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Notebook 1954 to 1976

Date: 1954 to 1976

Editorial notes and comments are in boldface type.
Click highlights for additional information and images.

From early in his life George Deem wrote journal and diary notes to himself in a variety of notebook formats. In one of them in 1978 he writes, "This is rather a diary but mostly a book for writing in." 


Corporal George Deem was stationed at US Military Headquarters in Heidelberg in 1954-55. 

Naturally I'm being influenced by Europe --  tell me more to be influenced by.

Musée d'Art Moderne, Paris, 12 Jan 55
On flesh tones uses the natural flesh color but on shadowed areas that are to be dynamic in movement he dashingly employs venetian red for the dark area -- this over a subtle green brings magic to the area -- colors vibrate; the area moves -- This is usually done only where the limb of an individual seems to be in action -- blue, green, on green browns dull yellows. (Brown & venetian red) A Master of color areas -- like all his type -- the use of black is worked in even in his flesh tones. I don't approve of it -- I'm sure he has his doubts.


In 1974 the Indianapolis Museum of Art organized an exhibition of paintings and drawings by George Deem. The exhibition curator Richard L. Warrum sent posters and catalogues of the exhibition to George Deem in Cortona, who in a notebook drafted the following letter of thanks to Richard Warrum.
How does one say it, "Received your recent packet with all the stamps. Thanks for the two catalogues." I like mine better than Patuzzi's. I like "George Deem is a Painter" very much. It has something to do with the sentences in coloring books: Our dog plays outside. There must be a thanks said again and again. That's one.
Does the Deem catalogue look cultist? I've never seen anything like this before. It could really be in the Ryerson Library at the Art Institute though, couldn't it?
Your name is not in it, and I didn't realize it until you wrote about it  --  those were wonderful letters. Letters to read while looking at your catalogue. You are right, it shouldn't be after your paragraph because that paragraph is naturally sculpted out of life's forces and needs no source, but catalogue production: RLW would not have hurt.
I didn't know you paid attention to that American rule of writing on a package that there is a letter in there too. What would happen if they found a letter and you hadn't told them -- Jail. It was a lovely envelope.
Patricia Skinner is awfully good. (the painting Patricia Skinner Vermeer, 1973, reproduced catalogue page 9, was later renamed La Tour Vermeer by the artist.) The skull and candle glass are blue which makes the green do something else. Actually the green is perfect especially the over-lay at the left and the puce on the virginal player's dress -- perfect. There is no black plate used is there or is there some black in the chair. That chair!
In my calligraphy book it only says "Il perfetto Scrittore by G.G. Cresci "--  Venice 1569 BM -- what does BM mean -- Blessed Mother? May the Blessed Mother protect us all.
Anyway, I have framed the poster and when I look at it framed I can see that I don't look like anybody I know. Of course I look like the Deems, as you will see, but I don't look like a popular figure of today the way Paul Newman looks like Ronald Vance, but just wait and see, you will soon find people looking like me, and this all starts because of your poster.
How is it that you can make a poster concerning me look so museum, or is that the easy part.
The burnt umber color in the lettering is such an essence of the way I think. At first it was shocking because I've never used burnt umber and black together. I used raw umber and black in G.W. Vermeer (George Washington Vermeer), but never isolated. Now of course I'm working on a burnt umber and black combo. Somehow it has to do with silver and not gold. The lettering is pluperfect. I don't know how you found the Vermeer typeface.

End of notebook

Easel Painting, Verspronck

Johannes Verspronck died when Jan Vermeer was thirty years old. Verspronck's "Portrait of a Little Girl" was in the Vermeer house when Verspronck died.

Johannes Verspronck 1597-1662
Jan Vermeer 1632-1675

Jan Vermeer's father was a silk weaver, ran a tavern, and dealt in art. The painting "Portrait of a Little Girl" (Girl in a Blue Dress,1641, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) was well known by young Vermeer.

I have put Verspronck's "Portrait of a Little Girl" on Vermeer's easel. This easel and stool with map and chair in the background are copied from Vermeer's "An Artist in His Studio" (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)
The portrait is simple, even timid in composition: one three-fourths figure with one light source, the figure happens to be a little girl standing still. This composition has no joints, there is no way to bend nor manipulate anything with the eye. The painting has one note.            
Any good painting is good first of all because I must go see it again. When I go to see the portrait I do not look for some detail I might have forgotten, but I look at the entire painting and see it physically. It is mere physical pleasure for a painter to see. There is no worry about anything. I see only the way the plot of the paint goes. This is a solo and watching a solo is simple because I don't know what to worry about until the solo is over.

An Easel Painting (Deem's original working title). A painting showing a painting on an easel, the machine which holds the painting while it is being made. Behind Vermeer's yellow easel is the black and white studio, with part of a hanging map and a chair. These articles were not meant to be seen. They are what artists see when they see paintings in studio. I've made the studio black and white so that it appears like Polaroid before the light prints it in color. It's also like the part that was under the frame once, so it didn't need to be colored in. The red stool is where the artist sat. It is in the way. It's the orchestra showing parts of instruments over the stage so that the production is alive.

The little girl has not done anything. In order to do anything to her I must subtract or add things around her.
An easel holds a two-dimensional rectangle (who wants to work with a square?), an empty canvas. The artist makes that two-dimensional rectangle do something. My painting has the two-dimensional canvas finished to begin with. That's how I painted it. What my completed painting does now is make the portrait be something else because it is put in another dimension. It doesn't matter what size the original is, this is a reproduction process to begin with.

The planes
In color, Easel Painting has four planes. Red (stool) blue (portrait) yellow (easel) and black and white background. The portrait has four planes around it, the four sides. The first plane, the upper plane. If this were a clock, we are looking at 12 o'clock, the plane that is farthest in illusion, the hanging map. It's as good as looking out the window. The next plane going clockwise holds the chair, a crowded-in object to show how far the white wall is behind the easel. The third plane is the lower plane that has the many legs that hold up all the props that rig up the composition. The fourth plane is the most important plane that introduces the eye to the portrait.

Italian Vermeer (Caravaggio)
Jan Vermeer never went to Italy. Vermeer did not paint in any Italian style, only the genre style of his country, Holland. References to Vermeer having visited Italy only come about because there is a certain look in Vermeer's painting that suggests the technique of 17th-century Italian painting. In the 17th century painting was similar all over Europe. It could be said that Vermeer went to France, look at Le Nain, Georges de La Tour. In the 17th century the fine art of painting was fully established and from here everything in 17th-century Europe looks alike.

When an artist is painting on his picture does he ever think he is working on a masterpiece?

I do.

Sometimes there is a painting I get so involved with that I want to copy it, just to be there when the strokes are applied on, say, the red cloth, or the highlight is touched to the brow. One day Caravaggio came into my vision. I drew and painted Caravaggio compositions for a year until his images were burned into my head. It was like staring too long into a light. Each time I looked at a painting I saw a Caravaggio treatment.

An artist does this.

One of the things an artist does is put imagery together another thing an artist does is despair. During a despair the artist doesn't care what goes together. Of course during that despair many things get together. The artist sees this has happened and gets out of despair. He now has lots of new things to put together once more so he can go on. It is at these times some mistake becomes the point of creating. This is how Vermeer meets Caravaggio.
Vermeer: The Music Lesson

Martyrdom of St. Matthew, Rome, Church of San Luigi dei Francesi
The Entombment, Rome, Vatican Museum
Boy with a Basket of Fruit, Rome, Gallery Borghese

Explaining how I got interested in painting copies of Vermeer is simple. My grandfather on my father's side came from Holland. My mother was Dutch. When I was a baby I found my way to consciousness under a tiny reproduction of Jan Vermeer's Little Dutch House. Deem is Dutch.
Illustration #1
The first draft of this painting has only the Caravaggio boy transplanted into the Vermeer interior. The boy is the dynamic child found at the right side of Caravaggio's painting The Martyrdom of St. Matthew. The movement of the child is so intense that I decided to take away the rug that drapes over the table. I also eliminated the virginal that the woman is playing and the man who stands at her right. By now I knew that Caravaggio was coming strongly into the painting, so in the first drafts The Entombment shows at the right side of the painting. Because something is happening the mirror is hanging crooked. The far window is ajar and in some parts the glass is broken out. I know the composition is to be filled with diagonals, so the chair has been pushed over and the bass violin has been taken away.
Illustration #2
Some of the mirror has been put back, but there are broken areas on the lower right. The windows are more realized, and the broken parts are more obvious. There are pieces of glass on the floor that have fallen from the broken window. The addition to this version is the box on the floor and the painting "Woman with a Water Pitcher" leaning against the wall upside down. The lower leaded windows are now green. 
Illustration #3
The floor is more realized therefore a lot of clutter has filled the left side of the room. The main piece of clutter is the basket of fruit from Caravaggio's painting Boy with Basket of Fruit. The other clutter is from Vermeer sources: the cloth under the inverted painting leaning against the wall is the cloth from that leaning painting. It is blue. The box is also from that painting, as well as the large basin. The long broom is from another Vermeer painting. So far the rest of the clutter is not defined.
Illustration #4
The color in a painting has as much to do with transparent colored light as it has to do with opaque pigment dye and color choice. First the association of one color against another is an important part of qualifying a hue. Second, transparent glaze over or against an opaque area starts a spatial dimension. Next, light passing through and reflecting out again from the canvas or under-applied can cause results that cannot be imagined until a painting is at a nearly finished stage.
The artist must work rather blindly, with a mapped-out plan, to start any colored painting. When the image becomes itself the artist can then begin to allow the painting to start a very exciting communication. It's like making a garden. The plans are certain, but there is a waiting time when the plants must make the next step.
In colored light, if yellow is combined with green a turquoise light is made. That is why the painting is glazed with green blue. Any shadow has a nesting of turquoise under it. It is a cold painting of a room where things are not familiar with one another. This makes for a dynamic temperature as well as a visual dynamic construction. Caravaggio's images are exciting and are in movement. Vermeer's articles are settled and staid. Even though a chair has fallen, it is solid and settled.

It's better to have it
when it comes than
when you want it.


The sky is painted in the technique of the masters. And the textures blend equally with one another in the paint application. Jeffrey Smart

The woman holding the book, that is our painting. Bea Grabner (Administrator, The Vienna Philharmonic)

The woman holding the book does not like the musicians, they interrupt the artist painting. Bea Grabner

One morning you will find a brick wall between the woman holding the book and the musicians. Bea Grabner

You've got it framed. I like the frame. I want 100 post cards of that painting. Ann Cornelisen

There is a sky rainbow and an earth rainbow. Ron Thibodeau (Canadian artist)

They whitewashed only as high as they could reach. Germaine Greer

You force the perspective and the proportions to make the picture work -- like a fairy tale -- like a theatre piece -- not as in actuality. It's a very American sense to do it. George Deem


Stalin's favorite poet
Georgian poet
'the home of the Soviet people shall also be the home of reason"

Everybody has the right to paint a masterpiece. George Deem

Modern Vermeer Interior
They are in a photograph -- not intentionally. That is what they do when they get out of their painting.

Two Extra Buttons
You're already where you are.
Two book(s): Two extra buttons
The empty stool. The real painter can't be in the picture, he's painting it.
Painting no longer comes from what the eyes happen to see. Painting nowadays comes from what the artist has chosen to illustrate. The Impressionists taught that painting images just happened as though the painter slowly moved by landscape after landscape painting everything that was there that he saw. Later the observer saw it and because it happened to look more like a landscape than an interior there were sure hits that one spongy area is a tree, and the blue and white at the top was sky.
Painting nowadays comes from the drawing board, or from the conscious series, or from the composition and or color theory.
1. Girl with turban. Mauritshuis
2. Woman weighing gold. Washington, National Gallery
3. Woman standing at a virginal. London, National Gallery
4. Woman with a pitcher. Metropolitan Museum NY
5/6 The artist in his studio. Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum / The Concert. Boston, Isabella Gardner Museum
7. Maidservant pouring milk. Amsterdam Rijksmuseum
8. Woman laughing with Cavalier. Frick N.Y.
9. Woman reading a letter from her maid. Amsterdam Rijksmuseum
10. Woman drinking in a bar. Berlin (The Wine Glass, Gemäldegalerie)

She -- Girl with a turban is not there. She is living somewhere else or even might be dead. Every home has an Anne Frank. Home is a painting of home and its occupations and activities. It could be a poster or like a tavern sign hanging from a rod over the door.
Starting from the girl in the oval and going clockwise: the texture of the brick is like the texture of the woman weighing gold in the attic room. An attic room is always different from other rooms. The corners are dusty and the light is bad, the smell is different.
The family room. In Holland the ground floor is a public floor. The next floor up is the family's.
Painting two-dimensionalizes the three dimensional
Sculpture three dimensionalizes the two dimensional

A flat-board surface on a tablecloth. It's like a newspaper that has illustrations that do not logically fit with one another. Example: a picture of an automobile next to a wedding announcement.

Home reads from left to right like a great paragraph starting with Girl with turban.
Some of the Vermeer compositions are crowded. There is one combination of two Vermeer paintings: The artist in his studio and The Concert. Both compositions must be slightly altered to allow them to be combined. Also in HOME it is the memory of the paintings. Color is never accurate in memory. When thinking of home blue can substitute for green just like red for yellow and vice versa. It is impossible for the artist to be painting the girl with a trumpet with a concert. But remember this depiction of home is a reverie. The perspective and proportions are forced to make the essence of things depicted. It's like a fairy tale or a theatre piece -- not an actuality.
I have visited Delft and this building no longer stands. To begin with, it was not Vermeer's home, but a house he could see from across the street from his window. Now it is a memory of a home and home life. The girl in a turban is a sentimental object hanging too high in the home. She is remembered not because she's done anything only because she is gone.
The woman standing at a virginal is actually in the next house. She does not, cannot, fit into the given architectural space, therefore is a paste-on image that occupies that part of Vermeer's composition. The "blue" vine has been cut down from the original and the facade of the next building is able to be seen.
The woman with a pitcher is a cut-out placed above the brick wall as though there is a place for her to walk. She is green and gold. She is an imagined character that somehow, somewhere in this Brueghel-esque storytelling painting has had something to do up there.
Continue reading the applied images from left to right and now see the maidservant pouring milk at the far left bottom. Since the vine has been removed the upper window is able to be seen and the lower part, plus wall, is removed so that the maidservant can be seen repeating her given (gesture) of pouring milk.
The green door with the rounded frame in Vermeer's painting has at last been opened. I've always wondered what was behind the door. It is an entrance hall that leads to a room then to a room that has a table with a red cloth on it. This room exists for itself, it leads nowhere, nor can any character that's in the picture possibly have anything to do with it. It is only my decision of what I could put behind the green door that would be Dutch.
Next to the open green door is a close copy of what Vermeer painted in the original painting. It does not cooperate with the forced interior of the open green door. It is the only opening that reads correctly in the makeup of the picture. It is perspectively Home.
All the shuttered windows are open and the interior becomes a tavern. Vermeer's home had a tavern on the ground floor. Here there is a public room with a map of The Netherlands hanging on the wall above the laughing girl. Above that is a copy of the original Vermeer painting that Home is taken from. One now has an opportunity to refer to the original, but there is a window frame carefully dividing it so that one doesn't get too dependent on the original painting and lose himself making comparisons for that is no way to see Home.
In the next doorway, the old woman who is sitting in the entrance is copied from the original painting. Behind her is a dim light that shows a woman receiving a letter from her maidservant. The women are painted in grisaille then colored. At the left of the maidservant there is a tooled leather wall hanging and it continues behind the structure of the house and can be seen through (the door) in the room with the laughing girl. This laughing girl could stand up and walk through that door and be in the same room with the woman receiving a letter from her maidservant. There is a picture, a landscape, above the maidservant, which shows that the room continues to have a high ceiling like the main tavern room.
At the right of the red shutter is a woman sitting near the window drinking wine. She is depicting that the tavern continues to that side of the door.

George Deem made a trip to the U.S. in December 1976, returning to Cortona early in January 1977.

Dec. 9. NYC to Detroit.
American Airlines A.A 519Y LaGuardia 8:30 AM 10:111 AM
Gallery: Donald Morris, 105 Townsend, Birmingham, Michigan 48011

Canadian N.C. 956S
Friday, Dec. 10. Detroit to Toronto, Canada
Detroit 5:40 PM Toronto: 6:24 PM

Victorian Airlines 497Y
Monday December 13.
Toronto 8:40 AM Chicago 9:13 AM
Rockford: (Pat Sneed), Sneed Hillman Gallery, 2024 Harlem Boulevard, Rockford, Illinois 61103
Chicago: Richard Gray (Gallery), 620 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago 60611

No date, Delta Airlines 667Y
Chicago 3:05 PM
St. Louis 4:01 PM
Udo Kultermann, 6833 Kingsbury, St. Louis Missouri 63103
Robert Orchard, The Orchard Corp. of America, 1154 Reco Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri 63126 314-822-3880

TWA 136Y
Louisville Dec 18
St. Louis: 3:08 PM
Louisville: 5:00 PM
Hilary Ottensmeyer, St. Meinrad Archabbey, St.Meinrad, Indiana
Fred Merida, 315 West Broadway, Louisville, Kentucky 40202

Delta 632Y
Indianapolis Dec. 21
Louisville 1:35 PM
Indianapolis 1:05 PM
Richard Warrum, 611 N. Pennsylvania, Indianapolis, Indiana 46204

Allegheny 135S
Dec 23
Indianapolis 12:55 PM
Evansville 12:27 PM
Evansville Museum of Arts and Science, 411 S.E. Riverside Drive, Evansville, Indiana 47713
Mr. William A. Gumberts, 22 Chandler Avenue, Evansville, Indiana 47713

December 24 to December 30, Selma Deem Schulze, sister, Vincennes, Indiana

New York Dec. 30
Evansville 3:55 PM
New York 7:28 PM

I am reading about color. Now I am into colored light. I’m not a light freak, I am only combining facts and using them in pigment.
The primary colors in light are Red, Green and Blue-Violet. The combining of Red and Green makes Yellow. Green and Blue-Violet makes light Turquoise.
I am painting a Vermeer with a green window. The light that passes through is yellow so I get a light Turquoise light – thus a turquoise room.
End of notebook


Red must be feminine
because red and white fight
and white is feminine
That is why white and blue
get along. Blue being masculine
Red and blue get along very
well and so do red white and
blue but I've never seen two
girls and one get along.
Red is feminine: complement (yellow)
Blue is masculine:  contrast (red, yellow)
Yellow is feminine: complement (red)

Ludwig Museum, Cologne
Franz Gertsch. B. 1930
"Marina Schminkt Luciano," 1975
large painting (photo paint) two girls' heads. One applying lipstick to other.

Rudolf Hansner
Portrait of Adam Selbritt
Smoothly painted over clear  head repeated three times one over the other -- the final one (small) is smiling. The painting ability is remarkable: clear, smooth with great sense of color.

Otto Dix
Der Arzt, 1921
a doctor -- surgeon -- mad/ cruel/ frightening in color and concept.
Paul Mansouroff 1896
Die Hochzeiten
(Libretto der Oper von Igor Strawinski) 1913
Words -- in German --- brushed lettered over color pattern
Joseph Beuys, 1921
A table with bar-bell-like article-- fallen over because of weight. Brass or iron.
A copy of Vermeer's Artist in His Studio
with alterations and two (actual buttons).

Two extra buttons are usually sewed on the inner lining of a man's suit, very near the inside coat pocket on the right. I have seen men wear these buttons attached all during the life of the suit. This painting is inside and behind the drapefabric seen at the left. It is all going on inside. Before talking about this painting it must be looked at for a long time. It is a copy, it is an interior, yet it spills out of itself onto a general unexplained space that borders the painting. This surrounding area holds two real buttons sewed on to the canvas. These two buttons begin the illusion of certainty and uncertainty. This painting is a copy but goes beyond the original.
Indeed it is altered from the original. Not only is the artist removed from (the stool) in front of his easel but the easel holds the original painting.
Any man who wears a suit is aware of different activities because he has a breast pocket. He can use it for whatever he likes, but using that pocket is different from everyday. This painting was painted only when I wore a suit coat. The extra buttons were taken off the jacket and sewed onto the painting after I was well into the composing of this picture. The jacket I wore was light cream-colored summer linen and had white buttons. It was single breasted. It no longer exists.
Inside the composition, the woman holding a trumpet is colored in contrast to the original. Instead of a blue robe over her shoulders it is yellow. Instead of holding a yellow book, it is blue. Instead of green leaves on her head they are red. Her yellow-toned skirt has turned into a purple tone. She is modeling for the artist and wearing what she has. The artist changes color to suit what they want.
This painting was all conceived with burnt sienna and white. It looked at one time like a fading photograph until the local color was applied. I was always wearing a cream-colored linen jacket, but removed the extra buttons and sewed them on to the canvas because I didn't want to misplace them. That is when the color came. Yellow with earth red or burnt sienna is inside. The enamel-like colors of the table and the articles on it are outside, as are the buttons and the absorbing border.
Another part of  "Two Extra Buttons"  is the realizing that Vermeer's composition is repeated in this painting. A repeat is an extra.
The map and lower right corner remain burnt sienna because these areas are (inactivated) made to be inactive. Any forced illusion works more brightly if the unforced parts are given less attention. The painting starts by catching the eye at the left then bringing focus on in to the center, to the woman's face (any human focus goes first to faces), but the sharp white wall area between the draped fabric and the map pulls the most attention. Enough momentum now has been generated so that the eye can travel down over the table and objects. The eye has a sense of fullness, so that any empty area now can come into focus.  Now the map and the unfinished, color-less floor and the chair behind the easel.
The easel! Suddenly we are into another focus upon seeing the painting on the easel. It is not expected. It is another extra. The two of "two extra buttons."

My palette
  • Titanium white
  • Alizarin Crimson
  • Windsor Green / Phthalo Green
  • Cerulean Blue
  • Cadmium Red Light / Deep / medium
  • Ivory Black
  • Indian Red
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Raw Sienna
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Raw Umber
  • Burnt Umber
  • Phthalo Blue
  • Colbalt Violet or Violet Lake
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Cadmium Yellow medium / and light (pale)
  • Rose Madder (Glaze)
  • Cadmium Orange
  • Naples Yellow
  • Light red
  • English Red
  • Colbalt Blue
  • Geranium Lake

There was an empty building between my place (65 Fulton Street, New York) and David's (David Lee). When you're living in a loft, it is difficult to guess what kind of person will move next door. On the second floor of this building there is a self-styled carpenter named Martin. He moved in lots of machines, but never comes to work them. Wally Ugorski has a loft on Cliff Street. It's above some kind of pickle packing concern. Wally always smells like a pickle.
There is a man occupying the second floor of the building between David and me. He is about 27 years old and is named Mel. he raises white rats and white mice for a chemical company. I asked him to give me a mouse for my cat, but he wouldn't do that because he doesn't like to know about the mice dying.
One day Mel was down on the roof below me and I went down to talk with him and he asked me about a safe that had been pitched away and was leaning against the wall of the building next to this one. I told him, David heard me, of the great trouble people were having on trying to get that safe open. It is supposed to have some valuables in it. Mel got very interested and within the week Mel had burned someway through the safe and merely found some old business papers.