The large scale abstract paintings of Felrath Hines (1913-1993) were much admired during his lifetime but exhibited relatively infrequently. In early 2009, his widow Dorothy Fisher donated a selection of his major works to the Ackland Art Museum at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, and the North Carolina Central University Art Museum, three institutions that had expressed interest in Hines’ work in the past. The special exhibition Color Balance: Paintings by Felrath Hines brings these works together in one of only a handful of major Hines retrospectives ever. The exhibition premieres at the Ackland before traveling to the other participating museums.
Hines, an African American painter who worked for most of his life in Washington, D.C., was primarily a colorist, modulating color — often in large geometric abstractions — to profound effect. Though he was inspired early in his career by cubism, his later paintings recall the work of Josef Albers, Piet Mondrian, Ellsworth Kelly, and Ad Reinhardt. In much of his work, each area of color is painted on a smooth surface and sharply defined, often with a narrow hairline crack of white separating the fields of color.
The works included in Color Balance include fourteen of Hines’ major paintings and four drawings that range in date from the 1960s to his death in 1993. These pieces include Kellylike, an homage to Ellsworth Kelly’s shaped canvases; Aquatic Adventures, the last piece completed before Hines’ death; and Japanese Landscape, an important early work exploring the interplay of subtle shades of gray.
During his lifetime, Hines made his professional living as an art conservator, serving at different times as Chief Conservator of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, personal conservator for Georgia O’Keefe, and conservator for the Museum of Modern Art. As a young man, he trained at the School of the Arts Institute at Chicago while working as a dining-car waiter on the Chicago Northwestern Railroad, then relocated to New York City, where he moved in the same circles as other celebrated African American artists and thinkers, such as singer Harry Belafonte, writer James Baldwin, and jazz musician Billy Strayhorn (who was the first person to purchase one of Hines’ paintings). Hines was one of the sixteen founding members of the Spiral Group, which included Romare Bearden and was founded to consider the role of the African American artist in social change. Despite this and other political involvement, Hines felt strongly that art transcended boundaries of race and resisted being identified as an African American artist, hoping to avoid having his work placed in a “special category with a particular group.”
After being shown at the Ackland, Color Balance will be seen at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University (June 10 – September 5, 2010) and the NCCU Art Museum (September 19, 2010 – December 10, 2010).
Promotional support provided by North Carolina Public Radio-WUNC.
Image: Felrath Hines, American, 1913 – 1993; Escape, 1989; oil on linen, 58 5/8 x 52 9/16 in. (148.91 x 133.51 cm); Gift of Dorothy Fisher, wife of the artist, 2009.14.4