“I’ve always felt deeply within my soul that I was a damn good artist, though the world didn’t recognize me as such. I wasn’t about to play their game.” - Lynne Mapp Drexler
Lynne Mapp Drexler was an exceptional and prolific artist working at the height of Abstract Expressionism in the mid-20th century. Born in 1928 in Newport News, Virginia, Drexler’s education in the arts started at a young age. Her parents, who were avid supporters of both the visual and performing arts, enrolled their daughter in art courses, dance classes, and music lessons. This early introduction to music sparked a love that would heavily influence her later work.
In the late 1950s, after attending the College of William and Mary in Virginia, Drexler was encouraged to move to New York and study contemporary art. She began her work in Abstract Expressionism at the suggestion of her uncle — who had family ties to the Hudson River School of painting — as well as a number of her teachers. During this time, she studied with Hans Hofmann at his school in New York, as well as at his summer school in Provincetown. Hofmann’s theories and work as a colorist made him one of Drexler’s most significant influences. Drexler then went on to graduate study at Hunter College in New York under the tutelage of Robert Motherwell.
Her work with Motherwell and Hofmann in the 1950s laid the foundation for her artistic style – a synthesis of Post Impressionist landscape painting and Post War painterly abstraction. Her swatch-like brushstrokes and vivid use of color set her apart from her contemporaries. In her early works, Drexler focused on color and composition. She eventually reconciled her two interests – landscape and abstraction – in her later works, especially in the 1980s and 1990s. At the urging of her two mentors, Drexler pursued painting full-time.
Classical music became an important part of her art. While living in New York, she regularly attended concerts at Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Opera, and would often make sketches inspired by the music as she sat in the audience. The musical inspiration in her work echoes the theories of Hofmann, who promoted the idea that color has scales in the same way that music has scales. Her vibrant surfaces are both complex and painterly, but with a flatness akin to something found in the background of a Gustav Klimt work.
Drexler met fellow artist John Hultberg at The Artist’s Club in New York, where accomplished artists gathered to discuss Abstract Expressionism. The two were married in 1961. Through their connections, she had her first solo exhibition at Tanager Gallery. Drexler had great difficulty finding galleries to represent her work in a male-dominated art world, while Hultberg enjoyed quite a bit of notoriety and success and was considered a talented up-and-comer among the second generation of Abstract Expressionists.
Around this same time, Hultberg's art dealer, Martha Jackson, who owned a prominent gallery in New York, bought him a house on Monhegan Island in Maine as an occasional escape from the pressures of the city. The island had a small summer art colony, and the couple split their time between New York and Maine. Drexler’s time spent on the island greatly impacted her work. She spent her summers sketching outdoors, drawing inspiration from her surroundings. While back in New York during the winters, she translated her sketches into vivid abstract paintings. By 1983, Drexler had moved permanently to Monhegan Island, where she lived out the last 16 years of her life.
Drexler died in 1999, after which her estate was assessed by her friends and fellow islanders. A multitude of paintings were removed from the house — works that hadn’t been seen for decades were pulled from all over, including the basement, closets and even from under mattresses.
Drexler exhibited throughout her life at venues such as Tanager Gallery, Esther Robles Gallery and Westerly Gallery. Retrospective exhibitions of her work were held at the Monhegan Museum and the Portland Museum of Art in Maine. Her work is part of the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Monhegan Museum, Farnsworth Museum, Brooklyn Museum and the Queens Museum among others.