Abstract expressionism is one of the most influential and important developments in art in the last century. Although much of the focus has centered on European and New York abstraction, Texas, too, adapted these modernist artistic currents. Beginning in the mid-twentieth century, the Lone Star state experienced a vivacious period of abstraction. William Reaves Fine Art brings Texas expressionism to the forefront with this exhibition, which features seven artists: Richard Stout, McKie Trotter, Dick Wray, Dorothy Hood, and Otis Huband, Bill Reily and Charles Schorre.
Much like their state, Texas artists are fiercely independent. These artists were not part of a Texas art school or group. Each developed independently with their own artistic language. Although most of these artists received formal training outside the state, many returned or settled in Texas where they enjoyed a life-long career in the arts. Living in a unique region, these artists found inspiration in their surrounding environment, pulling from elements of the Texas landscape, the character of the area and its people. Although working outside the major art centers like New York and Paris, these artists garnered a reputation within their region and found a welcoming and supportive audience in the Lone Star state.
Richard Stout, a native Texan, was born in Beaumont in 1934. He completed his undergraduate studies at the Art Institute of Chicago. Returning to Texas in 1957, Stout quickly delved into a lifelong career as a professional artist and art teacher in Houston. After receiving his MFA from University of Texas at Austin, Richard joined the art faculty at the University of Houston, teaching there for almost 30 years.
Although having studied with the likes of Kathleen Blackshear and Isabel McKinnon (a former student of Hans Hoffman) at the Art Institute of Chicago, what influenced Stout the most was the museum within which the institute was held. During lunch breaks, the young student would spend his time in the galleries, studying paintings, mesmerized by masterpieces from such artists as Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Arthur Dove.
By the end of his studies, Stout’s work had found its form, moving into an openness that is evident in the works featured in this exhibition, which represents prime examples of the artist’s earliest paintings. Their canvases highlight Stout’s skillful conception of bold compositions built up through layers of dramatic brushwork and brilliant color, as seen in paintings like Untitled (cover image,1957), which celebrates the expressive potential of paint itself.
While continuing the influences from his days in Chicago, Stout’s canvases became somewhat more landscape oriented after returning to the Lone Star state. He began to gather inspiration from the Texas coast. The paintings that followed exhibit unbridled expressionism, exuding a painterliness indebted to the Gulf Coast landscape, evidenced in paintings like Escape (1959).
Like Stout, McKie Trotter (1918-1999) was greatly inspired by the Lone Star state, with compositions that are strong-lined and imbued with rich color. Moving to Fort Worth in 1947 after receiving formal training in Virginia and Georgia, Trotter quickly settled in as an artist and university instructor, first at Texas Wesleyan College, and later at Texas Christian University. His earlier works from the late 1940s to early 1950s convey compositions akin to cubist abstraction, playing with perspective, geometric shapes, and embellished color. As the artist moved into the later 1950s and 1960s, the paintings evolve into abstract expressionist canvases with more free-flowing elements. Forms are no longer outlined. Compositions become radically reduced, highly abstracted landscapes. Trotter’s paintings hint at geographical elements purely through fields of color, as in Fields at Dusk (1959), which employs a simple palette, with vertical bands of color to insinuate a landscape.
Other artists inspired by the Texas landscape include Charles Schorre and Bill Reily. Charles Schorre was born in Cuero, Texas in 1925. After completing a BFA from the University of Texas, Schorre set up residence in Houston, where he taught classes at the museum school at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and Rice University. Schorre has often admitted to expressing his inner essential feelings in his work. In his compositions he attempts to paint the essence of the visual world, reacting to what he sees, allowing himself to respond to each brushstroke, evidenced in work like Floating Signal (1989/1994).
This exhibition also includes the dynamic 1950s-60s period of work from San Antonio artist Bill Reily. Born in 1930, Reily expressed an interest in art from a young age, receiving his first formal art instruction from Mrs. Mamie Price, an accomplished art teacher trained at the Art Institute of Chicago. The works exhibited in this show demonstrate Reily’s ability to invent and construct an environment imbued with lush and vibrant color. Works like West Texas (1957) express an amalgamation of forms that provoke Texas environs.
Reaching beyond the realms of the Texas landscape, Dorothy Hood’s work explores the universe of the cosmos. Born in Bryan in 1919 and raised in Houston, Hood received formal training along the east coast at The Rhode Island School of Design and The Art Students League in New York, finishing in 1941. After living almost two decades in Mexico, the artist returned to Houston in 1961, launching her teaching career at the Museum School of Art.
Hood’s paintings project the artist’s moods, tracing her experiences through various tones and hues. Likewise, one can see the importance of scale relationships in large works like Calypso (n/d). Works like Untitled (c1975) illustrate Hood’s ability to transform organic substance into atmospheric spaces, with subtle gradations of light and color that wash across of the surface of the canvas.
Otis Huband is a long-time Houston resident, who has concentrated over the past thirty years on the production of work that follows his unique aesthetic vision and artistic philosophies. Huband was born in Virginia in 1933, traveling around the country before settling in Houston in 1965. Although inspired by the early Italian masters like Carravaggio and European modernists like Picasso and Matisse, Huband views his work as a combination of concepts of the aesthetic views of abstract expressionism.
The artist allows the materials to guide him, responding to the colors and forms as they begin to appear on the canvas. Through his subconscious, the painting gradually begins to suggest an image as visual elements form the stepping stones upon which Huband travels with his paint. Paintings like Careful Surface Buttoned (2004) exude a force and energy, demonstrated through his application of bold color and dramatic forms. Figures simultaneously emerge and submerge through the frenetic layers of paint, pushing through the riots of color, like in Coldport (2012). By his expert hand, Huband makes order out of chaos.
Another Texas artist known for his energetic and expressive canvases is none other than Dick Wray (1933-2011). A native Houstonian, Wray quickly abandoned the geometric structure from his architectural training after a trip to Europe in 1958, where the artist encountered the paintings of American abstract expressionists, such as Pollock and de Kooning.
Wray’s paintings are wild, aggressive, and unapologetic in their explosions of color, line, form, and texture. Canvases like Victor Hugo Recalled (1999-2006) exude a spectra of colors, challenging the viewer in its boisterous abstraction while simultaneously alluring in its sensual passion. Wray’s work unveils his vision, painting the paths of his vibrant imagination.
Texas expressionism comes in many forms. In a work of Texas expressionism, one sees not only expressionist qualities, but also the artist’s larger framework of experiences in Texas on which the tenets of expressionism were hung. Drawing from the character of their Texas surroundings, the artists bring their own perspective to the expressionist style. Each artist paints around an idea that has been shaped and interpreted, consciously or subconsciously, by the various elements that make up the Lone Star state. Texas has provided fertile grounds for the production of abstract expressionism, and continues to provide enthusiastic support and receptivity for its artists.
-Bill Reaves, Leslie Thompson, and Jennifer Pryor