Felrath Hines’ “Red Stripe with Green Background,” with its tight geometric lines and bright hues, plays with the viewer’s perception. Red, yellow, and blue horizontal stripes separate a green gradient. A white pyramid bounded by black pierces the green plane and a tilted rectangle rimmed in black seems to bounce above, both offering optical “windows” into the canvas and to a space beyond. The slightly off-center rectangle adds an element of playfulness, perhaps alluding to the freedom and joyousness of human spirit.
When painting, Hines listened to Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Theleonious Monk, and other influential jazz masters as well as classical music, and many writers have connected his geometric abstraction work to jazz improvisation. (1)
Hines was an activist. With Romare Bearden and Norman Lewis, he formed Spiral, an association of African American artists founded in New York in response to the Civil Rights Movement, participated in Martin Luther King’s march on Washington, and in 1965, demonstrated to express solidarity with freedom fighters in Selma, Alabama. In 1967, he served on the executive committee for the exhibition, Invisible Americans: Black Artists of the 1930s, which was in protest of a show at the Whitney that excluded African American artists. In 1972, Hines took a position as the chief conservator at the National Portrait Gallery and then at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
Hines began painting semi-abstract landscapes in the 1940s and 1950s, but moved to abstraction, utilizing geometric shapes and pure colors. Along with Red Stripe with Green Background, his Abstract Landscape from 1964 is also featured in African American Art in the 20th Century, a traveling exhibition organized by Smithsonian American Art Museum, and on view at The Westmoreland until January 17, 2021.
Felrath Hines, “Red Stripe with Green Background,” 1986, oil on linen. Smithsonian American Art Museum, gift of Dorothy C. Fisher, wife of the artist. © 1986, Dorothy C. Fisher.
The text in this article includes excerpts from the African American Art in the 20th Century Exhibition Label, a traveling exhibition organized by Smithsonian American Art Museum.
1. Mecklenburg, Virginia, “Commentaries on the Artworks: Felrath Hines” in Richard J. Powell et al, African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond, (New York, NY: Smithsonian American Art Museum and Skira Rizzoli Publications, Inc., 2012) 120-123.