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Marie Hull - Adventures in Abstraction

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Part of an ongoing series on Mississippi artist Marie Hull, showcased in this Fall and Winter’s celebratory exhibition, Bright Fields: The Mastery of Marie Hull.

Marie Hull (1890-1980), Abstract Composition, 1950s. MMA 1981.279i_p.195

Over the course of the second half of her career—from 1945 onward—Marie Hull worked not in one but in various styles which reflect the different strategies of artists who made up the so-called New York School of Abstract Expressionism. These artists were on the “cutting edge” of modern art as it flourished in New York City in the second half of the 20th century, promoted by a phalanx of sophisticated dealers, gallerists, and critics who saw in that art a vigorous and genuine expression of the creative energy of the New World, as opposed to the Old. Mrs. Hull traveled frequently to New York but also to cities such as Chicago and Philadelphia where gallery exhibitions (followed, cautiously, by those at museums) celebrated their new heroes—much to the chagrin of the American public, who doubted that the works of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning should even be described as art. Her responses were almost immediate: it is fascinating to watch as she adopts the mode of first one, and then another, of the emerging artists only to create adaptations that are uniquely her own.

Marie Hull (1890-1980), Snow Hill, 1962. oil on canvas. Collection of Dr. William B. Castle, Jackson.

She was clearly impressed by the cerebral but colorful geometric abstractions of the Dutch artist, Mondrian, a refugee from war who made a great impact on younger American artists before his death in New York City in 1944. While she never slavishly followed the example of his rectilinear grid patterns, Hull left numerous sketchbook drawings and paintings which were evidently inspired by him; instead of his exclusive use of the primary colors (red, yellow, blue) she deployed her own beloved palette of pink, yellow, and orange. By the end of the 1950s she had move far away from Mondrian to come to grips with the bold, gestural brushwork of artists such as Franz KIine (1910-62) and Joan Mitchell (1925-92) and, in particular, with the dense marking based on Asian calligraphy of her contemporary, Mark Tobey (1890-1976). An almost astonishing degree of gestural freedom is found in the personal context of one of Hull’s sketchbooks from this time, filled with breathtaking depictions of the mountains, deserts, and vast skies of the southwestern United States.

Marie Hull (1890-1980), Landscape in the Desert Southwest, 1950s. watercolor on paper. 12x9in. Collection of Mississippi Museum of Art. Bequest of the artist. 1981.279bc_p.43.