March 2017 - April 2017
A celebration of spring with an exhibition of colorful paintings, sculptures, and works on paper, including work by Herbert Bayer, Thomas Downing, Charles Hinman, James Hilleary, and others.
About the Artists
(1928 - 1985)
Thomas Downing was born in Suffolk, Virginia. He studied at Randolph-Macon College, Ashland, Virginia, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1948. He then studied at the Pratt Institute, a well-known art school in Brooklyn, New York, until 1950. That year he received a grant from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, enabling him to travel to Europe, where he studied briefly at the Académie Julian in Paris.
In 1951 he returned to the United States, and after serving in the U.S. Army, settled in Washington, D.C., where he began to teach, in 1953.
The following summer, he enrolled in a summer institute at Catholic University, studying under Kenneth Noland. He became a friend of Noland, who became a significant influence on Downing's art and who was one of the founders of the Washington Color Field Movement.
In the late 1950s, Downing shared a studio with Howard Mehring, another artist of the Washington Color School and Color Field painting. In 1964 Clement Greenberg included Noland, Mehring, Downing and others in his traveling museum exhibition called Post-painterly Abstraction.
From 1965 to 1968, Downing taught at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, D.C. There he taught several people who in their turn became artists influenced by Downing's ideas, including Sam Gilliam.
His paintings to a large extent consisted of circles arranged in precise patterns on the canvas, with colors often chosen according to ideas of symmetry. Downing's Spot Paintings are his best known works.
In the last ten years of his life, Downing lived in Provincetown, Massachusetts. He died in October 1985 in Provincetown, Massachusetts at the age of 57. In its obituary the Washington Times characterized his death as mysterious. The newspaper was referring to the then recent demise of Washington Color Field artist Gene Davis (1920–1985) and to the earlier death of Howard Mehring (1931–1978), as well.
(1900 - 1985)
Herbert Bayer (1900-1985) was born in Austria, where he entered into an apprenticeship under the architect and designer, Georg Smidthammer, with whom Bayer learned drawing, painting, and architectural drafting, inspired by nature and without formal knowledge of art history. In 1920, Bayer discovered the theoretical writings of the artist Vassily Kandinsky, as well as Walter Gropius’ 1919 Bauhaus manifesto, in which Gropius declared the necessity for a return to crafts, in which were found true creativity and inspiration. Bayer traveled to Weimar to meet Gropius in October of 1921 and was immediately accepted into the Bauhaus. There, he was deeply influenced by the instruction of Kandinsky, Johannes Itten and Paul Klee.
In 1928 Bayer moved to Berlin together with several members of the Bauhaus staff including Gropius, Moholy-Nagy and Marcel Breuer. He found work as a freelance graphic designer, particularly with German Vogue, under its art director Agha. When the latter returned to Paris, Bayer joined the staff full time, and also worked increasingly with Dorland, the magazine's principle advertising agency. It was in the period from 1928 to his emigration to America in 1938 that he developed his unique vision as an artist, combining a strongly modernist aesthetic sense with a rare ability to convey meaning clearly and directly. This seamless combination of art, craft and design mark Bayer as true prophet of Bauhaus theories.
Bayer followed Gropius to America in 1938, and set his breadth of skills to work later that year in designing the landmark Bauhaus 1918-1928 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. Bayer flourished in New York as a designer and architect, but it was his meeting with the industrialist Walter Paepcke in 1946 that allowed him to harness his concepts of 'total design' to the postwar boom. Paepcke was developing Aspen as a cultural and intellectual destination, and found in Bayer the perfect collaborator. Bayer was designer, educator and indeed architect for Paepcke's Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies (later The Aspen Institute), which promulgated the very Bauhaus project to encourage cooperation between art and industry and the role of the arts in society. From 1965 he fulfilled a similar role in advising Robert O. Anderson, chairman of the Atlantic Richfield Company.
His work is represented in the collections of the Guggenheim Museum, New York, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin, Schubladen Museum, Bern, Switzerland, Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany, Museum of Modern Art, Mexico City.
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(1924 - 2014)
Born in 1924, James Hilleary was a native of Georgetown, Washington, D.C. Despite his vocation as a practicing architect he had a sixty-plus year career as an artist. He studied at the Catholic University of America in Washington, receiving his degree in 1950. Best known for his paintings in oil and acrylic, he produced an extensive body of works on paper as well as sculptures in plexiglass. Hilleary lived and worked in Bethesda, Maryland.
The influence of Hilleary’s father, who was both an amateur artist and musician, played a significant role in his early life and in his youth he gave serious thought to becoming a professional pianist. An interest in architecture eventually came to the fore but Hilleary’s education was interrupted by the advent of World War II and three years of service in the army. Following the war he returned to his architectural studies and eventually established his own practice. The possibility of a career as an artist was never a serious consideration.
Architecture and art are closely related disciplines and Hilleary never lost his early interest in drawing and painting. His father had studied painting with C. Law Watkins at the Phillips Collection and the art that Hilleary had been exposed to at that venerable institution left a lasting impression. Always interested in the artists of his day, Hilleary had aspirations to become a serious collector but lacked the finances to acquire work by the painters whose work he admired. Much in the manner of the academic model of an earlier era, he began to emulate their work in his own studio, steadily developing his confidence and technique. Hilleary’s efforts were rewarded when he realized that he had executed a painting of genuine originality. Inspired by this breakthrough he decided to dedicate himself to the development of his personal style.
Hilleary recalled that “Living in the suburbs and busy supporting a family, I was somewhat isolated from the city [Washington, D.C.] art scene and was completely unaware of the art school that Leonard Berkowitz and his first wife founded as a gathering place for emerging artists. I am sure that attending the school would have hastened by development.”
Dispiriting though such isolation may be, it likely worked to Hilleary’s eventual benefit. In 1960 his paintings came to the attention of Adelyn Breskin, Director of the Baltimore Art Museum, who pointed out that Hilleary’s independent development paralleled that of the group that became to be known as the Washington Color School. Following on the heels of the New York-based Abstract Expressionist movement, in the late 1950s the Washington Color School artists were beginning to dominate the local art scene and to gain significant national recognition. Hilleary began to make contact with various artists of the Color School, several of whom (Gene Davis, Thomas Downing, and Howard Mehring among them) were represented at the Henri Gallery in Alexandria, Virginia. In 1967 the gallery relocated to 21st Street in Washington, near the Phillips Collection, and Hilleary became the architect for the renovation of the building. He had his first solo exhibition at the Henri in 1968, thusly launching what Hilleary referred to “an unplanned and unexpected second career.”
Hilleary exhibited his work steadily after that time, and in 2003 an forty-year retrospective of his work was presented at the Edison Place Gallery in Washington, D.C. Acknowledging the artist’s early musical aspirations, Donald Kuspit wrote of that exhibition, “Hilleary’s abstract paintings have their sophisticated place in its [“musical abstraction’s”] history. Indeed, they civilize the primitive musical painting with which 20th century abstraction began, making it harmonious with no loss of drama. Inner conflict is unresolved in Kandinsky’s visual music—from the beginning, abstract painting was an emotional breathing space in an everyday world which had none—but Hilleary’s visual music resolves it in the act of revealing it, which is why music is said to be healing.”
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Donald Roy Thompson was born in 1936, in Fowler, California. He received his B.A. degree from Sacramento State University in 1960. He received his M.A also from Sacramento State University in 1962. His most notable art instructor was Wayne Thiebaud. Among his classmates were Fritz Scholder and Merrill Mahaffey, both successful artists in Santa Fe. From 1964-2000 Donald was an art instructor at Cabrillo College in Aptos, California. Before he settled down to teach, Donald traveled and lived in Mexico City, where he was able to observe closely the murals of Diego Rivera. In 2013 Thompson settled in Santa Fe. There he began his current series of work, rekindling an aesthetic from four decades previous.
Like so many color field painters of his generation, Thompson was influenced by Johannes Itten and Josef Albers, as well as by Matisse and Mondrian. During an impoverished time in his early art career he was unable to afford good quality paint so instead he used layers of hand dyed cheesecloth for a large installation at the Cabrillo College Gallery. It helped form the basis of the ideas of transparency that he later produced in his acrylic color field paintings of 1971-75. By 1972 Donald began again to use opaque colors on various sizes of canvas, focusing on the illusion of transparency. By 1974 he began to feel the need for greater physicality. He began to employ the use of stretched canvases of a single color bolted together from large to huge (7.5’ X 10’) now in the Oakland Museum.
Thompson has exhibited solo and group shows both nationally and internationally. These include solo shows at Larry Evans/Willis Gallery, Foster Goldstrom, and Galeria Carl Van der Voort in San Francisco, and Ibiza, Spain. He had solo shows at Frederick Spratt Gallery in San Jose, California, as well as Shasta College Gallery, in Redding California and Cabrillo College in Aptos, California. His group shows include Leila Taghinia-Milani, New York City, Basel Art Fair, Switzerland, Second British International Print Biennale, Yorkshire, England, and "40 Now California Painters," an invitational show that toured the Southeast. Thompson’s Paintings are found in major collections including The Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA.; Seattle First National Bank (Seafirst), Seattle, WA; Crocker Museum, Sacramento, CA, Art Museum of Santa Cruz County, Santa Cruz, CA.
Donald Thompson’s exhibitions have been reviewed well by Thomas Albright of the San Francisco Chronicle, July 28, 1964, Sept. 28, 1967; Henry Hopkins, The Tampa Tribune, April, 16, 1968; Mark Levy, Artweek, December 18, 1982; Claude LeSuer, ArtSpeak, June 23, 1983, New York, N.Y.
Watch an interview with Donald Roy Thompson with art historian Kathryn Davis
(1900 - 1967)
To Oskar Fischinger, the potential of abstraction was infinite. As a visionary of abstract expression, Fischinger left an indelible mark in filmmaking history, and is considered one of the pioneers of non-objective animation and visual music. Born in Gelnhausen, Germany in 1900, Fischinger gravitated towards creative pursuits in music, special effects, and ultimately filmmaking and painting. His natural aptitude took him far in the filmmaking industry, bringing him and his family to Los Angeles, and earning him jobs at major studios including Paramount, M.G.M., and Disney. Fischinger also earned support from The Guggenheim Foundation and was awarded at film festivals internationally. Hilla Rebay, curator of The Museum of Non-Objective Painting, supported Oskar's work during the war years with several grants.
Once Fischinger moved to the United States in 1936 he began to apply his brilliant technical skill and proclivity for abstraction within a new medium: oil painting. The resulting body of work, spanning the next thirty years and totaling some eight hundred paintings, emerged as a prolific and strikingly diverse compendium of visual gestures. Fischinger’s explorations into the seemingly endless possibilities inherent in abstraction demonstrated his playfulness and evident pleasure in delving into one style after another. In these works, Fischinger ranged from mind-bending juxtapositions of layered lines and grids forming visual puzzles, to collections of finely detailed contours forming larger organically emotive works, followed by stark graphic compositions functioning as simplistic analyses of shape, to name a few.
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