served in the United States Marines. After leaving the Marines, he earned his living as an architect/illustrator. This was a curious beginning for an artist about to explode onto the pop art scene. In the summer of 1962, Gill traveled to Los Angeles with a series of paintings under his arm titled "Women in Cars". Upon his arrival in L.A., Gill walked in the Felix Landau Gallery (as renowned in L.A. as Leo Catelli Gallery in New York). Landau agreed to represent Gill on the spot, something he had never done before. By November, 1962 Gill had achieved international acclaim when his "Marilyn Tryptych" (a 3-panel painting of Marilyn Monroe) was purchased by the Museum of Modern Art and featured in Life Magazine. Indeed, Gill's "Marilyn" study actually preceded Warhol's more famous study of the tragic screen legend.[1]

1965 Gill was guest artist to teach painting at the University of Idaho. His works of art appeared oppressive and dark in shade of color and mood in these years. Main topic was social and political events on the day like the Vietnam War. A serial of anti-war paintings featured civilians and military leaders. The playwright William Inge described the men in these paintings as “figures of high public reputation, momentarily caught in some nefarious act that will probably destroy their political or professional reputations.” [2]

James Gill painting The Machines, 1965

The Machines (antiwar-painting) The composition formally connects media reporting from the United States with combat conditions in Vietnam.[3]

Becoming an icon[edit]

Throughout the fifties and sixties, a new school of artists emerged on the scene. They made “Pop Art” a household name. This group included Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, James Rosenquist, Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg and James Francis Gill. James Gill was one of the standouts among the pop artists. He experienced a rapid ascent in the art world, getting his work into major collections such as New York's Museum of Modern Art.

James Gills painting Political Prisoner, 1968

1968 Gill received commissions to paint the cover for Time Magazine of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who had just been released from a Russian labor camp. Gill did the painting in form of a four-panel quadriptych. The figure moves from that of a faceless man with his prison number as a bar across his eyes to an image in the final panel of a smiling man who has found freedom. Two years later Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Gill: “All people are political prisoners...they are prisoners of the system into which they are born.” [4]

Over the decade that followed, Gill became an icon in the pop art world.[1] Major museums that added his work to their collections included:

In 1967, Gill was included in the world-famous São Paulo 9 exhibit. That single event, more than any other, established the hierarchy of the Pop Art icons.[5] Among those included (in order of billing) were:

His work is often included in the realm of Pop Art but, unlike his contemporaries, Gill's art reflected qualities of a contemporary consciousness and a classical tradition as well.

James Gill's painting "Behind the shadow (restudy)", 2003

1969 Gill lectured on his painting at the University of California in Irvine.

1970 Gill was asked to teach as a guest artist at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Now Gill was at the peak of career and popularity in the Pop Art world. Many contemporaries reputed him more profound and complex than Pop Art intended to express. “...Gill is a prominent artist of the Pop Art movement, though he was too painterly and he dealt with his subjects in a manner that was too emotionally loaded for him to be considered just a Pop artist...” Los Angeles Times Editor Henry J. Seldis in the November 8, 1965 edition.

1972 Gill went at the peak of his fame in a self-imposed exile in California. He wanted to improve his artistic form of expression without material trappings.

1979 Back in Texas he advanced his art without appearing in public.

In 1987, Gill took a computer drafting course at the College of the Redwoods. “...I eventually started to use the computer...as a kind of drawing tool. I experimented more and more...” [6]

2005 Retrospective exhibition in the Museum of Fine Art in his hometown San Angelo, Texas

In 2008, after re-emerging from a 35 year hiatus,[1] Gill's story caught the attention of Hollywood.[5] Which culminated in a feature length documentary about him, hosted by Forrest Sawyer.

2011 Gill is in a late creative phase. The paintings are an affiliation of realism and abstraction. He is one of the last of the original Pop Artists still alive today and is considered to be one of the founding fathers of this art culture in America.


  1. ^ a b c d e Fischer, Sophia (2008-04-10). "Westlake art show draws fans of James Gill". The Acorn. 
  2. ^ Inge William.: Glimpses of Truth: The Paintings of James Gill, 1965, S.2
  3. ^ Jim Edwards, William Emboden, David McCarthy: Ungewöhnliches: Die Kunst von James Francis Gill, 2005, S.209
  4. ^ Jim Edwards, William Emboden, David McCarthy: "UNCOMMON PLACES: The Art of James Francis Gill",Ungewöhnliches: Die Kunst von James Francis Gill, 2005, S.44
  5. ^ a b "James Gill Full Circle - Official Nomination for Best Short Documentary, AOF Film Festival Pasadena CA, July 29th". PRWEB. 2008-07-17. 
  6. ^ Jim Edwards, William Emboden, David McCarthy: Ungewöhnliches: Die Kunst von James Francis Gill, 2005, S.64


  • Barr, Alfred H. (1977) Painting and Sculpture in the Museum of Modern Art. p. 655
  • Baur, John I. H. (1974) Whitney Museum of American Art Catalogue of the Collection. p. 235
  • Cummings, Paul (1987). Dictionary of Contemporary American Artists. (5th Ed). p. 653
  • Dunbier, Lonnie Pierson (Editor) (2005) The Artists Bluebook 34,000 North American Artists to March 2005. p. 479
  • Falk, Peter Hastings (Editor) (1999). Who Was Who in American Art, 1564-1975. p. 3724
  • Harris, Neil; Martina R Norelli (1985). Art, Design and the Modern Corporation. p. 135
  • Press, Jaques Cattell (1976). Who's Who in American Art. p. 756
  • Selz, Peter (1965). Art Across America. p. 64
  • Smithsonian Institution (1985). National Portrait Gallery Collection Illustrated Checklist p. 461
  • Tampa Bay Art Center (1968). 40 Now California Painters. p. 48
  • University of Oklahoma (1968). East Coast-West Coast Paintings. p. 48