Lynne Drexler was an Abstract Expressionist painter born in 1928 near Newport News, Virginia. Drexler studied drama at the Richmond Professional Institute from which she graduated in 1949. After an illness, she took art courses at the College of William & Mary and was encouraged by several mentors to move to New York and study with Hans Hofmann, which she did in 1956. Drexler studied at Hunter College with Robert Motherwell, who encouraged her to believe she could make a living as an artist.
Drexler began exhibiting her works in the late 1950s, and by 1959, she had developed her signature brushwork: swatch-like strokes in dense clusters, which allow color, not geometry, to triumph. She joined the dynamic art scene in Greenwich Village, frequenting the Cedar Tavern and the 8th Street Artist Club’s events. Drexler had her first solo exhibition in February of 1961 at Tanager Gallery, New York, whose founding members include Lois Dodd, Alex Katz, and Philip Pearlstein.
In 1962 at a Halloween dance at “The Club,” Drexler met her future husband, John Philip Hultberg (1922-2005), a painter from Berkeley, California, who had moved to New York in 1949. Hultberg showed his semi-abstract Surrealist paintings at Martha Jackson Gallery. Drexler and Hultberg were married in 1962 and took their honeymoon in Maine, where he had a house on Monhegan Island.
This would be the introduction to the place that would become so significant to Drexler’s life and art. That summer Drexler incorporated the shapes and colors of Monhegan into her work. She continued to translate these memories of Maine into her paintings during the winter in her studio in New York.
Following Hultberg’s employment teaching art, the couple moved to San Francisco, California; Portland, Oregon; and Honolulu, Hawaii. Drexler was able to make opportunities of her own by exhibiting at Esther Robles Gallery in Los Angeles (1965) and Nuuana Vallery Gallery in Honolulu (1967). When back in New York, Drexler and Hultberg were residents of the Chelsea Hotel until the early 1970s. One of Drexler’s paintings hung in the lobby along with work by other artists, including Larry Rivers.
In the late 1960s there were few opportunities for Lynne Drexler. The only exhibition on record from 1969 was a group exhibition at the Alonzo Gallery, where she would have three solo exhibitions in the 1970s. Despite the lack of recognition, Drexler continued to make bright, energic paintings juxtaposing patterns and colors that owe debt to her other artistic, pursuits, quilting and needlework. Her exploration creating with textiles is contemporaneous with the Pattern and Decoration movement, which celebrates women’s crafts.
By 1983 she was living full time on the island of Monhegan. Hultberg spent one winter there and found it too isolating and moved to Portland, Maine. Drexler found solitude on Monhegan and made connections in the year-round community. During the last two decades of her life, Drexler’s art became more representational, including elements of her coastal surroundings, still lifes, and a series of paintings incorporating dolls and masks. In her later years, Drexler developed more renown locally in New York with several solo shows held in Maine galleries. Drexler died of cancer in 1999.
An early critic compared Drexler’s work to that of Van Gogh, but he might have also compared the high drama of their lives, a story narrated in this exhibition catalogue essay by Gail Levin. Admiration for Drexler’s art gathered steam in the years following her death, when solo exhibitions of her work were held at Bates College Museum of Art, Lewiston, Maine (2003), the Monhegan Museum (2008), and the Portland Museum of Art, Maine (2009).