Abstract paintings by Richard Andres emerge from obscurity in fascinating exhibition at WOLFS in Beachwood

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BEACHWOOD, Ohio – A posthumous, partial retrospective exhibition at WOLFS Gallery of the impressive abstract paintings of the late Cleveland-area artist Richard Andres from 1950 to 1975 is a bittersweet revelation.

The revelation is that Andres, (1927-2013) who was overlooked for decades, became a very strong performer in Northeast Ohio after World War II. Combining idiosyncratic abstract forms, vibrant colors and varying moods, his paintings are truly worth appreciating today.

The bittersweet part is that despite his abundant gifts, Andres largely confined his energies to Greater Cleveland and never fully engaged in the art of his time, which moved rapidly beyond mid-century modernism. which he adopted in the 1950s. Over the next few decades, he became an artistic vestige that stuck to a view that became increasingly anachronistic as the art world evolved.

Andres didn’t react to Pop Art, Op Art, Minimalism, Conceptualism, or the myriad aspects of postmodernism that unfolded after 1960. He just kept moving forward as if the 1950s didn’t happen. had never ended.

The WOLFS show, running until August 20, therefore has an airtight quality that embodies the cultural mismatch affecting some Cleveland artists over the past half-century. It makes you wonder how Andres’ story might have been different had he made different choices.

But it’s hard to fully understand Andres now because the WOLFS exhibition ends in 1975. Art dealer Michael Wolf said he would hold an exhibition of Andres’ works from the late 1970s and later 80s in a year or two.

This is disappointing because, judging by the photographs of the more recent works, Andres softened considerably in the later part of his career, achieving a greater lushness and freedom that represented a step up from the flat, lean, papery look of his earlier works.

A post-1975 painting by Richard Andres, not visible during the exhibition of his work in the summer of 2022 at the Wolfs gallery, illustrates new directions in his work after the period explored in the exhibition.Courtesy of Wolfs Gallery

His later paintings adopted a warmer, more vibrant palette, and his brushwork became freer and more confident. Some paintings seem to shine like stained glass, at least judging by photos of them.

Seeing the full arc of Andres’ career now would have been better than just seeing the first part of a two-part series. Even so, as Andres’ first major show in about 30 years, the WOLFS exhibition is an important artistic event. This follows the death of his wife, portrait painter Avis Andres, in 2020 at the age of 92 and an agreement with the Andres estate that WOLFS will represent their work, Wolf said.

unlikely roots

Andres came from an unlikely background. He was the son of two Buffalo factory workers who supplemented their income by running a bar nearby. Her father left school after third grade and her mother never attended high school, according to an essay in the WOLFS exhibition catalog written by Case Western Reserve University art historian Henry Adams. .

Andres developed a passion for drawing as a child which grew stronger after visiting what is now the Albright-Knox Art Gallery – an excellent museum famous for its focus on modern and contemporary art.

After graduating with honors from Buffalo Technical High School in 1945, Andres received a BFA from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1950, where he met his future wife, former Avis Hazel Johnson. After a stint in the military, Andres earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Kent State University in 1954 and a master’s degree in fine arts from KSU in 1961.

While teaching high schools in Cleveland from 1955 to 1983, Andres developed a local reputation for producing abstract paintings that showed a keen awareness of the avant-gardes in Europe and America from the 1910s through the 1950s.

Influenced by artists as diverse as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Joan Miro, Max Beckmann, Robert Motherwell, Arshile Gorky, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, Andres chose a middle path between the muscular gestures of abstract expressionism, leaping space the qualities of cubist collage and the soft and sinuous forms of biomorphic surrealism.

Paintings in the WOLFS exhibition include quotes from the works of artists Andres admired, including heavy black forms that echo Motherwell’s “Elegy to the Spanish Republic” series, or the urgent, jagged, and pushed by de Kooning. Other paintings take up the flat, sinuous and pointed forms of Miro’s abstract surrealism.

Wolfs reveals the hidden art of Richard Andres

A painting by Richard Andres on display in an exhibition at WOLFS shows the influences of 1950s Abstract Expressionists Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell.Steven Litt, cleveland.com

Andres was hardly a secret at the time. By my count, he had no less than 147 paintings accepted into the Cleveland Museum of Art’s annual May Show between 1947 and 1984, an average of almost four per year.

Yet today Andres is all but forgotten in part because he kept most of his paintings to himself, storing them on shelves in the spacious, windowed, custom-designed home and studio in the leafy suburb of Summit County in Hudson that he shared with his wife and four children after 1967.

Supported by income from teaching, Andres apparently felt little pressure to sell his work, which would have dispersed him among museums, collectors and the art market, creating regular and ongoing opportunities for visibility across exhibitions and auctions.

Moreover, Andres “never seriously sought national recognition,” Adams wrote in his catalog essay. “He was content to quietly pursue his career as a painter in a secluded house of his own design, with large windows overlooking a forest setting, undistracted by the pursuit of fame.”

The result is that seeing a treasure trove of Andres’ work today, as if suddenly emerging from an attic, produces mixed emotions.

It is true that he was a marvelous painter who lived an enviable life of personal fulfillment in beautiful surroundings. But the exhibition also raises the question of the evaluation of artists who stand out from the great currents of their time, or who work outside the major centers of cultural production.

Andres was different from the late Julian Stanczak, a longtime instructor at the Cleveland Institute of Art and an important progenitor of Op Art, who quickly gained international attention when he participated in a groundbreaking exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. York in 1965, “The Reactive Eye.”

Stanczak, like Andres, has spent his entire career in northeast Ohio. But Stanczak’s work evolved significantly during his long career here before he died in 2017 aged 88. He also lived long enough to see his art rediscovered and widely adopted by critics, scholars and the art market late in his life. For him, it was a belated vindication.

“I’m numb,” Stanczak said of the resurgence of interest in his work in the 2000s. “Once you get older, you look at it with a cat’s smile. It’s very nice, but where were you all this time when I needed you?

It’s easy to see on the WOLFS show that Andres, unlike Stanczak, had no qualms about just pursuing his muse in peace and quiet.

His life and work are reminiscent of the title of artist Gerald Murphy’s memoir of life among American expatriates of the lost generation in France after World War I: “Living Well is the Best Revenge.”

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