Helene McKinsey Herzbrun
About the artist:
Helene Herzbrun was an American artist who lived and worked within the art community in Washington, D.C. A student and friend of Jack Tworkov, she was a second-generation abstract expressionist who developed a personal style that set her apart from the Color School movement of her time. She was known for abstract landscapes having bold colors and employing gestural brushwork. She was also said to possess an ability to create the illusion of depth without employing graphical perspective. As well as painting, Herzbrun enjoyed a long career gallery administrator and professor of art at American University.
Herzbrun made gestural painting in an abstract expressionist style. When a painting of hers was selected for the 23rd Biennial held at the Corcoran Gallery in 1953 critics commented on the circumstances—as noted above, she was the only local artist selected—but not on her style. Three years later, however, a critic for The Washington Post gave a thorough examination to Herzbrun's technique in reviewing a two-person exhibition at the Watkins Gallery. She recognized that, despite their abstraction, the paintings derived from a lyrical view of natural subjects. While earlier ones had possessed "a quality of light and sunshine, with flickering, rapidly moving patters," she said the more recent ones were looser and more expressionist, having bolder patterns and stronger color. Regarding a three-person show at the Corcoran in 1959 this critic commented on Herzbrun's ability to establish the illusion of depth without employing graphical perspective. She said, "Every brush stroke counts as it describes a push-and-pull of tensions in space. She achieves a great sense of depth and distance without recourse to receding planes or colors in the academic sense." A year later a critic for The New York Times saw an "innate refinement" in her work despite an obvious affinity for the loose organization and casual brushwork of the abstract expressionists. Her early painting, "Landscape (Rising from Purple)," shows both the freedom of her gestural brushwork and her ability to convey the illusion of depth. A later painting, "Aeroplat," shows her handling of bold patterns and bright colors, while "Counter Plane" demonstrates her use of receding planes of color.
In 1961 Herzbrun said she wanted to be more definite in her approach in order to bring out "the idea that's hiding" in her paintings. Regarding a two-person exhibition at Jefferson Place Gallery, held two years later, the critic for The Washington Post said Herzbrun's work showed integrity and was "unchanged and uninfluenced by the new little 'isms' that sweep the art world each season." She stressed the confidence with which Herzbrun remained committed to her painterly approach with its fresh, clear color and "strong slashing brush strokes" and noted her ability to "create a world of her own" and make it work. Regarding a solo show a few years later a critic for the Washington Star admired the joyful spirit of Herzbrun's abstract landscapes and saw in them "the broad strokes of totally confident painting echoing the ancient simplicities of fold, fallow and field." Commenting on this show, another critic stressed her technique, saying that Herzbrun produced a fresh surface of bright colors using "matte finish, glazes, impasto areas and delicate lines" all on the same canvas without sacrificing unity. During the following decade Herzbrun turned from painting on canvas to a printing technique called monotyping in which each sheet pulled was unique. She painted on glass and applied paper to the surface while the pigments were still wet. A review praised the resulting prints as fresh, colorful, free, and bright.
Helene Herzbrun was an American artist who lived and worked within the art community in Washington, D.C. A student and friend of Jack Tworkov, she was a second-generation abstract expressionist who developed a personal style that set her apart from