Spiral and the work of Felrath Hines
African-American paintings and prints from the collection of Dr. Laura Hines
The following works from the collection of Dr. Laura Hines - a former wife of artist Felrath Hines (1913-1993) - center around members of the short-lived but historically important artistic collective Spiral: a band of 16 African-American artists formed by Romare Bearden in 1963. The group would meet weekly at Bearden’s loft in Harlem, at first to discuss logistical issues like how to obtain buses to get to the March on Washington, but the meetings soon turned towards aesthetic goals and the role of black artists during the civil unrest of the 1960’s. Unlike most other artistic groups where a similar style, subject matter, or medium defined their work, the artists of Spiral worked in various styles and were bound instead by their shared struggle for civil rights, with each artist reacting to social inequality in their own way.
The works in the Hines collection are a testament to these varying styles. Three dreamy mixed medias by Norman Lewis (1919-1979) are on the verge of abstraction at first glance, but two reveal themselves to be misty moonlit landscapes while the third shows a long procession of small hand-holding stick-figures winding around a group of figures reposing under umbrellas—a powerful image implying the unification of those who find themselves segregated from society. A graphite drawing by Richard Mayhew (b. 1924-) is a similarly delineated landscape (below), but the seven paintings by Felrath Hines (1918-1993) are complete abstractions concerned solely with color and texture. Two realist etchings by Charles Wilbert White (1918-1980) round out the collection (although he wasn't a member of Spiral - the group was in existence for only two years and held just one exhibition - White was an important associate of many of the artists in it).
Felrath Hines (American, 1913-1993)
Samuel Felrath Hines, Jr. was born in Indianapolis and started studying art at the age of 13. After receiving formal training at the Art Institute of Chicago, he went east to New York City to continue studies in design at the Pratt Institute, eventually finding work as a fashion designer. Influenced by and often associated with the De Stijl movement, his work fluctuated between different abstract styles, always with an emphasis on color and design. Hines wanted his art to be universal and thus it does not contain the same social content as the work of his peers. Instead, he hoped that by using non-representational subject matter, he could create works that would elicit an intellectual and spiritual response from the viewer regardless of their ethnicity or gender. In his own words:
"An artist's work is to rearrange everyday phenomena so as to enlarge our perceptions of who we are and what goes on about us."
His work can be found in several collections, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum.