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David McCosh

American, 1903-1980


Cedar Rapids 1903



Occupation or Type



Northwest artist

Oregon artist


David McCosh began his academic career as a teacher at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1931 to 1933. He was commissioned to paint a mural for the Chicago World’s Fair Century of Progress. As a WPA artist he also created murals for the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C., the Beresford, South Dakota Post Office, and the Kelso, Washington Post Office. He arrived at the University of Oregon to teach art in 1935 and remained there until his retirement in 1970. McCosh had great importance as a teacher and influenced many young artists during his tenure. Leonard Kimbrell said of him, "McCosh leads one to look and teaches one to see."

David McCosh's paintings from the 1920s and early '30s were influenced by American Regionalist painters such as Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton and members of the Ashcan School. After he won a European Travel Scholarship in 1927 and a Tiffany Foundation Fellowship from 1929-1930, his work showed the influence of Cezanne and Matisse. In the 1930s social realism was his subject, painted in a realistic and individualistic style; later works became more abstract. Until the mid-1950s McCosh’s paintings were somber in mood, supported by black. He turned to brilliant color, using deep violets, greens, and reds in his earlier works, giving way to the bright yellows and blues of his later years. He suffered a mid-life crisis which was resolved with a sabbatical year painting along the coast near Cohasset, Washington. There he painted without brushes, applying paint directly from the tube to the canvas. He later returned to using his brushes.

The 1940s and '50s showed a major shift in his style from the figurative or primarily representational view of landscape and the world to one progressively more abstract, with a strong, almost calligraphic component. In his later style he continued to work with the relationship between figure and ground, shape and surroundings. McCosh was an artist who steadily grew and evolved as he traveled, painted and experienced life. He developed new ways of looking at things; his work bore little relationship to art trends of the day. David McCosh said, "I believe that learning to paint is learning to see."

Artist biography reproduced with permission from the authors, Oregon Painters: the First Hundred Years (1859-1959), Ginny Allen and Jody Klevit.



Related People

Mark Clarke (American, 1935-2016)

Associate of: Leonard Buell Kimbrell (American, 1922-2013)

Spouse: Anne Kutka McCosh (American, 1902-1994)

Teacher of: Vernon Witham (American, born 1925)

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