Berry Campbell Gallery is pleased to announce a special exhibition of paintings by RAYMOND HENDLER from March 15 through April 14, 2018. This is Berry Campbell’s third solo exhibition of Hendler’s work. After focusing on particular periods of the artist’s oeuvre, the gallery has curated a small survey of the artist’s entire career, allowing visitors to see the transitions from early gestural abstraction to tighter more graphic forms. The opening reception for “Raymond Hendler: Fifty Years of Painting” is Thursday, March 15 from 6 to 8pm.
A first-generation action painter, RAYMOND HENDLER (1923–1998) started his career as an Abstract Expressionist in Paris, as early as 1949. In the years that followed, he played a significant role in the movement, both in New York, where he was the youngest voting member of the New York Artist’s Club and a friend of Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Harold Rosenberg, and in Philadelphia, where he ran an avant-garde gallery between 1952 and 1954. Over the course of his career, his work evolved from abstract gestural works to jubilant, abstracted words and shapes, which revealed a freshness, vitality, and high-spiritedness unparalleled in the New York post-war art world.
Raymond Hendler was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1923 and studied in his native Philadelphia, at the Graphic Sketch Club, the Philadelphia College of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of Art, and the Tyler School of Art (Temple University). In 1949, he continued his art training in Paris at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière on the G.I. Bill. Immersing himself in the Left Bank art scene, he formed close friendships with the Canadian Taschist painter, Jean Paul Riopelle, and the noted Australian sculptor, Robert Klippel. In Paris, he exhibited at the Musée d’Art Moderne and was a founding member of Galerie Huit, the first American cooperative gallery in Europe. Its members included Sam Francis, Al Held, Shirley Jaffe, and Jules Olitski, among others.
Returning to New York in 1951, Hendler became part of the exploding Greenwich Village art scene. He was a voting member of the New York Artist’s Club from 1951 until its end in 1957. He was a friend of the leading figures in the New York School, including the painters Pollock, de Kooning, and Philip Guston and the critic Harold Rosenberg. With Franz Kline, he established a friendship that would last throughout the rest of Kline’s life. During this same period, Hendler was active in Philadelphia. At the Hendler Galleries, which he ran from 1952 to 1954, he exhibited the work of de Kooning, Sam Francis, Guston, Kline, George McNeil, Stephen Pace, Pollock, Milton Resnick, Riopelle, Ludwig Sander, and Jack Tworkov.
Around 1957, his work evolved from overall tightly-wound linear webs into a personal language of abstract pictograms. The works are made up of lines, colorful right angles, and floating cartouches, which occasionally create picture environments that resemble gardens, skies, or artist’s studios. Over the next forty-years, his works would be defined by an almost childlike sense of wonder distinguished through a refined order and sense of spatial dynamism. Although images are at times visible, Hendler always maintained that his work was non-representational. Instead, the images serve to convey spatiality and lightheartedness in a highly sophisticated order.
Hendler continued to seek clearer lines and harder edges during the 1960s, so that by the end of the decade, he had eliminated the drag of the paint brush, commonly emphasized by the Abstract Expressionists. Remarking on Hendler’s departure from the popular Abstract Expressionist style, Franz Kline wrote: “The direct austere design and color complexes paint the image without undue nuances—with clarity and mature independence.”1
Hendler differed from Rosenberg’s belief that American post-war painting should have a clear break from the past. His work often recalls the autonomism and nonobjectivism of his European predecessors. However, Stuart Preston noted in The New York Times that Hendler had a “totally different approach to nonobjectivism. . . . He excels in bright hard explicit pattern-making, in straightforward parades of independent shapes, not unlike those in Matisse’s collages. There is something reminding of Léger here as well, particularly in the unambiguous glare of contrasted color and in the robust refusal to allow shapes to suggest anything beyond their merry self.”2 Like Miró, Hendler’s shapes shift from one image to the other, but as Gordon Brown noted in ArtNews: “[Miró’s shapes] don’t fluctuate spatially and structurally. Hendler’s images do.”3
By 1970, Hendler was producing some of his most important work. Using open and white spaces, which allowed more things to happen on a canvas, Hendler painted intelligible symbols scattered cheerfully across the flat picture plane. These jubilant marks on their fresh white grounds animate the canvas often appearing as if they were flowing hieroglyphs or animated handwriting. The artist called these artistic scrawls “graffiti” before the style became popular as an art form. Hendler continued: “Writing is a kind of self-revelation that gives you a chance to become. It acts as a catalyst. It does all a line can do in terms of noting and connoting.”4 As Scott Burton noted in ArtNews: “His paintings make pictures out of words (literally) and words out of pictures (figuratively). Hendler’s painting is a language.”5 Hendler’s style would foreshadow many of the movements that became popular in the latter half of the twentieth century: the lighthearted pop art of the 1960s, the reductive minimalism of the late 1960s and 1970s, neo-expressionism of the late 1970s and 1980s, and text based art of the 1980s.
Hendler had frequent solo and group exhibitions in New York, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and other locations. Hendler was represented by Rose Fried Gallery, one of the most important galleries of its time and a champion of many European artists, including Marcel Duchamp, Juan Gris, Vasily Kandinsky, Joan Miró, and Piet Mondrian. He had a series of solo exhibitions until Fried’s death in 1970. In 1963, he received the Longview Foundation Purchase Award, juried by de Kooning, Thomas Hess, Guston, Rosenberg, and David Smith. Since his death in 1998, his work has continued to be featured in solo and group shows, many of which are important reconsiderations of the art of the second half of the twentieth century.
During his forty-year teaching career, Hendler also taught at the Contemporary School of Art, Brooklyn; Parsons School of Design, New York; Pratt Institute, Brooklyn; and School of Visual Arts, New York; and Minneapolis College of Art, where he was head of the painting department. Hendler retired from teaching in 1984 and moved two years later to the East End of Long Island. He lived and painted for the last ten years of his life in the house in East Hampton’s Northwest Woods that he built with his wife, Mary Rood.
Hendler is represented in the collections of numerous museums and public collections in America and abroad, including Birla Academy of Art and Culture, Calcutta, India; Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis; Grey Art Gallery, New York University; J. Walter Thompson Company, New York; Minneapolis College of Art and Design; Minneapolis Institute of Art; Novartis Co., East Hanover, New Jersey; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; University of New Mexico, Art Museum, Albuquerque; University of Notre Dame, Indiana; and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.