In Remembrance: William G. Anthony ’58 Died on December 24 2022

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Born in Monmouth, New Jersey, September 25, 1934, Bill Anthony grew up during WWII, along with his older brother Bob, in Virginia Beach and Tacoma, Washington State. Before her marriage to Bill's father, his mother, Martha Armstrong from Ohio, had owned a gift shop in Honolulu, Hawaii. His father, Peter Antonovich (later Anthony), was an architect and became a colonel in the US Army Corps of Engineers in WWII who oversaw the construction of two large military bases. He also served in WWI. Bill's sister-in-law has his diary.

Although his parents had reservations about his becoming an artist, Bill's metier was visual art. He cultivated his unique style of drawing from the worst mistakes his students made; combined with satirical interpretations, Bill invited viewers to re-experience famous works of art through parody, not only of the subject matter but of fine art techniques.

In addition to his degree in European history from Yale (1958), Bill took art classes in San Francisco and then, while at Yale, he studied modern art with the great former Bauhaus colorist, Josef Albers, and in New York City with Theodore Stamos at the Art Students' League.

Bill's appreciation for classical paintings is revealed in his visual satire using a child-like style enjoyed by many, even if the art it references is not always recognized. His humor gently attacks the pomposity and foibles of society as depicted in traditional art, the contemporary art market, and by famous painters. The functions of satire and irony are to poke fun but also to make people reassess situations. His insights challenged the vanity and pretensions in the commercial art world.

Art Historian Robert Rosenblum wrote the Foreword to Bill's book of drawings, Bill Anthony's Greatest Hits (1988). "His range is broad, and no period of art history escaped his pen: from reimagining Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delight to placing Warhol's soup can into Munch's The Scream, nothing was off limits.” Other critical commentary includes: "Incisive social commentary in the delicious disguise of incompetence"—Leo Steinberg; "Oh, that must be the work of a retarded person"—anonymous gallery visitor; "As weird and wonderful as gargoyles"—George Plimpton.

During a break in his studies at Yale, Bill served in the US Army in the mid-1950s, stationed in Germany. While in Europe he visited many of the surviving art museums and cathedrals while on furlough and appears never to have forgotten all he saw. This deep fund of knowledge would inform his art. After he was discharged from the army, he met up with his parents and other family members at the home of his maternal grandfather, G. W. Armstrong, in Ohio before returning to Yale to finish his degree in European history.

He lived for several years in Sausalito, California, teaching art and looking after his mother in her final illness. Bill's father's family had arrived on the West Coast in the late nineteenth century—his grandfather emigrated from Croatia to sail to California around the tip of South America on the famous clipper ship Flying Cloud. Bill's father Peter Anthony, born Emile Pierre Antonovich (1884), studied architecture and engineering at UC–Berkeley and recorded his memories of the devastating April 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. He served in both WWI and WWII. 

In the early 1960s, Bill moved to New York City to study art and found a 5th-floor walk-up flat in the St. Marks area of the East Village, near where his future wife Norma Neuman lived with her mother and sister. In 1970 Bill became one of the first residents of Westbeth Artist Housing where he would remain for the rest of his life. Most of his artistic and social activities would involve this unique housing community that he helped to promote. He served on the Artist Residents' Council and was influential on the admissions committees, as he cared about the future of the community. His humility and focus on others included working for Greenwich House teaching art to seniors through the city's recreation department, and he often brought interesting elderly pupils home to his apartment and introduced them to his friends; one such friend was the painter Joseph Pollet (who lost his studio in Washington Square due to a fire), father of the writer Elizabeth Pollet who spent her final years in Westbeth. He also promoted some younger artists, including a street artist whose work he later donated to the Morgan Library.

Bill's wry style inspired one reviewer to dub Bill an "ironic icon." His innate sense of good-humored mockery was akin to that of his father Peter who delighted in telling tall tales about his First World War experiences and sang songs like "Lily Marlene" from Paris. Perhaps Bill's father understood why the cartoonish style was developed deliberately, as Bill tried to explain to his cousin Alison when she was 12, who insisted she preferred his original semi-abstract figurative work. But he had become enchanted by all the terrible mistakes of his drawing students so that he decided to forego making fine art and instead make his mark by cultivating the errors in perspective and anatomy, such as fingers like bunches of sausages. He illuminates this decision in his first book, A New Approach to Figure Drawing, dedicated to his father. 

Much would follow: exhibitions in New York City, Santa Monica, Cologne, Denmark, and Iceland; and more books, including Bible Stories (Jargon Society, 1978), War is Swell (Jargon Society, 2000), and Deviant Draftsmanship (Stalke, 2021).

Bill Anthony died December 24, 2022, of complications suffered after having rushed into a fire in his Westbeth apartment on December 17. He is survived by his wife, Norma N. Anthony, a retired executive with Wiley Publishers with whom he shared a life at Westbeth for decades.

Bill is terribly missed by all, including his first cousins: Alison Armstrong, Betty Hartman, Martha A. Phelan, and Edward Subler, and their collective many (15+) offspring (first cousins twice removed and second cousins); and by nephews Graham Anthony and Peter Anthony and their children Thomas and Charlotte, respectively; and by sister-in-law Joan C. Anthony. He was preceded in death by his cousin George David Armstrong, luthier in Oregon; and by brother Robert Armstrong Anthony, professor of international law (at Cornell University and George Mason), of McLean, Virginia. 

Bill Anthony is represented by Stalke Galleri, Kirke Sonnerup, Denmark; by Thomas Rehbein Galerie, Cologne, Germany; and by Corridor Gallery, Reykjavik, Iceland. 

Wherever Bill went, people appreciated his warm thoughtfulness and his kindness and bright mind that saw the humor and humanity in every situation; his gentle responses made all around him feel happy about interacting with him.

Norma recalls: "Bill was such a joy—so kind to others and a gentle man. Bill and I would have [been] married 40 years in January. We met in 1964 and were married in January 1983, together 59 years. In that whole time, I never felt his annoyance. If I became upset, he would just call me by my pet name and everything felt fine again. We met at a party for some political candidate, I don't remember which one, at the Village bar and restaurant, Chumley's, famous for being frequented by writers since Prohibition. Bill had just signed the contract for his book on figure drawing. He was full of infectious enthusiasm. It was love at first sight and never changed."

—Submitted by the family.

1 remembrance

  • Judy Lawne
    Judy Lawne, 4:48pm January 25 2023 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    When I moved to Westbeth ( a bit intimidated ) Bill was one of the first people I met and he showed me around Westbeth, his studio, his fun deep work and his always smiling face. We went to lunch at a favorite Mexican restaurant on 12st & Washington (gone now) and met his lovely wife Norma.
    Bill always greeted me with a big smile and asking what I was working on and how i was doing. A genuinely interested person with a deep sensitivity that showed on his handsome face.
    You’ll be sorely missed dear Bill … May you Rest In Peace and will always live in my heart. I was proud to know you… your strong creative positive self.
    Forever ♾ Judy Lawne

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