We were intrigued by a story that first caught our eye on Twitter. The few lines we read were about a dumpster-diving car mechanic who retrieved artwork that turns out to be the work of ‘wrapper-artist’ Francis Hines.
According to the press release issued by Hollis Taggart, following his death in 2016, Hines’ house and barn studio were cleared and the contents were placed into dumpsters. Jared Whipple, a car mechanic and avid skateboarder, was alerted by a friend about large canvases with what looked like painted car parts! The dumpster search was worth the dive, and peaked Whipple’s curiosity about what might still be in the barn. He salvaged all that was not yet destroyed, and began his search to find out about the artist.
Several years later, after speaking with Hines’ family members and friends, Whipple enlisted the help of Peter Falk, an art historian, who worked with Hollis Taggart and his team to put together Unwrapping the Mystery of New York’s Wrapper ~ a selection of between 35-40 paintings, which will be shown at the Southport gallery, with accompanying presentation on view in the Chelsea gallery.
Born in Washington, DC, in 1920, Hines attended the Cleveland School of Art (now the Cleveland Institute of Art) before serving in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during World War II. Following the war, Hines settled in New York City, working as a commercial illustrator in addition to pursuing painting as a hobby. In the 1950s, he held the position of chief commercial artist at G. Fox & Co, one of the largest private department stories in the country at the time. In the 1960s, his personal artistic practice started to receive attention, and in 1965, he had his first solo exhibition at the Smolin Gallery, an avant-garde art venue on 57th Street. Around this time, Hines moved to Watertown, Connecticut, where he converted a barn into a large studio where he worked on his personal artistic projects until his death. Despite the fact that his wrapped sculptures were shown at the Stewart Neill Gallery in SoHo multiple times in the 1970s and his subsequent representation by the Vorpal Gallery in SoHo from 1984 until the gallery’s closing in 1997, Hines’ work largely fell out of public view after the turn of the century, though he continued an active practice in his Connecticut studio.
“As a gallerist, I am particularly interested in presenting the work of artists who have been left out of mainstream art history, whether it be by active omission or by chance,” said Hollis Taggart. “It is extremely rare to come across so many works by a largely forgotten artist. We’re excited by the opportunity to show and study so much of Hines’ oeuvre and to consider how his work might fit into the history of American art movements like Abstract Expressionism and alongside artists exploring similar techniques or themes like Christo or John Chamberlain.”
Francis Hines is best known for wrapping the Washington Square Arch in 8,000 yards of white polyester fabric in 1980. Hines was invited to wrap the Arch by New York University, as part of their campaign to raise funds to restore the monument after decades of graffiti blight. Described as “a giant bandage for a wounded monument,” the wrapping was an extraordinary undertaking that involved a team of 23 people stretching and crisscrossing each piece of fabric tightly into a geometric pattern. In 2017, on the 50th anniversary of the “Art in the Parks” program run by New York City’s Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs Agency, Hines’ wrapping of the Arch was chosen as one of the top ten public art installations to have taken place in NYC. As the only artist to ever wrap buildings in Manhattan (he also wrapped two abandoned tenement buildings in the East Village in the late 1970s, among others), it is not surprising that he is most remembered for these large-scale endeavors. Hines’ deep engagement with wrapping is however most pronounced in his paintings, 15 of which, along with 5 large-scale drawings, will be on view at Hollis Taggart Southport. A smaller representative group of paintings and drawings will be on display at the Chelsea gallery. As Hines himself said, “My building wraps are larger forms of what I do in the studio.”
Unwrapping the Mystery of New York’s Wrapper revives Hines’ work and career, positioning him at the forefront of expressionists experimenting with wrapping, and demonstrating his unique vision to imbue his works with a tension and kineticism reflective of the changing world around him. Hines’ paintings will be presented alongside archival material, including photographs and project drawings. The exhibition contextualizes his work in the creative output as a groundbreaking style within the New York art scene of the 1960s through the 1980s. Unwrapping the Mystery of New York’s Wrapper is curated by Paul Efstathiou, Director of Contemporary Art at Hollis Taggart, and Peter Hastings Falk, art historian and publisher.
Francis Hines: Unwrapping the Mystery of New York’s Wrapper will be on view at Hollis Taggart Southport located at 330 Pequot Avenue in Southport, Connecticut from May 5 to June 11, 2022, with some pieces also shown at Hollis Taggart Chelsea located at 521 West 26th Street, NYC.