by James Cavello
I met James Hendricks in 1986 in SoHo where I had the opportunity to view his paintings in his studio. He was an artist inspired by life and not afraid of color, movement, experimentation and an artistic expression of ‘joie de vivre’. When I learned he was also a professor of art, I understood his connection to young artists and his ability to reference his own beliefs and opinions about the history of art. Although he was originally from Arkansas, transplanted to Massachusetts and New York, he had a SoHo sensibility. He would do whatever was needed to paint and create. His large canvases required him to work flat on the floor, like Jackson Pollock, using his physical strength to articulate every move with flowing paint. His techniques are not easy and James has never faltered from this methodology. I always admired his tenacity, attitude and ideology.
When I established my own gallery in 1995, I remembered a spectacular painting James had mentioned to me, a canvas he created, 44 feet across and 10 feet high. I couldn’t stop thinking about his work at that scale with Jim’s primordial painterly strokes recalling music, mathematics and metaphysics. As though it was meant to be, the main wall in my gallery was 50 feet across. The logistics of transporting the painting was our first discussion. However James reassured me he developed a systematic construction of folding canvases, which could be closed in transport and unfolded in the gallery in order to be lined up and installed perfectly. His method worked well and after planning the exhibition and unveiling this massive work of art, aptly titled, Millennium Express, it covered the entire 50 foot wall and left the viewer speechless. Once it was installed I took some time every day to sit in front of this painting, contemplating every brush stroke and wildly measured paint throw. One day a Buddhist monk happened to visit the gallery during the exhibition and I watched him as he first viewed the painting. He seemed overwhelmed, but instead of seeing it, as so many came to do, he closed his eyes, stretched up one arm, placed his hand over the painting and said two words, “good energy”.
Throughout the years, I have gone back many times to view and reflect on James’ paintings and drawings -- I realized I could almost hear them rather than see them. They reach our capacity to see, hear and think beyond our normal senses and as the Buddhist monk accomplished, challenge a new sense in experiencing art. It brought to my mind the words of Henry David Thoreau at the conclusion of Walden, “If a man loses pace with his companion, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away.” James Hendricks not only hears the drum, I believe he is the drummer.
President / Curator
Westwood Gallery, NYC
James Cavello is a curator, art consultant, philanthropist and President of Westwood Gallery, NYC. He is a former Governor on the board of The National Arts Club, NYC and has organized and curated award winning exhibitions in the United States, Europe and Asia, in addition to completing large scale public art projects. Mr. Cavello serves as President of Worldwide Children’s Foundation of New York, Vice President of Amazon Aid Foundation and serves on the advisory board of other nonprofit organizations.
by Greg Thompson
I first met James Hendricks in the winter of 1993. He was having a one-man exhibition at the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock. I had recently graduated with a Bachelor of Art in studio art from Hendrix College, returned to Arkansas after a year abroad and had made a decision to pursue a carrier in art and was doing large scale canvases. When I saw James’ work I was blown away! Here was a fellow Arkansan, who had left his native pond, gone to the cultural metropolis of Boston and had come back on his own terms and with something to share. And share he did. James and I established an instant bond. I was fascinated with the scale and magnitude of his work. Not only did we share a common bond with scale and the logistics of putting a large painting together, but we also shared a sense of the importance of being enveloped by a canvas - to create a world, or in James’s aesthetic – “a universe that you could get lost in.” James’ large canvases and smaller works on paper are gems which the child like mind of wonder can explore: subtle nuances, exploding nebulas, rich textures and soothing and fluid gradations. To stand before one of James’ pieces is to be connected to something greater than oneself and our day-to-day existence. To stand before a James Hendricks painting is to be transported to the Ethereal with a capital E, the spiritual and the sublime.
In 1995 I opened a private art dealership in Arkansas which has now been transformed into a full scale gallery. I have had the pleasure of representing James’ work every step of the way.
James’ work is a funny thing. It’s a lot like any truly original work of art or artist. There is always a reaction in the viewer. One cannot passively look at a James Hendricks painting and say, “Well okay, that’s nice.” Collectors either really love his work, and often have an entire household full or don’t get it and move on. I think the ones who do, are on to a something extraordinary.
Greg Thompson – Executive Director, Greg Thompson Fine Art 5
James Hendricks in the Space of Time
© Essay by Wayne Andersen
In an essay to introduce the 1982 exhibition of James Hendricks’ paintings for the Helen Shlien Gallery in Boston, the poet Joseph Langland looked hard at the paintings and things suddenly began to happen. The imagery converted into happenings: the express took off, the factory plugged into its circuit, insects hummed and buzzed in the suburbs; out of the world of light-color-form parts arrived and swirled and plopped into a formalist space. Langland, who I am paraphrasing, felt the mud and feathers and eyes of the world arriving headlong into the picture: wings, heads, wheel about to take on a name and destination. A firebird leaps up, a comet streaks by and fades, an orgasm of whirling insects exploded in his mind, and the day threw everything at him, at once.
Yes, all of that can happen in one’s eyes when viewing a Hendricks painting where nothing is predetermined as being something. There are no objects in his works, nothing to name or associate with anything physical outside or beyond the canvas. Ask: What are these pictures of? You will think into exhaustion if unwilling to admit that they are not about anything but themselves.
Pictures not about anything but themselves come on stage in the 1940s and only in New York. The artists are familiar names: Hans Hofmann, Archile Gorky, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Robert Motherwell, Ad Reinhardt, Adolf Gottlieb, and so on. Each of them painted canvases that pictured nothing beyond their existence. Lacking any discourse with subject matter, they were called abstract. With nothing coming between the artist and the canvas, such as a nude, a landscape, a still life, the canvas recorded only the artist as self-expressive. Combine the two modes and you get Abstract- Expressionism.
But Abstract-Expressionism is an indefinite term, so noninclusive as to be misleading. Rothko, Motherwell, Newman, and Reinhardt may have been abstractionists but they were not expressionists. De Kooning painted expressionistically but not abstractly, unless one is speaking of non-geometric abstraction that connects to Kandinsky but not to Mondrian. Gottlieb was more symbolist than expressionist, and underlying Guston’s paint handling was more an aggressive Impressionism than any degree of Abstraction.
The astute art critic Harold Rosenberg recognized very early that neither term, Abstract nor Expressionist, bonded the core of painters in New York that were becoming recognized collectively as a new avant-garde. He proposed the term Action Painting to acknowledge the physical act of painting and the prevalence of an existential attitude, holding that the artist arrives at authentic being through the act of creating—not of something that already exists in the world such as a landscape of a place, a still life of jugs and fruit, or a portrait of someone, but something the artist created by the action of painting: the work of art and nothing more.
But Action Painting was no more inclusive as a style than Abstract Expressionism. In the 1960s, it was being parodied as little more than pushing paint around while Abstract- Expressionism had metamorphosed into an art history term joining Impressionism, Cubism, Futurism, and so on in the array of categories between insecure bookends that hold upright the rendering of art history in words and chapters.
Where then do we locate the art of James Hendricks? If abstract it must be an abstraction of something that exists in the world—a mole hill as an abstraction of a mountain. A reduction must reduce a quantity greater than itself—a scream reduced to whimper. It follows that to be expressionistic a Hendricks painting must express something that is not itself, or express what the artist is emotionally feeling while painting. Or, it must be an abstraction of itself, which doesn’t make sense. The way out of this labyrinthine puzzle is by calling Hendricks an action painter without assigning him to a historical moment that would lock him in place and fix him in time. Action is timeless, anywhere, and not specifically human: apes and children can compete with adult humans as action painters.
Nonetheless, Hendricks identifies his work with Abstract- Expressionist painting, which is non-spatial in a traditional way of thinking of pictorial space as governed by perspective. But his paintings are in space—not space as background but space as space, as a container of existence. I cannot recall an art historical precedent for Hendrick’s space without thinking about borderless ceiling paintings such as Paleolithic cave art or Tiepolo’s ceiling frescos that dissolve their subject matter in heavenly light and transcend earthiness to become supernatural. Hendricks speaks of his paintings as looking into spirit—spirit as ethereal, dimensionless space—and he credits Rothko, Frederic Church, and Kandinsky for inspiration. He speaks of the practical action of painting before moving on to the spiritual, like one might describe the erosion and resistance of rock that preceded by millions of years the formation of the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls—awe as a manifestation of spiritual surrender to the sublime.
By 1960, however, Abstract-Expression as a start-up style for young artists had withdrawn. Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and Claes Oldenburg attracted art dealers and curators who were alert to newness as the defining trait of the avant-garde’s forward motion. The new avant-garde pushed the Abstract-Expressionists aside as combatants that had broken ranks and run out of ammunition.
This is when Hendricks first visited New York. In 1959, he was in the last year of a pre-med zoology major at the University of Arkansas when a fraternity brother, Larry Englehardt, came to dinner on campus at the fraternity house before leaving for New York City. Before visiting his fraternity brothers at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Englehardt had been a student in New York at the School of Visual Arts and had an apartment on 2nd Avenue at 17th Street. He talked Hendricks into taking leave of pre-med studies for a semester to experience New York. He invited him to make the trip with him and stay in his Manhattan apartment. They drove to New York in late September. Hendricks was thrilled by the city. He hadn’t yet made a commitment to art, and anyway had arrived too late to enroll in any of the major art schools. But he needed income. He went to an employment agency that recommended he apply to Irving Trust at 1 Wall Street. After interviews and a math test, he was hired as an apprentice Foreign Exchange Clerk.
He hit it off with Englehardt’s roommate, Jim Hans, who was a painter. While Englehardt worked on his cartoon art, he and Hans went to museums, art gallery openings, and bars where artists gathered. After-hours at the bank, he took a job as a bartender’s assistant at The Top of the Sixes (Stouffers’ Restaurant). Each evening, he and Hans went down to the Village to meet and talk with extraordinary people—then to bed in the early morning. The late hours took their toll. In December, Hendricks saw the bank’s resident doctor to complain of a fever and swollen glands in his neck and under his arms. The doctor determined that he had glandular fever and advised him to go home to Little Rock for recovery. He did, and by mid-January 1960 he decided to return to the university at Fayetteville and finish his BA in pre-med Zoology. He took a few art courses on the side. When he had just about finished the pre-med program, he made friends with one of the graduate students from Chicago who invited him to visit Chicago over the Thanksgiving holiday. At the Art Institute of Chicago they saw the exhibition of Abstract Expressionist paintings in the Ben Heller collection. Heller was a New York entrepreneurial businessman and art consultant tycoon who began trading and collecting in the mid-1950s. He owned seven very large Rothko canvases, five drip paintings by Pollock (one of them 209 inches long), three works by Kline (the largest he had painted), and other large works by Newman, Motherwell, Gottlieb, Guston, Reinhardt, and Gorky. Hendricks recalls being completely blown away. “I loved all of it. And soon after that experience, pre-med zoology became history.” Nonetheless, on returning to Arkansas, he completed his degree. Acceptance for graduate study in art at the University of Iowa led to a Master of Fine Arts degree, which was awarded in 1964. That fall found him teaching art at Mount Holyoke College and in 1965 at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Hendrick’s maturity as an artist did not start as an Abstract-Expressionist but as a photo-realist, submitting to a fascination with astronomy that had seduced him at an early age. When only fourteen, he had a 30X telescope with which he explored the Earth’s moon and the remote planets. Over the remaining teenage years, he accumulated books on space exploration and astronomy. The year he started teaching, NASA made some of the first Moon images available. He was so taken by the imagery that he thought to try copying the NASA photographs as paintings. After a few successes, he sent a letter and slides to NASA, inquiring if they might be interested in his work. NASA forwarded his letter to the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian, which responded, asking Hendricks to send several of his photo-realist Moon paintings for a group show that they were planning for the spring of 1969. And in Chicago, the Container Corporation of America also asked for a group of paintings to show in the summer of that year during the first Moon landing. The Smithsonian agreed to take the same show. The paintings were exhibited that fall around the rotunda where moon rocks were displayed. From the display, the curator of the National Gallery selected a work for his show, The Artist and Space, which was to open in January 1970. That year, Hendricks traveled to Cape Canaveral to witness the launch of Apollo 14.
In 1971, Hendricks was ready to abandon his interest in photo-realism based on copying photographs. He wanted to make a more personal investment in his imagery. He had a sabbatical year from teaching. He moved down to New York where he rented a loft in SOHO that he would occupy from time to time for several years. After the sabbatical year he returned to Amherst and commuted to New York when time permitted. He tried his hand at Abstract-Expressionism, which still lingered for another generation of painters as Color Field painting took over in the sixties: Morris Lewis, Jules Olitski, Gene Davis, and so on came on stage. One day the art dealer Sunne Savage brought the former Museum of Modern Art curator Sam Hunter to meet him and see his paintings. Hunter purchased a painting and encouraged Hendricks to not leave New York if he wanted to make it in the art world. Later, he asked one of his friends, a collector, to come and check out Hendricks’ work. The collector did and purchased a large canvas. During a discussion built around Abstract-Expressionism and de Kooning, he asked Hendricks if he would like to meet de Kooning. An artist friend of his who lived near de Kooning, and was a close friend, could make arrangements for Hendricks to visit, which he did.
In mid-January 1979, with several canvases and a few works on paper in his van, Hendricks drove out from Manhattan to De Kooning’s studio in East Hampton on Long Island. After picking up the collector’s artist friend who had arranged the visit they drove over to de Kooning’s studio about ten in the morning. De Kooning met them at the door and said, as Hendricks recalls, “Do I know you? Have you been here before?” Then he looked out the door right and left and said that two guys from The National Gallery were here a few minutes earlier and wanted to come in and look at paintings to buy. He said he told them to leave, saying, “I have an artist coming over for a visit.”
De Kooning was terrific, Hendricks recalls. “We sat down together in two giant chairs, the other artist sat to the side. We talked about lots of things. One thing I remember in particular was that I told de Kooning that one of my favorite paintings of his was Excavation—one of his important works in the collection of The Chicago Art Institute. He told me that, as he worked on it in his studio on Union Square, a building next door was being destroyed and excavation of the foundation area was underway. He watched this happening. It inspired the resolution of the painting, so he gave it the title, Excavation. Then he asked Hendricks if he had brought some of his work for him to see and offered to help bring them into his studio. They brought in three canvases and unfolded them for viewing. “De Kooning was quite positive about my work and remarked that I was closer to Pollock than to him in that I used more fluid paint and painted with the canvas on the floor.”
Canal Street Concerto, an 84” square canvas painted in 1973, is as close to Abstract-Expressionist painting as Hendricks would get. Unlike photo-realism that depends on an accurate eye and obedient hand, the artist’s arm and hand do the brushwork and thus create the imagery while the eye looks on. Hendricks soon found that the most interesting aspects of a work of art are how actions of paint-handling leave evidence of movement in time and space, a chief characteristic of Abstract-Expressionism. He would soon speak of the collective display of richly varied actions as bestowing an exhilarating texture of meanings on the painted canvas. Veils of cross hatching and juxtapositions of shapes offer a sense of both close-up and far away. The energy required for a strident brush stroke placed over or adjacent to a passage of delicate pen and ink lines recharges as prodigious time/space manipulations and lead paradoxically to a state of timelessness, and in that state offer a moment of spirit.
A change in attitude accompanied that observation, and shifted Hendricks’ interest away from Abstract-Expressionism and back to his fascination with astronomy. Abstract- Expressionism encouraged that move, for it is non-gravitational and disperses energy across the canvas like astrophysical forces distribute chaos. All terrestrial things are tied to the earth by gravity and offered to the eye as earthbound. Outside of art history, with its linear, one-way traffic and closed side roads, there is no such thing as a natural world perceived in perspective. And neither perspective nor foreshortening organizes the cosmological heavens: the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, Venus in the East and the North Star in the North are moving constants in shape and location. For thousands of years of human star-gazing, they appeared as if attached to the mantle of sky formed by the daily passage of the sun as it curves over the earth’s surface, always at the same distance from the earth. Hendricks followed the modern telescope’s ability to see through the mantle into deep space.
While no longer a moon painter, many of his paintings retain the moon’s roundness as seen through round lenses by the astronomer’s round eyes. Hypothetically the expanded universe has a center but not an east or west, north or south. At the Earth’s North and South poles, at either pole, no directions are acknowledged. And high above us, the Dippers don’t dip water and the moon is not a man’s head or made of green cheese, and nothing is either up or down.
The universe beyond Earth’s Low Atmosphere is, rather, in an uproar of energy: old stars collapsing into black holes, their residual energy compacted into explosive baseballs; stars colliding, nebulae expanding; gamma rays, x-rays, and red shifts shooting tentacles non-directionally: rotating, spiraling, and clustering. I see this happening in Hendrick’s recent paintings, just as had happened colloquially in the poetic eyes of Joseph Langland: the express took off, the factory plugged into its circuit, insects hummed and buzzed in the suburbs; out of the world of light-color-form parts arrived and swirled and plopped into a limitless space; a firebird leaped up, a comet streaked by and faded, an orgasm of whirling insects exploded in his mind.
“The spiritual is in the heavens toward which lovers look,” Hendricks has written. “Looking into spirit is what lovers do when looking into each other’s eyes. A dazzling electric energy charges the look—joyous and intense. When one’s ego is depressed, one opens to experience a divine spark from within. When moved by a symphony, when experiencing great architecture, viewing the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls or looking at a great work of art, one feels a vigorous sense of well being. A great painting is a perfect arrangement of variables that interact and create a radiance that triggers a sublime moment, like looking into spirit or into the eyes of one’s lover.”
It takes a sublime moment to call forth the spirit. Hendricks is a Romantic Expressionist. His godhead is not on Earth but in outer space where Genesis put it. The basis for similarity among Romantic painters is a religious feeling for nature in a myriad of forms and moods. The human is awestruck by terrifying grandeur of the world—the Alps, the Grand Canyon, the Pyramids, Niagara Falls—as if confronting the majesty and glory of God and his will to condemn and destroy. Goethe’s passages of young Werther’s outpourings of sensation when he first confronts the mysterious majesty of wild nature keys in the early phase of Romanticism associated with the awesome and sublime as glorious, infinite, yet at times terrifying: “I felt myself exalted by this overflowing fullness to the perception of the Godhead. The glorious form of the infinite universe stirred within my soul. Stupendous mountains confronted me, abysses yawned at my feet, and cataracts fell headlong down before me; rivers rolled through the plains below, and rocks and mountains resounded from afar.” The Irish poet and balladeer Thomas Moore, in a letter to his mother of July 1804, tells of his experience seeing Niagara Falls. Here too, the majestic power of Nature looms before him as god-like. Niagara Falls, to which Hendricks often refers, is the Romantic’s prayer wall. “I felt as if approaching the very residence of the Deity; tears started into my eyes; and I remained for moments after we lost sight of the scene, in that delicious absorption which pious enthusiasm alone can produce. We descended to the bottom of the Falls. There, all its awful sublimities rushed full upon me. My whole heart and soul ascended toward the Divinity in a swell of devout admiration, which I never before experienced. Oh! Bring the atheist here, and he cannot return an atheist.” Space beyond Earth’s boundary is measured as time. Time yields space when drawn out. Outer space becomes less spherical when the Earth as a globe fades into memory, when distance dissolves into space like sleep into a dream.
Hendricks restores the celestial sphere in rectangular formats. The sphere is heavenly, like a halo, while the rectangle is earthly and secular. His round paintings, which make up a large percentage of his production, restore the circumference of the universe at the extremity of the Big Bang’s discharge and put the artist in a center that can be anywhere.
Over many years of production, Hendricks has accumulated a variety of strategies to apply paint that would transcend the medium and become sublime. Color has expressive power, he says, and the way a color is applied evokes different perceptions. Colors encode the brushwork gestures to multiply the canvases’ complexity and create a visual construct or metaphor that virtually explodes as a climax, creating a sublime moment in the viewer’s mind. The collective display is awesome in immensity and grandeur. A quest for the sublime as the stimulus of spirit explains Hendricks’ emphasis on the canvas’ hugeness, the thickness of paint and the aggressive velocity of applying it. His methodology is not in whole the same as Pollock’s drips and skeins from a loaded brush or a can. Hendricks emulates geophysical forces on Earth and applies them to the astronomical Heaven, proving that Edmund Burke’s definition of the sublime can work for modern astronomical adventuring as it did for the first generation of geological exploration. Burke’s 18th Century book on the origin of ideas about the sublime and the beautiful proposes that the sublime is perceived when the imagination is moved to awe and yet instilled with a degree of horror. As such, the sublime inspires veneration, spiritual awesomeness. The majestic Alpine Matterhorn can both inspire the climber to ascend, as if by Jacob’s ladder, and threaten him with death. At the foot of the mountain is a graveyard where, as in Arlington Cemetery, fallen warriors are buried.
Andersen Bio Sketch
Wayne Andersen (dba Vesti Andersen). His career ran almost parallel to James Hendricks’. As an undergraduate at the University of California in the 1950s, his major field of study was Biology. He visited New York in the late Fifties and became acquainted with several artists and galleries. He moved to New York City in 1959 and over the next two years completed an MA and the course work and examinations for his PhD in Art History and Archeology at Columbia University. The dissertation and the degree came in 1965. In 1962, he was appointed Senior Curator of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Not interested in museum work, and having just received the Cutting Award as Columbia’s most outstanding graduate student, he resigned in 1963 and spent the following year and a half in Paris. While there, he received a Belgian- American grant and spent a summer in Belgium. He was also the Paris correspondent for the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In the fall of 1963, he was awarded a sizeable grant from the Ford Foundation Program in the Humanities, which allowed him to return to the United States and hole-up in the Poconos where he completed his first book. In 1965 he was appointed Professor of History, Theory, and Criticism in the Department of Architecture at MIT. In addition to teaching, in 1966 he was appointed Chairman of the MIT Faculty Committee on the Visual Arts and Director of Exhibitions. In 1976, he resigned from MIT and formed the design firm, Vesti Corporation in Boston and its branch, Vesti Design International in Switzerland. The Vesti entities performed mostly in Saudi Arabia where he was a consultant to Prince Sultan and the Ministry of Defense and Aviation. In 1988 he resigned from everything other than the human species and returned to full time writing. He has published 14 books and many essays. His latest book is Marcel Duchamp: The Failed Messiah, an exposure of the Duchamp myth and a critique of art historians and museum curators as myth-makers.