George Wexler 3.JPG

George Wexler (American, 1925 - 2006)

The trajectory of George Wexler's career is a somewhat unusual one.  Typically, young artists do not abandon a cutting-edge artistic style in favor of an older, somewhat unfashionable one. This is, however, the narrative that Wexler's career followed.  Wexler arrived on the art scene as an abstract artist.  After working in abstraction for nearly a decade, Wexler repudiated his experimentalism and began producing landscapes that, with each passing year, became more and more realistic.  He dedicated himself to producing meticulously-rendered depictions of the untamed woods, lush fields and sloping mountains of New York State's Hudson Valley and self-consciously adopted the traditions of the Hudson River School, a mid-19th century American art movement.Wexler was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1925.  He received his first artistic training at the Brooklyn Museum and, after serving in the Army during World War II, spent four years studying at the Cooper Union School of Art in Manhattan.  After finishing his studies at Cooper Union, Wexler went to Michigan State University; from 1950 – 1957 he was an assistant professor of design at the school. In 1957, he took a teaching position with the State University of New York at New Paltz.  He would teach painting and drawing at the University for thirty years and would remain in New Paltz until 2004. 

 

From about 1950 until the early 1960s, Wexler produced abstract paintings.  He explained his interest in abstraction, saying:

 

"I got interested in what everyone else was doing: Picasso, Cubism, Abstraction...That's what I got involved in, never overwhelmingly but I was very interested in cubism for quite a while. Then I got interested in Cézanne as the person I felt closest to and that influenced me for quite a long time in my paintings."

 

Wexler was a commercial success and received critical recognition for his abstract works.  After relocating to New Paltz, however, Wexler discarded abstraction in favor of naturalistic landscapes.  Wexler cited the change in environment as the reason for his turn towards realism, saying in 1972:

 

"Not long ago, I became very much aware of nineteenth century American painting.  My whole background…has always oriented me to despise this work.  As I got older, I started to look at things a little more freshly. The Hudson River School painters! That’s where I live; they were working with the same things I’m working with. There’s an affinity here which I can now feel through nature."

 

After repudiating the au courant abstraction for which he was known, Wexler lost most of his original collectors and patrons.  Gradually, however, he regained and surpassed his original reputation.  He became associated with the Fischbach Gallery in New York City, a notable gallery representing renowned realists like Nell Blaine, John Button, Jane Freilicher, Ian Hornak and Neil Welliver.  In addition, his works were chosen by the U.S. State Department’s “Art in Embassies” program for display in embassies worldwide.

 

Wexler’s works are now represented in numerous museums and private collections, including the Albany Institute of Art, Albany, NY; the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA; the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, New Paltz, NY; the Haggerty Museum, Milwaukee, WI; and the Schenectady Museum of Art in upstate New York. 

 

Wexler’s career is, perhaps, a somewhat unusual one, but it demonstrates that the talents of great artists are fluid and capable of rapid - and dramatic – evolution.  

 

Gallery biography courtesy of Russell-Tether Fine Art

 

Styles and Influences

Early Years
George Wexler was born in 1925 in the South Flatbush neighborhood of New York City, and early on gravitated towards art.  He trained with WPA-sponsored artists in after school programs, and at 14 spent a summer traveling to the Brooklyn Museum focused on drawing the figurative sculptures of Malvina Hoffman.  Over the next two years he enrolled in free weekend classes, drawing and painting models, usually street people.  He was strongly influenced at the time by the Mexican social realists, most notably Jose Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera.  At 17 he enrolled in Cooper Union, but joined the army a year later and served in the European theater as a combat engineer.  After Germany capitulated he was demobilized to England and continued his art training at the Shrivenham American University for the remainder of his enlistment.  Back in New York, Wexler completed his studies at Cooper Union and also trained in stage design at the Dramatic Workshop in Manhattan. 

Wexler was employed for a time at PAS Studio with friends Danny Woskoff and Roland Wise, but he had little interest in the commercial art business and instead secured a teaching position at Michigan State University, where he also completed his MFA.  At the time he was painting in the abstract, driven by the innovations of Picasso, Pollack, and Cezanne and the notion of the flat picture plane.  Gradually, however, he began painting semi-abstract landscapes largely from his imagination.  Seeking to live in the countryside where he could observe nature directly for inspiration, he brought his family to the small college town of New Paltz in the Hudson Valley of New York, enjoying the close spectacle of the Shawungunk cliffs and the more atmospheric view of the Catskills past Kingston and Woodstock.

 

Later Years
During the 1960s and ‘70s Wexler enjoyed close relationships with Walter Chrysler, Jr., an early collector of his work, and New York artists Roland Wise, St. Julian Fishburne, Ilya Bolotowski, Ben Karp, Alex Martin, Ben Bishop, George Wardlaw, and others.  In addition, he associated with Manhattan-based realists such as Gabriel Laderman, Lennart Anderson, Philip Pearlstein, and Theophil Groell.  Finally breaking with SoHo’s 1st Street Gallery, Wexler was recruited by Aladar Marberger, then director of the Fischbach Gallery in Manhattan, who vigorously championed Wexler’s work.

Eschewing abstraction for detailed representation in his art, Wexler worked in the spirit of Hudson River School artists Frederick Church and John Frederick Kensett, the English Romantic John Constable, and painters of the Barbizon School such as Camille Corot.  He did much of the groundwork for his paintings in plein air, mostly in New Paltz, a place notable for its beautiful, rolling farmlands and rich, sensual views of the Shawungunks.  But he also frequented locales such as Olana, North and South Lakes, and West Point, favorites of Church and Cole especially.  Wexler did experiment successfully with vistas in Kaua'i and San Diego, but his heart was always rooted firmly in the Hudson Valley.

Mature Style
For George Wexler, landscape is an immense area bathed in light and shadow. He can depict a brightly glowing stand of trees right next to one locked in shadow. A deft master of perspective, he repeatedly documents long views in which farms, factories, roads, bridges, and other signs of man's presence accent or define the landscape. Typically, Wexler's paintings are panoramic in scope while conveying a wide range of detail. In direct contrast to Frederic Church's painterly exuberance, Wexler’s approach to his subject matter is meticulous and contemplative. 

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SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS:

1951 Michigan State University 
1952 Chiku-Rin Gallery, Detroit, Michigan 
1957 Grand Ledge Playhouse, Michigan 
1959 Fleischmann Gallery, New York 
1960 Karlis Gallery, Provincetown, Massachusetts 
1961 Angeleski Gallery, New York 
1963 Three Arts Gallery, Poughkeepsie, New York 
1964 College of Insurance, New York 
1966 Albany Institute of Art, Albany, New York 
1968 University of Maine, Orono, Maine 
1970 First Street Gallery, New York 
1972 Schenectady Museum of Art, Schenectady, New York 
1972 Simon's Rock College, Great Barrington, Massachusetts 
1973 First Street Gallery, New York 
1975 First Street Gallery, New York 
1978 Gross McCleaf Gallery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 
1984 Fischbach Gallery, New York 
1986 Fischbach Gallery, New York 
1989 Fischbach Gallery, New York 
1992 Fischbach Gallery, New York 
1997 Fischbach Gallery, New York


SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS:

1962 "Little Landscapes" - Kornblee Gallery, New York 
1963 "Landscape in America" - The New School, New York 
1969 "20 Representational Artists" - State University of New York at New Paltz and SUNY, Buffalo 
1969 "First Annual Figurative Artists" - Swain School of Design, Bedford, MA; traveling to U. of North Carolina, Greensboro and the First Street Gallery, NY 
1974-75 "A Sense of Place" - Joselyn Art Museum, Omaha, NE and the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Lincoln, NE 
1976-77 "In Praise of Space" - Westminster College, Wilmington, PA; traveling to the Gross McLeaf Gallery, Philadelphia, PA and the Parsons School of Design, NY 
1977 "CAPS Semifinalists Exhibition" - New York 
1977 "Artists Choice" - Organized by the Association of Artist-Run Galleries; five SOHO Galleries, NY 
1979 "Artists and Friends" - First Street Gallery, NY 
1980 "The Mountains and the River: Artists in the Hudson Valley"; traveling throughout New York State 
1981 "Artists of the Northeast" - Art Awareness Gallery, Lexington, NY 
1983 "New Landscape" - One Penn Plaza, NY - curated by Gerrit Henry 
1983 "The American Landscape: Current Visions" - Bolen Gallery, Santa Monica, CA 
1985 "The Realist Landscape" - Robeson Center Gallery, Rutgers U, Newark, NY 
1985-86 "The New Response: Contemporary Painters of the Hudson River" - The Albany Institute of History and Art, Albany, NY 
1986 "Landscape, Seascape, Citiscape 1960-1985" - Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans, LA, and the New York Academy of Art, NYC 
1987 "Art Against AIDS" - 72 New York City Galleries 
1990 "Contemporary Landscapes" - Tortue Gallery, Santa Monica, CA 
1990 "Aspects of Realism" - Ted Gallery, Albany, NY 
1991 "The Eternal Landscape" - Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, Winston-Salem, NC 
1994 "Hudson Valley Sampler" - Gallery at Park West, Kingston, NY 
1999 "Enduring Vision" - Mandeville Gallery, Union College - Albany, NY 
1999 "American Realist Painting" - University of Oklahoma - Tulsa, OK
2006 Art-In-Embassies Program (Kigali, Rwanda; Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago)


SELECTED COLLECTIONS:

Albany Institute of Art, Albany, NY
Allied Bank of Texas
Burlington Mills
Chemical Bank of New York
Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA
Commerce Bancshares Inc., Kansas City, MO
Commerce Bank, Springfield, MO
Continental Group, Stamford, CT
Davidson and Maltz Ltd., NYC
Debevoice, Plimpton, Lyons and Gates
Dorsky Museum of Art, New Paltz, NY
Edmund Pillsbury Collection
Ernst and Whinney, NYC
Haggerty Museum of Art, Milwaukee, WI
Kemper Collection, Kansas City, MO
Manufacturers Hanover
Metropolitan Life Insurance Company
Michigan Bell, Detroit, MI
Michigan State University
Mitsubishi International
Moody's Investment Corporation
New York State Legislature
New York Telephone Company
New York University
Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock, Norfold, VA 
Readers Digest
Robinson Humphrey/American Express
Schenectady Museum of Art
State University of New York
Victoria Bank and Trust, Victoria, TX
Warner Communications, Los Angeles, CA
Washburn Associates, Philadelphia, PA
Wellington Group, Boston, MA