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 James Hilleary  (1924 - )

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Lived/Active: District Of Columbia/Maryland      Known for: geometric abstract and abstract expressionist painting, architecture

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Following from the website of the artist are excerpts of exhibitions reviews.

The Washington Daily News

By Tom Harney
The walls of the Henri Gallery are emblazoned this month with the stripes of James Hilleary, a Silver Spring architect having his first one-man painting and sculpture show. Mr. Hilleary, 43, a Georgetown native, originally studied to be a concert pianist, and in the repetitive motif of these works we can hear the echo of the fugues being played. His basic image is that of a core of straight stripes compressed on both sides by angled stripes.

In the earlier paintings in the show, this image is balanced in form and subdued in color but in the more recent paintings, which are by far the best of the show, the balance is shattered and the image becomes asymmetrical and at the same time pregnant with tension.

With it there is an increase in the brilliance of the acrylic color combination, which the artist plays upon to vary the sense of space and volume of his work. He has included a piece of Plexiglas sculpture in the show that gives these spatial properties of his image a three- dimensional explicit-ness and says he hopes to execute sculptures to parallel all of this initial show we can look forward to with curiosity and pleasure.

The Evening Star
By Ben Forgey
Gene Davis once remarked that an amazing number of architects were purchasers of his stripe paintings, even back in the days when the words Gene Davis weren’t household words and his stripes the household look in many Washington art-collecting households. This odd bit of information really is not so odd, when you consider that the scale, sterility, logic and clarity of Davis’s paintings also are concepts that architects work with every day.

The art of James Hilleary, a practicing architect who also is a painter, tends to support this little theory, at any rate. Hilleary’s paintings currently are on view at the Studio Galley (1735 Connecticut Ave. NW). Hilleary is a color painter. That is to say he paints abstract paintings by staining the canvas and he deals with the problems of scale and sterility and color in a logical and clear-headed way that is not without its own particular mystery. His paintings, in short, owe much to the examples of Gene Davis and Kenneth Noland, in particular, and to the whole spectrum of color-field painting, in general. Hilleary’s work is quite varied, but it all depends in some way on manipulation of sequential stripes.

In some paintings differentiates between the field and the stripes by superimposing loud and hard-edged stripes over a ground of similarly-hued but softer dapples. In others he neatly segments the canvas into two wedge shapes, each with its own color and motif of stripes, under a horizontal rectangle at the top. Hilleary’s own personality emerges most forcefully in the way he deals with the speed of the stripes - they keep the eyes moving very fast, especially in those sharp diagonals - without sacrificing the structural tightness of the canvas. It is an uneven show, but a good one.

 A One Man Show
James Hilleary, one of the newer members of the Studio Gallery, 1735 Conn. Ave., N.W., is having a one-man show there through December 11, 1971. Mr. Hilleary’s work is not new to Washington as his paintings and sculpture have been seen before at the Henri Gallery, the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the two group shows during the 1970-71 season at the Studio Gallery.
Mr. Hilleary was born in Washington in 1924 and attended the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and Catholic University School of Architecture where he received his Bachelor of Architecture degree.  Although Mr. Hilleary has his own architectural firm, he is an established member of the Washington art community.  Barbara Rose, art critic, reviewing an earlier exhibition wrote about his “assured geometric abstractions” in the November 1967 issue of Art Forum, and Cornelia Noland, in the “Washingtonian,” cited his work as being “particularly promising” after his first appearance with the Studio Gallery last fall.  Future exhibitions will include an appearance in a group show of Washington artists at the Phillips Gallery in December, and a joint exhibition with Kenneth V. Young in June at the AM Sachs Gallery in New York City.
Mr. Hilleary’s long architectural training is a very apparent influence in his paintings. Mr. Hilleary has said about his work “For me, painting is a natural extension of the creativity which directed me professionally toward architecture.”  Mr. Hilleary resides in Potomac, Maryland.

The Washington Post

Friday December, 12, 2003
James Hilleary Painting Retrospective
By Michael O’Sullivan
LOCAL PAINTERS Joseph Holston and James Hilleary have been making what is, different reasons, quintessentially Washingtonian art for decade’s now-Holston is 59, Hilleary 79-and lately without the hoopla accorded some of their younger, flashier or more famous colleagues.  A pair of well-deserved current exhibition casts a spotlight on both artists again, however briefly.  
While “Dialogue in Color and Form: The Art of Joseph Holston at the University of Maryland University College focuses exclusively on work made within the past three years, the Washington Arts Museum-sponsored “James Hilleary Painting Retrospective” at Edison Place Gallery includes nearly 40 years’ worth of art.  Nevertheless, each show in its own way makes the case that it is the artist’s newest work that is the best.
Hilleary, for his part, trained as a architect, but was steeped in the aesthetics of modernist art by his armchair-painter father and by his own childhood excursions to the Phillips Collection.  According to Hilleary, it was the inability to afford the art he loved that drove him to take up, after he had established himself in private architectural practice, what had been a lifelong passion. “I could have become a contents art collector,” he writes in the show’s accompanying catalogue, “had I been able to afford the work of artists I admired.  Lacking funds, I began painting in the manner of all the artists I coveted.”
Hilleary’s roots in admiration of contemporary masters are evident in a wide-ranging array of works that evoke the angular geometry of Joseph Stella; the stained-canvas “veils” of Morris Louis; the half-abstract. Half-impressionist mists of Leon Berkowitz; and the clean-edged, regimented stripes of Gene Davis.  Like fellow Washingtonians Louis, Berkowitz and Davis, Hilleary also is able to distill lyricism out of pure line and color.  In other words, his feet are in the Washington Color School, but his head is in the clouds.
It is, however, in Hilleary’s breath-taking series of paintings from the last few years (titled “Striae,” after the Latin word for furrows or channels), that the artist most fully synthesizes his disparate interests and, in so doing, finally breaks away from his long-standing influences.  With these paintings, he finally yokes his affinity for bands of often luminous color to his facility at creating the illusion of depth.

In these five canvases, hung together in a back room, Hilleary moves beyond the handsome, albeit decorative, to the realm of potent emotion. The Striae paintings, all of which feature strands of vertical color that alternately clump together and separate, forming a forest-like energy field, have a brooding electricity.  They almost literally hum. Staring into their dark, mysterious depths, one might get a sense of something both spiritual and deeply, muscularly sensual.
It may seem like hypocrisy, because many of us have been trained to think of African American art as, of necessity, angry.  Why does it need to be?  Like Hilleary, is it not enough that Holston celebrate formal beauty, finding it, in his case, in the human form?  There is something genteel and comforting about both men’s art that is, I think, endemic to this city.  But there is also a kind of ardor there too-if not a flame, then an ember that gives off palpable heat

Abstract Painting As James Hilleary Sees It
by Donald Kuspit
James Hilleary grew up a Washington Color Painter before there was such a thing, as Eleanor Green wrote. Hilleary is indeed a master of color, but line also plays a crucial part in many paintings. Etude and Howard, both 1979, are atmospheric fields of exquisite color, glowing with diffused light. In contrast, in the Petal Series, 1997 and Variations II Series, 1999 color is contained in a filament-like lines, which streak through space like pyrotechnic meteors.

From the beginning of his career, as Coptic, 1966, Polaris, 1971, the Afterimage Series, 1974, and Portal Series, 1979 indicate, Hilleary was interested in patterns as well as colors—patterns not simply as decorative displays of color, but as an intricate arrangement of what the Futurists called lines of force. Thus he oscillates between the geometrical and atmospheric extremes of pure painting, integrating them in the act of acknowledging their difference.  It is a subtle balancing act, making for singular works which are at once hedonistic and taut. The austere pattern adds backbone to the pleasure, the pleasurable color adds delicate flesh to the pattern.

The Alta Series, 1979, and such works as Aries, 1979, make the point clearly: pattern is embedded in color, which becomes its aura—and Hilleary’s paintings are pure numinosity—while remaining autonomous atmosphere. In the magnificent Striae Series, 2000-2002 line and color are seamlessly one. Vertical striations of a single color, deceptively uniform, form a kind of veil, often with a broad black or white horizontal, irregular edged, across it. In these grand modernist paintings, with their drip-like striations and acute sensitivity to color and edge, process and pattern are dialectically indistinguishable.  But there is more to Hilleary’s painting.

Many works involve the return of what has been repressed in the development of pure painting, indeed, its historical source—Impressionism. The Reflections Series, 1991-94 are what might be called Abstract Impressionist paintings. What becomes an however equivocally, an atmospheric horizon, usually luminous, as though at dawn, sometimes dark, as though at dusk. Hilleary has acknowledged that the Reflections Series is a homage to Monet—they deal with reflections in water, as Monet did —but my point is that they reveal the pure painting in Monet’s lyric naturalism, and suggest that naturalism continues to be implicated in pure painting. That is, Hilleary makes it clear that pure painting is dependent upon the same fascinated concern with the dynamics of light and atmosphere evident in Monet—nuances of light and atmosphere no longer anchored in nature yet subliminally bound to it.

In fact, Hilleary’s Reflections are subliminal landscapes—or rather abstract landscapes become sublime. One might recall that Kandinsky was inspired by one of Monet¹s Haystacks Series. He experienced it as an abstract epiphany before he realized that it was a scene from nature. Kandinsky was also inspired by music, and he formulated the influential idea of musical painting. Hilleary’s abstract paintings have their sophisticated place in its history. Indeed, they civilize the primitive musical painting with which 20th century abstraction began, making it harmonious with no loss of drama. Inner conflict is unresolved in Kandinsky¹s visual music—from the beginning, abstract painting was an emotional breathing space in an everyday world which had none—but Hilleary’s visual music resolves it in the act of revealing it, which is why music is said to be healing.

Biography from Peyton Wright Gallery:
Artist Statement:
"Music and art were equally influential in my early development. As a child I displayed a special talent for piano and drawing, which were encouraged by my amateur artist and musician father.

I never considered a career in art. Music was a possibility. In high school, I played with orchestras, in clubs and on radio, and enjoyed the experience. However, along the way I developed an interest in architecture. My education was interrupted by World War II and after three years in the army, I returned to study architecture, gain subsequent experience, and eventually establish my own practice.

Eventually, a museum director who saw my paintings pointed out that my independent development paralleled the direction of a group referred to as the Washington Color School."

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