LYNNE DREXLER (1928-1999)
LYNNE DREXLER (1928-1999)
LYNNE DREXLER (1928-1999)
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LYNNE DREXLER (1928-1999)
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LYNNE DREXLER (1928-1999)

Flowering Judas 2

LYNNE DREXLER (1928-1999)
Flowering Judas 2
signed, titled and dated 'LYNNE DREXLER 1960 FLOWERING JUDAS 2' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
35 x 33 ½ in. (88.9 x 85.1 cm.)
Painted in 1960.
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner, circa 1983

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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

The impressive body of work that the Abstract Expressionist painter Lynne Drexler produced over the course of her career is astonishing. In this, a stunning painting from the highpoint of her early career, Drexler creates a colorful world full of light and movement. Painted in 1960, Flowering Judas 2 takes its inspiration from the beautiful pink blossoms of the redbud tree (also known as the “Flowering Judas” tree), which is rendered in Drexler’s signature patchwork style brusahstrokes. Here, these inventive strokes of color are executed in a variety of jewel-like tones, ranging from dark burgundy and scarlet red to bright pink, green, yellow and light blue.

Because she didn’t paint her mature paintings until 1959, Lynne Drexler is often considered to be a “second-generation” Abstract Expressionist artist. Nevertheless, Drexler had the same training as that of her peers. She moved to New York in 1955 and began classes with Hans Hofmann one year later. In April of 1956 she received a scholarship from Hofmann to study at his Provincetown summer program. From Hofmann, Drexler learned how to create dynamic color relationships and how to balance what would become her signature “swatch” or “patch-like” brushstrokes to create what she called “the push and pull of the space” (L. Drexler, quoted in Lynne Drexler: A Life in Color, a film by Roger Armory, Monhegan Museum, 2008).  

I’ve always felt deeply within myself that I was a damn good artist… though the world didn’t recognize me as such. I wasn’t about to play their game. Lynne Drexler

When Hans Hofmann quit teaching in 1958, Drexler enrolled in a graduate program at Hunter College, where Robert Motherwell was one of her instructors. Drexler’s intention at the time was to learn how to teach painting, but Motherwell noticed her strengths as a painter and encouraged her to become an artist, saying “I’ll flunk you out of here before I see you go to teach. You’re too good a painter” (R. Motherwell, quoted in J. Dorfman, “Symphonies of Color,” Art & Antiques, Vol. 45 (December 2021–January 2022), p. 60).

In the mid-1950s, Drexler was a member of the legendary Greenwich Village art scene. She attended the Friday night events at the 8th Street Club, where she would have been one of the few women artists in attendance. She also rubbed elbows at the Cedar Tavern, which had been a hangout for artists like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Philip Guston and Joan Mitchell. Drexler would ultimately synthesize her flair for color (which she learned from Hofmann) with a direct and spontaneous gestural painting style (that she learned from Motherwell). In Flowering Judas 2, she combines the best of both worlds, where her intuitive flair for color is rendered in the short, gestural marks that made her work a shining example within Abstract Expressionism.

In the present work, Lynne Drexler’s original and daring use of color is already fully formed. Here, we see that she has unfurled her patch-like brushstrokes in a variety of shapes and colors. The largest elements sometimes resemble mosaic pieces, or “tesserae, which she has arranged in clustered groups of red, burgundy, yellow and green. Scattered throughout the painting are smaller pieces resembling seed pods or petals, in tight clusters of dark burgundy, orange, red and pink. In Flowering Judas these tiny elements seem to be lifted by a breeze and flutter through the air. Drexler often paired two opposing colors to create a vibrant, sparkling effect, and in the present work, she combines green and red, orange and blue, and purple with yellow. Every color is met with its opposite under Drexler's command. This seems to make the floating pieces rise upward and twirl around in a swirling mass, creating a hovering cloud of beautiful, pixelated colors. 

Painted in 1960, Flowering Judas 2 belongs to the high point of Drexler’s early career, having been painted just one year before her solo exhibit at the Tanager gallery in 1961. The Tanager gallery was a prestigious, artist-run collective whose members included Willem de Kooning and Alex Katz. This was her first solo exhibition and it was favorably reviewed in Art News, with one critic writing, “Drexler shows medium and outsized pastoral, florid, bleeding-edge canvases that are built up with swatches of tones that seem like so many technicolor galaxies…” (V.P., “Lynne Drexler,” ArtNews, Vol. 59 (February 1961), p. 19). 

I came to believe in myself and my own inner resourcefulness... Recognition, fame and applause became trappings that were no longer important, and I opted out. Lynne Drexler

Although Drexler only exhibited sporadically over the next two decades, her work was well-received, and, perhaps most importantly, the artist herself believed in her own talent. “I’ve always felt deeply within myself that I was a damn good artist,” she said, “though the world didn’t recognize me as such. I wasn’t about to play their game” (L. Drexler, quoted in J. K. Alexander, R. Miller and S. Miller, eds., Lynne Mapp Drexler: Her Way, New York, 2023, p. 4).

Lynne Drexler’s command of color and sense of balance is impressive, considering she was little known throughout much of her career. As a talented artist who has been recently rediscovered, Drexler joins the ranks of other great artists like Ruth Asawa, Alma Thomas and Hilma Af Klint. Indeed, Drexler maintained her own, unique style largely outside of the mainstream art world. Her inventive, patch-like brushwork comes alive in Flowering Judas 2, making for a joyous and colorful creation. “I came to believe in myself and my own inner resourcefulness,” Drexler declared. “Recognition, fame and applause became trappings that were no longer important, and I opted out… “ (L. Drexler, quoted in J. R. Aubrey, John Fowles and Nature: Fourteen Perspectives on Landscape, Madison, 1999, p. 58).

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