This exhibition features the work of American Abstract Expressionist artist Lynne Mapp Drexler (1928-1999), one of the great, yet under-recognized, women painters of the AbEx period. Her art was inspired by both her love of nature, and of music. A student of Hans Hofmann, Drexler adopted his color theories, which promoted the idea that colors have scales in the same way that music does.
Lynne Mapp Drexler found her artistic voice during one of the most exciting and significant art movements of the 20th century. Born in Newport News, Virginia in 1928, Drexler began her study of art as a child. Her parents, who were very supportive of both the visual and performing arts, enrolled Drexler in various art courses, and her early introduction to music would directly influence her later mature work.
In the late 1950s, after attending the College of William and Mary in Virginia, Drexler became interested in contemporary art. She was encouraged to explore this venue by her uncle, who had ties to the Hudson River School of painting, and by some of her more influential teachers. She immersed herself in Abstract Expressionism, studying with Hans Hofmann in both his New York and Provincetown schools. It would be Hofmann’s work as a colorist and his theories on color that would be one of Drexler’s most significant influences.
From there, she went on to graduate study at Hunter College in New York City with Robert Motherwell. Drexler’s academic training from Motherwell, along with the lessons of color theory from Hofmann, would set the foundation for the style of painting for which she is known. Her swatch-like patterns and painterly blossoms of color are quite unique when compared to her contemporaries of the Abstract Expressionist genre.
In her early works, Drexler focused on color and composition, eventually reconciling her two interests – landscape and abstraction – in her late work of the 1980s and 1990s. But it was in the 1950s that she set her foundation – a synthesis of Post Impressionist landscape painting and Post War painterly abstraction. The results are something not familiar to most students of the period, and her crisp, colorful brushwork set her apart.
Classical music remained an important part of her art. When she lived in New York she regularly attended concerts at Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Opera, and would often make sketches inspired by the music while she was in the audience. The musical inspiration in her work echoes the theories of her teacher, Hans Hofmann, who promoted the idea that colors have 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.
In 1961, Drexler met and married fellow artist John Hultberg at The Artist’s Club in New York, where accomplished artists gathered to discuss Abstract Expressionism. Through their connections, she had her first solo exhibition at Tanager Gallery. Unlike her male counterparts, Drexler found it difficult finding gallery representation in the gender-biased atmosphere of the New York art world, while her husband was quite successful and was considered a talented up-and-comer as an abstract artist.
In 1971, Hultberg's art dealer, Martha Jackson, bought him a house on Monhegan Island, Maine, which had a small summer art colony, and the couple split their time between New York City and Maine. For Drexler, summering there would be a major change in her life. The solitude of the island and the inspiration of the natural surroundings greatly impacted her artistic career. Drexler would sketch outdoors on the island. Then, back in New York during the winters, these sketches were reimagined into large colorful abstract paintings. By 1983, Drexler moved permanently to the island, near Lighthouse Hill. Drexler lived the last 16 years of her life on Monhegan Island.
Drexler passed away in 1999 on Monhegan Island surrounded by her friends and fellow islanders. After her death, the estate fell to her friends, who were charged with the difficult task of assessing her body of work. While extracting the many paintings from the Drexler house, they were shocked to realize the magnitude and multitude of paintings. Works of art not seen for decades were pulled from 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.