Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search results

Conger, William

 Person

Artist and professor William Frame Conger was born in Dixon, Illinois, on May 29, 1937 to Robert Allen and Catherine Florence Conger, and spent much of his childhood in Evanston. Taught and mentored by the influential abstractionist Raymond Jonson, Conger received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of New Mexico in 1960. Conger also studied with Elaine de Kooning, who was then a visiting artist at the University of New Mexico. Continuing his studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and at the University of Chicago, he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the latter school in 1966.

An abstract painter who often evokes nature in his paintings, Conger built a distinguished career as an artist and educator. He began showing his work in competitive museum shows, invitationals sponsored by college galleries, and other similar venues in the late 1950s. He had his first solo exhibition in 1974.[1] Conger has since shown his work in many select solo and group exhibitions. He has placed works in collections at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Wichita Art Museum, the Jonson Gallery of the University of New Mexico Art Museum, the Illinois State Museum, and the Rockford Art Museum, as well as in many significant corporate and private collections. Conger has long been represented by the Roy Boyd Gallery of Chicago.

Along with his career as a painter, Conger taught in college art programs for 40 years. His first teaching position was at Rock Valley College from 1966 to 1971 where he was first an instructor and then an assistant professor of art. Conger taught at DePaul University from 1971 to 1984, as assistant professor and later professor of art. A respected administrator, Conger was the chair of the Visual Art Department at DePaul for 10 years. In 1985, Conger accepted a position as professor of Art Theory and Practice at Northwestern University after having served as a visiting professor the previous year. He has held appointments as a visiting artist at many schools, including the University of Chicago, Cornell University, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

While at Northwestern, Conger taught a number of undergraduate and graduate courses and helped pioneer the university’s Integrated Arts Program, of which he was a core faculty member. In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Conger served as chair of Northwestern’s Art Theory and Practice department for 12 years and helped improve the art department's relationship with other departments of the university. He also served on various university committees, including the University Faculty Reappointment, Promotion, Tenure, and Dismissal Appeals Panel (UFRPTDAP) and the Block Gallery Advisory Committee. Conger further involved himself in campus life by serving as a faculty associate at Jones Residential College, where he gave several presentations about his work.

Conger often lectured about his work, the work of others, and contemporary issues in art at museum and gallery talks and panel discussions. Along with Richard Loving and Frank Piatek, Conger founded Chicago Art Write, a publication of artists' writings on art, in 1984 and served as an editor until 1991. Conger published several articles and essays, including one in the book Psychoanalytic Studies of Biography (1987), and contributed to Mary Gedo’s Looking at Art from the Inside Out (1984). Conger has served as a juror for art exhibitions in the Midwest since 1967 and as a member of art-related advisory bodies, such as the Board of Directors for the OxBow Art School (1983-1986) and the Advisory Board of the Chicago Art Foundation (since 2005).

2Conger has been termed by the famed art critic Donald Kuspit as a "fantastic abstractionist."[2] He painted with both geometric and natural styles at the same time, creating, in Conger's own words, "as-if places and stories."[3] He rarely depicted specific details, but left behind sufficient hints of the concrete -- landscapes, horizons -- to awaken and stimulate the viewer's imagination. Deep space played prominently, and flat shapes were often juxtaposed with more visually spacious figures. Paradox is also frequently a theme in his works; Conger once stating that "paradoxical duality is crucial to my painting."[4] The presentation of two figures occupying the exact same time and space, or of a shape suggesting solid matter and empty space, are not uncommon in his paintings. Likewise, unfinished shapes often appear cut-off at the borders of Conger's paintings as reminders of the necessity of imagination in art and perception. All at once, his paintings are both detached and emotional, static and yet flowing. He more than merits his legacy as one of Chicago's great abstractionist painters.

William Conger retired from Northwestern in 2006, accepting appointment as professor emeritus.

A retrospective of Conger's work was mounted at the Chicago Cultural Center from January 24 to March 29, 2009, a significant honor for a local artist. (For the catalog of the retrospective, please see: Conger, William, Donald B. Kuspit, and Julie Karabenick. William Conger: Paintings 1958-2008: Chicago Cultural Center January 24-March 29, 2009. Chicago: Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, 2009.)

[1] Conger, William. "Artist Story: William Conger." Chicago Artists Resource. Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. 1 May 2008 [http://www.chicagoartistsresource.org/visual-arts/node/355].

[2] William Conger : Paintings 1958-2008 : Chicago Cultural Center January 24-March 29, 2009 / essay by Donald Kuspit ; interview with Julie Karabenick.2009.) Chicago: Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, 2009.

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

William F. Conger (1937- ) Papers

 Collection
Identifier: 11/3/3/5
Abstract Abstract painter William Conger has had many solo and group exhibitions, has placed works in significant public, corporate, and private collections, and has taught in college art programs for 40 years, including teaching at Northwestern from 1985-2006. The Papers include correspondence, teaching materials, biographical materials, administrative records, and materials pertaining to talks and lectures.