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Richard Gilkey

Richard Charles Gilkey

Richard Charles Gilkey (December 20, 1925 – October 3, 1997) was an American painter, often associated with the 'Northwest School' of artists. During his long career he became one of the most acclaimed painters in the Pacific Northwest, with an original and highly distinctive style. He was particularly well known for his landscapes depicting the Skagit Valley in western Washington.

Gilkey was born in Bellingham, Washington, on December 20, 1925, and spent his first six years in British Columbia, Canada, where his father worked in the logging industry as a timber cruiser, identifying and marking trees to be cut down. The family then returned to Washington's Skagit Valley region (where Gilkey's paternal great-grandfather and maternal grandfather had been early residents), living in March Point, a small town near Anacortes. When Richard was twelve, his family moved to Seattle, where he and his brother Tom, who was two years older, attended Ballard High School. There he enjoyed art classes with Orre Nobles, and showed an aptitude for sketching. This would be his only formal art education.

On December 8, 1941, the day after the Pearl Harbor attack, Tom Gilkey enlisted in the Marine Corps, and Richard, at age 17, soon followed suit. He served in the 3rd Marine Raider Battalion, and was in heavy fighting on the island of Bougainville during the Solomon Islands campaign. Wounded multiple times, he was discharged in August, 1944. He attempted to complete his education at Ballard High School, but left after two weeks.

Gilkey worked a succession of jobs, including sailor, ranch hand, and logger, while at the same time developing both an interest in art and a reputation as a barroom brawler. A private tour of the Seattle Art Museum offered by assistant director Ed Thomas had a profound effect on him, leaving him particularly moved by the works of Guy Anderson, Morris Graves, and Mark Tobey. Years later, he wrote:

“The discovery of works by Anderson, Graves and Tobey in the Seattle Art Museum was a revelation and a turning point in my life. Here were paintings that addressed my concerns from very different points of view. Guy Anderson had painted the fallen parachutist, the wounded and damaged warrior, figures in rocks, in the sea and on the beach. Graves used personal symbols to indicate his feeling of the senselessness of war: birds, moons, gloves and urns. Tobey enmeshed figures, cities and worlds in threaded light and pointed to the unity of energy in all forms and deplored the egocentrism of warring nations. After meeting these artists, I gained from their encouragement, guidance and friendship".

With their encouragement, he opened a studio in Seattle's Skid Road area. In 1948 a $1,000 inheritance from his grandmother allowed him to spend four months touring the great museums of Europe; he was especially impressed by the works of Rembrandt, Francisco Goya, and Vincent van Gogh. Returning to Seattle, he spent the next few years developing his painting style while living in a small apartment with fellow painter Leo Kenney. He also became a fixture at the Blue Moon Tavern, the locus of Seattle's 'Beat' counterculture, near the University of Washington. In 1954 Gilkey, William Ivey, Ward Corley, and Jack Stangle were featured in a four-man show at the Seattle Art Museum.

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Richard Gilkey Artworks
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