What is it?
Dean Meeker (Orchard, Colorado 1920–2002 Madison)
Oil on canvas
29 7/8 x 15 7/8 in.
Gifted 2013, James and Karen Hyde Foundation
About the Work
Colorado-born Dean Meeker obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the School of the Art of Chicago and embarked in 1948 on a remarkable forty-six-year teaching career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. That same year, fellow artist John Wilde joined the faculty. Wilde belonged to a small group whose surrealist work was dubbed “magic realism.” Although Meeker was not affiliated, several of his early works display similar tendencies in their imaginative landscapes and otherworldly figures.
Blue Lady is a stellar example of Meeker’s early work and contains themes that would endure: the female figure and inspiration from the circus. When he was fourteen years old, Meeker spent a summer with a carnival in Colorado and Wyoming. At a time when tattoos were rarely seen, his illustrated nude recalls the “Tattooed Lady” of the circus. However, in a nod to Surrealism, she stands in a desolate landscape dotted with strewn papers bearing mysterious symbols or her own design; who and where she might be is left to our imagination.
In terms of technique, a notable feature is Meeker’s meticulous brushwork; the lady’s tattoos have an almost three-dimensional appearance. Equally evident here is Meeker’s early love for and training in sculpture: the figure’s elongated and curvaceous contour has much in common with the sinuous abstract sculptures of his early years. By the early 1950s, Meeker had in turn abandoned painting for printmaking, but the idea of giving a two-dimensional surface the suggestion of a third was something Meeker would later achieve when he combined serigraphy and etching in his printmaking.