Wednesday, May 20, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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William Ivey, A Sensitive Mentor And Dean Of Northwest Painters

The Seattle art world is in mourning for William Ivey, widely recognized as the dean of Northwest painters, who died at 10 p.m. Sunday. He was 72.

"He was a great man - a truly sensitive human being who cared about the world and its people. Mr. Ivey was a mentor to so many of us in the art world," said John Braseth, a partner with Gordon Woodside in the gallery that has handled Mr. Ivey's work since 1960.

For the past 1 1/2 years, Mr. Ivey battled cancer that began as a skin cancer on his stomach, at the site of surgeries for a wound suffered during World War II.

Mr. Ivey was a fourth-generation Seattleite, born Sept. 30, 1919. He attended Broadway High School and entered the University of Washington in 1937. He planned to become a lawyer but changed his mind when he took art classes at Cornish School, during the prewar years that Mark Tobey taught there.

Inducted into the Army in 1941, Mr. Ivey trained as a paratrooper and served in the Aleutians, Africa and Italy. After his discharge, he entered the California School of Fine Arts, where he studied under the Abstract Expressionist master Clyfford Still.

Mr. Ivey devoted his career to painting in the Abstract Expressionist style. His first sale was to Zoe Dusanne, who in 1950 opened one of Seattle's early art galleries. In her collection, his work joined pieces by Arp, Calder, Duchamp and Mondrian.

For much of his career, Mr. Ivey shunned the spotlight. He refused to apply for public commissions and did not appear at the openings of his exhibitions because praise made him uneasy.

Since an early show when Woodside horrified Mr. Ivey by titling one of his canvases "Summer Breeze," Mr. Ivey was adamant that his paintings remain untitled.

For Mr. Ivey, painting was process and it engrossed him completely. "Form comes easier to me than color," he once explained. "Once I begin to get the color right, the painting starts to fall into place, because color controls the space. I could go on nitpicking subtleties of color, or shifting an edge forever, but I know a painting is done when no piece of it can be taken out."

He received a Ford Foundation Purchase Award in 1960 and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1962. In 1964 and 1975, he received one-man exhibitions at the Seattle Art Museum.

In 1983, when the King County Arts Commission named him artist of the year, he used the $25,000 award to build a studio behind his Queen Anne home.

Despite his stylistic mastery, Mr. Ivey's hermit-like habits and refusal to promote his work kept his art little known outside the Northwest.

However, a 1989 retrospective exhibition of his work at the Henry Art Gallery was widely acclaimed in reviews carried in national publications.

He is survived by his wife, Helen, of Seattle; a daughter, Kathleen Kanealii of Seattle; a sister, Virginia Martinson, of Renton; and two grandchildren, Matthew Kanealii, 13, and Kimberly Kanealii, 3.

A memorial will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Wiggen & Sons Mortuary, 2003 N.W. 57th St. The family requests remembrances be sent to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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