Picture of the Week: Never by John Egner

September 17, 2023

Never, John Egner, Cass Corridor, 1987, oil on canvas, 120 x 108 in.

John Egner was a treasured artist, educator, mentor, husband, father, grandfather, and friend. He was born in Philadelphia, PA, in 1940, but New York and Detroit played pivotal roles in his life. Egner felt that he was “a New Yorker at heart.” He spent time at the Art Students’ League of New York as a teenager. After a short period at the Brooklyn Museum Art School, Egner stayed in New York for a couple more years before earning his MFA from Yale. Even after moving to Detroit, he maintained his connection to New York. 

In 1966, following his graduation from Yale, Egner moved to Detroit. He had a profound impact on the city’s art community. Egner taught at Wayne State University for 21 years and inspired many Detroit artists along the way. His students and colleagues appreciated his magnetic personality, humbleness, and great advice. Likewise, the city had a significant impact on his art. Egner was part of Detroit’s Cass Corridor art movement of the 1960s and 1970s, which privileged an industrial, gritty aesthetic. He composed Cass Corridor-inspired work alongside artists such as Gordon Newton, Robert Sestok, Ellen Phelan, Aris Koutroulis, Brenda Goodman, Michael Luchs, Douglas James, Nancy Pletos, Steve Foust, Nancy Mitchnick, Jim Chatelain, John Piet, Gilda Snowden, and many more. 

During a sabbatical from Wayne State in 1979, Egner settled into his first studio in New York City. He eventually decided to move from Detroit to New York; Nevertheless, he visited Detroit multiple times per month. Egner also forged connections between the two cities through his friendships with Susanne Hilberry and James Duffy. He introduced Duffy to New York artists such as Joel Shapiro, Judy Pfaff, Guy Goodwin, and Elizabeth Murray. 

In addition to art, Egner enjoyed listening to jazz and rock music, reading, sports, discussing philosophy and politics, and spending time with his friends and family. Egner passed away in October 2021, but his legacy lives on as a beloved artist and role model. 

As an artist, Egner considered himself “an evolver.” He created a plethora of work, including geometric drawings, layered paintings, murals, and wooden sculptures. His 1987 painting Never serves as an example of his use of layering and geometric shapes. Egner fills the canvas with rectangles, squares, and circles of various sizes and positions them at varying angles. In addition to creating layers of shapes, there appear to be layers within them. He employs distinct vertical and horizontal brushstrokes within each form, ranging in colors, shades, and thickness. This creates texture and a sense of movement throughout the composition, drawing the eye from one shape to the next. He and his wife Linda would have been living in Soho at the time he created this painting, but the Cass Corridor influence is still evident. Although the work consists of abstract, geometric shapes, Egner’s placement of these forms gives an industrial feel. The circles, paired with the rectangles and squares produce the illusion of a machine in a factory, with gears shifting and rotating. Spanning 10 feet by 9 feet, the scale of the canvas aids in bringing the factory machinery image to life. Egner’s title for the work, Never, adds some mystery. Perhaps it connects to the perpetual movement of the forms. Alternatively, such a title may serve the purpose of sheer mystery and intrigue, without one correct answer for its meaning.

Written by Angela Athnasios

Source: https://hallandpeet.com/tribute/details/1789/John-Egner/obituary.html

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