Gene Hutner
American Abstract Expressionist



Gene Hutner, an American master

Ed McCormack

The great value of a good retrospective is that it enables us to view the development of an  artist over the course of an entire career, as seen in an important exhibition of paintings and drawings from the 1940s to the present by the veteran artist Gene Hutner, at Gallery 84, 24 West 57 Street, through October 29.

What we see here is an artist whose work gets progressively stronger, decade by decade, yet whose earliest paintings clearly telegraph a major talent.  The impressive authority of Hutner's early work is exemplified by two splendid oils with a Mexican locale, one a market scene, making a rhythmic, neo-Cubist statement in muted earth tones, the other a dramatic nocturnal view of domed structures and dark trees, rising majestically against a deep blue sky.  Also outstanding among Hutners's oils is "Our Rooftop," a sun-drenched domestic vista, as affectionate and joyous as a latter day Bonnard, painted in 1965.

This show also includes several splendid black and white ink drawings, executed in the early seventies, in which Hutner captures such subjects as female neds, rugged rock formations, and the girders under the elevated platform in Queensboro Plaza with a swift sureness of line worthy of a Japanese Zen master.  There are also powerful large nudes in oil from approximately the same period, their contours showing a sensual monumentality, their compositions energized by bold areas of mentality, their compositions energized by bold areas of vibrant color.  


 Watercolor, however, was to become Hutner's primary mode of expression, and his mastery of the medium is strikingly evident in his early landscapes,  with their ruggedly angular forms, showing a kindship to John Marin and Marsden Hartly.  Especially remarkable is a series of watercolors painted on Martha's Vineyard, in which Hutner achieves an exhilarating new sense of  freedom, with airy expanses of blue sky, sand, surf, and scrubby patches of vegetation, depicted in clear, luminous washes of color, lassoed by a sinuous line that pulls the composition together. 


Also outstanding is a watercolor from roughly the same period, inspired by the girders under the elevated platform in Queensboro Plaza, which grew out of Hutner's ink drawings on the same theme.  Here, Hutner transforms a slightly grubby urban subject, creating a composition of transcendent beauty, with luminous areas of color contained, like stained glass, within bold black outlines.

In the 80's, Hutner embarked upon the very large watercolors that are typical of his later work, venturing further into total abstraction and Color Field explorations, demonstrating beyond any shadow of a doubt that the medium could be employed to make major aesthetic statements on a par with any work in oil or acrylic.  Indeed, Hutner's large watercolors in his mature abstract style are masterpieces that can stand beside the best aquarelles of artist such as Winslow Homer and John Marin, for they take the medium further than any artist who precede him into the realm of advanced contemporary aesthetics.

Saturating his huge sheets of heavy rag paper with dense layers of web-into-wet washes, he often employs the white of the paper as another color (an especially effective device to activate the edges in some compositions).  Hutner thus creates explosively lyrical statements, such as "Ocean Bed," a major watercolor from 1987, possessed of a deep and mysterious beauty.

This magnificent retrospective at Gallery 84, of which he has been a member for more than a quarter of a century, makes clear that Gene Hutner is an important American artist whose work is destined to endure, taking its rightful place in the art history of our century.

New York, October 1990   

ART speak Magazine


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