Symphony of Color

This exhibition of paintings, works on paper and sculpture takes place in conjunction with Summer of Color, the citywide celebration of color featuring special exhibitions at museums and galleries throughout the city. The exhibition begins on Friday, June 5, 2015 and continues through June 30, 2015 in our main floor galleries. Artists included in the exhibition are Stanton Macondald-Wright, Vivian Springford, James Hilleary, Sewell Sillman, Oskar Fischinger, and Herbert Bayer. All are artists whose estates are represented by Peyton Wright Gallery.

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About the Artists
(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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(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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(1914 - 2003)
Vivian Springford was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and educated at the Spence School in New York City, and then the Art Students League. Born to a prominent family (her father was the former president and chairman of the board of Sevel, Inc, an early maker of refrigerators), she was pictured in The New York Times “Debutantes of the Winter Season in New York” in 1932.

Originally a portrait artist, she illustrated Albert Carr’s 1938 book Juggernaut with portraits of twenty political dictators from the Napoleanic era to the early twentieth century.

She was championed in the late 1950s by Howard DeVree, the New York Times art critic, and Harold Rosenberg helped Springford get her first show at Great Jones Gallery in 1960.

Springford provides a fascinating case study of a mid-century American woman artist. Working first in an Abstract Expressionist and then in a Color Field vocabulary, she was active in multiple facets of the New York art world from the 1950s to 1970s, during which time she had solo and group exhibitions at the Great Jones Gallery, the Preston Gallery, Women in the Arts, and the Visual Arts Coalition.

With an emphasis on gesture, dripping, and splattering, Springford’s works of the 1950s bore a clear connection to Abstract Expressionism. The primary influence of her early work came from East Asian arts and letters, particularly Chinese calligraphy, Taoism and Confucianism. She credited the Chinese-American painter Walasse Ting, whom she met in the mid-1950s, with introducing her to Asian culture. Part of what attracted her about calligraphy as a technique was the fact that it cannot be altered once a mark is made. Her use of this technique resulted in “one-shot” paintings: virtuosic works made in a single go, without alteration or revision.

By 1970 Springford had developed a manner of stain painting that was distinctively her own. Her use of thinned paint on raw or thinly-primed canvas, which she developed with her calligraphic paintings of the late 1950s, developed into more abstract and wash-like marks, with stained colored lines expanding into floods of color. This stylistic approach aligns with the Color Field painters’ exploration of stain painting as a primary mode of mark-making.

Springford once remarked that, for her, the act of painting was an “attempt to identify with the universal whole…. I want to find my own small plot or pattern of energy that will express the inner me in terms of rhythmic movement and color. The expansive center of the universe, of the stars, and of nature is my constant challenge in abstract terms.” With her technical inventiveness, formal originality, and seductive use of color, her work deserves a place in the annals of postwar American art, particularly in relation to the histories of Abstract Expressionist and Color Field painting. Following her inclusion in the Denver Art Museum's exhibition catalogue, Women of Abstract Expressionism (Joan Marter 2016), the time is right for a critical revision and appreciation of Springford’s abundant talent and tireless persistence—a story that mirrors those of so many women artists, past and present.

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(1924 - 1992)
A student and protégé of Josef Albers, the leading light of Black Mountain College, Sewell Sillman was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1924. He attended high school in Atlanta, where, in 1942, he enlisted in the United States Army Air Force Reserve. Simultaneously, he enrolled in evening classes at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and studied civil engineering there the first semester the following year.

He spent fall and winter of 1943 at the Johns Hopkins University in the Army Student Training program, before being sent abroad, where he was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge. After his discharge, he returned to Georgia Tech in early 1946, where an instructor called him a “misfit.”

Sillman’s affiliation with Black Mountain and Albers began in January 1948. His intention was to study architecture, but he became disenchanted during the summer session, when Buckminster Fuller oversaw the unsuccessful construction of the first geodesic dome. Stimulated instead by Albers’ design and drawing courses and Pete Jennerjahn’s printing classes, Sillman shifted his focus.

He remained at the college through the following summer, and later revealed how the experience “gave me a chance to get rid of absolutely every standard that I had grown up with… It was like a snake that loses its skin… What was left was someone who had absolutely no idea in the world what to do… It was marvelous.” He soon discovered, however, after a semester at Windsor Mountain School, in Lenox, Massachusetts, that he enjoyed teaching.

In 1950, Sillman entered the bachelor of fine arts program at Yale University where Albers had become the director of the design department. Already well versed in art studio practices, Sillman obtained his degree quickly, and went on to pursue a master’s degree. He served as a teaching assistant to Albers, and in 1954 became a regular faculty member, a position he held until 1966.

In 1952, he returned to Black Mountain for the summer, but, without Albers, found the place changed and dominated by abstract expressionism in the guise of fellow teachers Franz Kline and Jack Tworkov. “When Albers left it was just so empty… It was death warmed over.”

In his own work Sillman continued to examine basic design and drawing concerns, such as the relationships of colors and shapes, and the use of line, which evolved from his teaching regimen. His oil paintings are formal exercises with hues that are far from primary applied with a palette knife to create bold geometric compositions. In contrast his series of “wave drawings,” artfully filled with curving lines, are organic and reminiscent of forms in nature.

In 1956, Sillman organized an exhibition of Albers’ work for Yale’s new art gallery and in the catalogue used two original screenprints from his mentor’s Homage to the Square series. From this experience grew a collaboration, not only with Albers, but with fellow faculty member and graphic designer, Norman Ives; jointly they issued Interaction of Color—1800 portfolios of eighty screenprints by Albers which became a seminal thesis on color theory. Established in 1962, the firm of Ives-Sillman produced portfolios and prints for other artists such as Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Roy Lichtenstein, and Walker Evans.

Between 1963 and 1965 Sillman taught at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and after his departure from Yale in 1966, he held positions at the Rhode Island School of Design, the State University of New York at Purchase, and Ohio State University, and he returned to Yale between 1973 and 1978 to teach advanced seminars.

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(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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(1890 - 1973)
Stanton Macdonald-Wright (1890-1973) was one of
America’s leading modernist painters and an early pioneer of
abstract art. Born in Virginia and raised in southern
California, he enrolled at the Art Students League in Los
Angeles as a precocious thirteen-year-old. In 1907, while
still a teenager, he married and then settled in Paris, studying
at the Sorbonne and several art academies, including the Académie Colorossi and the
École des Beaux Arts, and then privately with Percyval Hart-Tudor, who taught color
theory in relation to music. Inspired chiefly by the works of Cézanne, Matisse, and the
Cubists, Macdonald-Wright exhibited at the Salon d’Automne in 1910 and at the Salon
des Indépendents in 1912.
Together with fellow American expatriate Morgan Russell, Macdonald-Wright cofounded
the avant-garde painting movement Synchromism, whose first exhibition was
held in Munich in the summer of 1913 and the second in Paris during the fall of the same
year. These were soon followed by shows in London, Milan, and Warsaw. And in early
1914 Synchromist paintings were exhibited for the first time in New York. Similar to its
rival Parisian movement Orphism, Synchromism combined color with Cubism, producing
luminous and rhythmic compositions of swirling and serpentine forms infused with a rich
chromatic palette. As Macdonald-Wright later described it, “Synchromism simply means
‘with color’ as symphony means ‘with sound’, and our idea was to produce an art whose
genesis lay, not in objectivity, but in form produced in color”.
At the outbreak of World War I, Macdonald-Wright moved to London with his
older sibling, Willard Huntington Wright, who was an editor and author. Sharing quarters
there for the next two years, the brothers collaborated on three art books, including
Modern Painting, Its Tendency and Meaning (1915), that were subsequently published in
New York. After repatriating himself to the United States in 1915, Macdonald-Wright
took up residence in New York, where he participated in the Forum Exhibition of Modern
American Painters in 1916 and was given his first one-man show at Alfred Stieglitz’s
“291” gallery the following year. His Synchromist paintings had a direct and marked
influence on the work of Thomas Hart Benton, Andrew Dasburg, Jan Matulka, Stuart
Davis, Arnold Friedman, and Alfred Maurer.
Although successful in New York, Macdonald-Wright became increasingly
dissatisfied with what he saw as the “sterile artistic formulism” of modern art and the
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“academicism” of his own Synchromism. Consequently, he permanently resettled in Santa
Monica in 1919 and withdrew from the commercial art scene for the following three
decades. Instead, he became an active and energetic force in the southern Californian art
world primarily as a teacher and administrator, all the while still continuing his artistic
pursuits, which turned heavily toward Eastern representational models, especially Chinese
painting. From 1922 to 1930 he served as Director of the Art Students League in Los
Angeles, writing a student textbook entitled Treatise on Color (1924). During the late
twenties and early thirties, he co-exhibited at several museums in California with Morgan
Russell and had a one-man show at Stieglitz’s “An American Place” in New York in
1932. He then worked for the WPA Art Project as Director of Southern California and as
Technical Advisor for seven western states from 1935 to 1942, during which time he
personally completed several major civil art projects, including the murals at the Santa
Monica City Hall. During World War II and up through 1952, Macdonald-Wright taught
at UCLA, USC, Scripps College, and the University of Hawaii on the subjects of art
history, Oriental aesthetics, and iconography. In 1952-53, he visited Japan as a Fulbright
exchange professor and briefly lectured at Kyoiku Daigaku (Tokyo University of
Education). Finally, in 1954, he retired from academia.
After a hiatus of more than thirty years, Macdonald-Wright returned to
nonobjective painting in the mid 1950s with renewed vigor and enthusiasm, producing
some of his finest canvases. This new body of Neo-Synchromist work surpassed the
artist’s earlier paintings by way of a heightened luminosity and augmented spatiality,
creating as a result, in the opinion of the modern art champion, Alfred Barr, a deeper
spirituality. As the artist himself described it,
“At first I saw my new painting with a certain astonishment, for I had made the
“great circle”, coming back after 35 years to an art that was, superficially, not
unlike the canvases of my youth. However, at bottom there was a great difference:
I had achieved an interior realism, what is called yugen by the Japanese. This is a
sense of reality which cannot be seen but which is evident by feeling, and I am
certain that this quality of hidden reality was what I felt to be lacking in my
younger days.”
From 1958 on, Macdonald-Wright spent five months each year at Kenninji, a Zen
monastery in the center of Kyoto, Japan. One of the most fruitful outcomes of his
exposure to Japanese poetry and art was the creation of the Haiga portfolio (1965-66), a
suite of twenty Haiku illustrations in brilliant color that is a masterful synthesis of
modernist art in the Synchromist style and the traditional technique of Japanese
woodblock printing.
In 1967 the Smithsonian Institution’s National Collection of Fine Arts held a
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major retrospective exhibition on Macdonald-Wright, honoring his more than six decades
of artistic achievement. During the remaining years of his life and up until his passing in
1973 at the age of 83, Macdonald-Wright continued to be productive and inventive,
leaving as his legacy a large and diverse body of modernist painting, which has since
taken its rightful place as being of premier importance in American twentieth-century art.
~ Andrew Diversey
Daviee, Jerry M. 1982. Stanton Macdonald-Wright: Watercolors and Drawings. San
Francisco: The Art Museum Association.
Figoten, Sheldon. 1985. Stanton Macdonald-Wright: Paintings 1953-1964. Redding, CA:
Redding Museum and Art Center.
Scott, David W. and Stanton Macdonald-Wright. 1967. The Art of Stanton Macdonald-
Wright. Washington, D.C.: The Smithsonian Press.
South, Will. 2001. Color, Music, and Myth. Stanton Macdonald-Wright and
Synchromism. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Museum of Art.
Wight, Frederick. 1970. Stanton Macdonald-Wright: A Retrospective Exhibition 1911-
1970. Los Angeles: The UCLA Art Galleries.

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