Letter from Wyoming – There Is Good Art Everywhere

March 25th, 2014  |  Published in *, Features, March 2014  |  4 Comments

By Cynthia Kukla

DUSK ISLAND 1971, 36×42

There is good art everywhere, just look.  Look a little harder and you will find great art just about anywhere.  Such is the case with the exhibition of Robert Motherwell and Lee Hall in Jackson Hole, Wyoming’s big ski country.  Great art indeed.

Tayloe Piggott, owner and namesake of her gallery, presented/paired “Robert Motherwell: a Collection of Works 1970-1990” and “Lee Hall: Visual Poetry 1970-2010” in an exhibition in her elegant, contemporary gallery from February 7 through April 5, 2014. This fascinating exhibition joins a celebrated Abstract Expressionist icon, Robert Motherwell, with a young, second generation Abstract Expressionist, Lee Hall. Lee Hall had solo exhibitions at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1975 and 1977 before she removed herself from the New York art world. Not like painter Judith Leyster, who was essentially erased from the 17th century Amsterdam guild books and whose rediscovery in the 19th century was much celebrated.1 No, Lee Hall erased herself.

Robert Motherwell at Tayloe Piggott Gallery

 

Lee Hall at Tayloe Piggott Gallery

Lee Hall at Tayloe Piggott Gallery

Tayloe Piggott became fascinated with Lee Hall’s paintings and collages and with her accomplished career as an artist and scholar.  In November, 2013, the Jerald Melberg Gallery of Charlotte, North Carolina, prepared the first solo exhibition of Hall’s paintings since 1981.2  North Carolina is home to Lee Hall; she attended the University of North Carolina, then received her master’s and doctorate from New York University. After quick and early success in New York with gallery exhibitions at the Forum and Ruth White Galleries, Hall had two solo exhibitions at the acclaimed Betty Parsons Gallery.

Like Lee Bonticou, Lee Hall realized that the pressure and commodification of the gallery system could be antithetical to authentic art making.  Like Bonticou, who retreated to a farm and private studio in rural Pennsylvania, Lee Hall was drawn to New England.  She was also drawn to teaching and scholarship.

SUNFALL 1980, 60×60

SOUNION DUSK SHADOW 1986, 38×30

 

Lee Hall taught for much of her career then moved on to administration—Dean of Visual Arts SUNY-Purchase, then President of RISD. These accomplishments are remarkable in themselves.  But to keep painting throughout, and to have that honest conversation with herself that she had to be true to her art – simple words but strong – is remarkable for someone whose workday demands were so unrelenting. Lee Hall recognized that she needed to devote herself to advancing her paintings on her terms. In the 1980’s Hall went to Greece and Italy, and in a presentation at the Melberg Gallery during the run of her recent solo exhibition in Charlotte, she emphasized that she especially loved ancient art and classical civilization. She went to Greece and Italy to find herself as an artist.  I think of Brice Marden doing the very thing himself, painting on a Greek island, from which his lyrical, mystical yet conceptually taut work, such as the “Cold Mountain Series” arose.  In the videotaped gallery presentation, Hall said she searches for the eternal. Looking to the past is important and relevant to her and she looks at current art with eyes wide open. To her, the “search for the new is just like looking for original sin, you are just not going to find it.”3

ROME WALL STUDY 10 2010, 10×7

 

ROME WALL STUDY 11 2010, 10×7

 

She goes on: “No mark is without both intellectual and emotional import” yet Hall notes, not as beautiful as nature.  Hall states that nature is more intriguing and real.  She wanted to reach for, in her words, “the forbidden fruit,“ combining nature and abstraction.  She channels Arthur Dove.  Hall wanted to look at nature and reconfigure her art from nature, following the same path taken by her Abstract Expressionist mentors who took to Long Island making their summer studios there in sleepy farmland.  For Lee Hall, Connecticut and Rhode Island are her landscape muses.

It is easy to see how the language of Abstract Expressionism that Robert Motherwell and other giants of this movement created and deployed was absorbed and digested by second generation Abstract Expressionists, like Richard Pousette-Dart and Philip Guston, Lee Hall’s peers.  Lee Hall’s collages, especially, have the linear, gestural and architectonic feel that characterizes much of Motherwell’s paintings and collages.  In looking at the Motherwell’s small drawings in this exhibition, especially those from the Joyce Sketchbook, we see the faith in pure expression dancing across the paper. Piggott gives us these lovely small works of Motherwell’s that are a treat to take in, all warm and intimate, while the cold and whiteness of Wyoming winter hovers over the landscape outside.  Three larger works on paper, two prints and an ink painting on burnt sienna paper showcase Motherwell’s gestural brilliance and his debt to Asian calligraphy.  Sixteen works on paper are included in “Robert Motherwell: a Collection of Works 1970-1990,” and none of them disappoints.

Like Motherwell, Lee Hall makes lots of very small works on paper.  She calls her small collages and small drawings her vocabulary cards.  Then large paintings emerge, a dialog, a discussion with paint, with the medium.  I wondered why Lee Hall combined oil and acrylic, always a bit risky, since acrylics won’t bind over a base of oil paint and the layering and crafting of the paintings must be done with great care.  Hall answered my question in her videotaped presentation.  Like any valuable teacher, she described to the audience that acrylic is a long-fibered molecule (polymer, actually.) Oil is tiny molecule.  Though Hall did not go into detail, anyone who understands the chemistry of paint might work with acrylic paint first to get smooth and efficient effects, since acrylics dry quickly and are good for base layers. Oil paint, made from condensed, rich molecular hues, has the sensuality and drama painters demand. The oil paint provides the fullness in Lee Hall’s paintings, invite you into them to climb through the painting, rest, follow a crag of brushwork, and walk through mist to the summit.

Hall sums up her philosophy for the gallery audience: “Only do art if you can’t live without it.” This speaks to her time in history, the genesis of her evolution as an artist, to the romance of the times, of Abstract Expressionism’s4 romantic notions of art’s heroism that Hall still carries with her.

 

Cynthia Kukla is an artist and professor who lives in Illinois and skis out West whenever she can.

Photo credits:  Exhibition reception:  Cynthia Kukla

Lee Hall:  Christopher Clamp for Jerald Melberg Gallery

2Jerald Melberg, Lee Hall:  A Survey,  Jerald Melberg Gallery, Charlotte, N.C., November 23, 2013 – January 25, 2014.

3 Jerald Melberg Gallery, Charlotte, N.C., videotape of gallery presentation by Lee Hall, November 23, 2013.

4Artists of the Abstract Expressionists (later called the New York School) include, among others: Hans Hoffman (German-American, 1880-1966), Adolph Gottlieb (American, 1903-1974), Mark Rothko (American, 1903-1970), Willem De Kooning (Dutch-American, 1904-1997), Clyfford Still (American, 1904-1980), Barnett Newman (American, 1905-1970), Franz Kline (American, 1910-1962), William Baziotes (American, 1912-1963), Jackson Pollock (American, 1912-1956), Philip Guston (American, 1913-1980), Ad Reinhardt (American, 1913-1967), Robert Motherwell (American, 1915-1991), Sam Francis (American, 1923-1994), and Helen Frankenthaler (American, 1928-2011).

Responses

  1. TAYLOE PIGGOTT says:

    March 25th, 2014at 1:56 pm(#)

    Thank you, Cynthia! So glad that you were able to visit and that you were able to take a moment in the gallery. We hope to see you again soon — Tayloe and Staff

  2. Thalia Pandiri says:

    March 26th, 2014at 10:52 am(#)

    Lee Hall is my favorite living artist. She is an amazing painter, and a wise and wonderful person. I am so happy more people are getting to see her work now.

  3. erika carl says:

    March 26th, 2014at 8:22 pm(#)

    All art that Ms. Hall produces is stunning in the execution of shape color and movement. I love every piece of it, her blues are amazing .
    Ah to be this gifted

  4. Cynthia Kukla says:

    April 4th, 2014at 6:59 am(#)

    I am really gratified a diversity of individuals laud Lee Hall’s paintings.She is part of an era of painters that changed the course of contemporary art. It is great she has reemerged into her own spotlight.