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Michael Goldberg, Abstract Expressionist painter

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New York Times News Service / January 9, 2008

NEW YORK - Michael Goldberg, an abstract painter of the New York School whose vibrant works are in major museums and private collections, died Dec. 31 in Manhattan. He was 83.

The apparent cause was a heart attack he suffered while working in his studio on the Bowery, said his wife, the artist Lynn Umlauf. It was the same studio he took over from Mark Rothko in the 1950s.

Mr. Goldberg was a painter of strong convictions who in his youth was influenced by the gestural Abstract Expressionist mode of older painters such as Franz Kline, Clyfford Still, and Willem de Kooning, and never abandoned it. The improvisational nature of jazz, which he admired, was also important to his work.

Stuck like some of his peers with the label "second-generation Abstract Expressionist," Mr. Goldberg shrugged it off. "Labels come and go," he told Saul Ostrow, the conceptual artist and close friend, in a 2001 interview for the magazine Bomb. "It makes no difference to what you're trying to do."

He saw abstract painting, he told Ostrow, as "still the primary visual challenge of our time. It might get harder and harder to make an abstract image that's believable, but I think that just makes the challenge greater."

Mr. Goldberg and his wife both taught at the School of Visual Arts. Since 1980, he had spent five months of each year in Tuscany, Italy, on an estate outside Siena. Most of the works produced there last summer appeared in his show at Knoedler & Co. in September. Done with oil sticks pressed directly against the canvas, a method Mr. Goldberg chose some years ago over brushing with paint, they are energetic productions based on what he called a "quasi grid," with patchy squares of color randomly intersected by strong diagonals.

A Bronx native, Michael Goldberg began classes at the Art Students League at 14. From 1940 to 1942 he attended the school run by the Abstract Expressionist painter and teacher Hans Hofmann. During World War II. he was an Army master sergeant in North Africa and served in Burma with the commando unit known as Merrill's Marauders. Mr. Goldberg received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

After further study at the League and the Hofmann school, he set up shop as a painter.

In 1951, his work made its first public appearance in the Ninth Street Show, a groundbreaking exhibition of the new New York avant-garde.

In his youth, he reminisced, he and his colleagues never expected to make money at painting. When the collector Walter P. Chrysler Jr. came to his studio one day in the early 1950s, he bought $10,000 worth of his work. Unemployed at the time, with no bank account, Mr. Goldberg received the first payment on a freezing midwinter day.

His first act was to buy an electric blanket. He spent the weekend in bed under the blanket, the money tucked under his arm.

In addition to Umlauf, whom he met in 1969 and married 10 years later, Mr. Goldberg leaves a brother, Gerald of Manhattan; and two stepchildren from an earlier marriage to the writer Patsy Southgate: Luke Matthiessen of Brooklyn and Sara Carey Matthiessen of Northport, N.Y.

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