At first glance, the Nasher Museum of Art’s new exhibit Color Balance, featuring the work of the two abstract artists Felrath Hines and Alma Thomas, appears uneven—the different styles are not complementary of each other.
Thomas’ use of vibrant colors is initially more intriguing to the everyday observer than Hines’ use of razor-sharp edges and subtle shadings. That impression fades, though, as the observer delves deeper into the works and begins to appreciate the skill required for both styles.
Thomas and Hines were both black artists unable to devote their full time to painting until retirement. Just as Pop art was becoming all the rage among the cultural elite, these aging painters created pieces that were successful even though abstract art was trending out of style.
When entering the exhibit, one immediately observes a painting by Thomas of bold daubs and dashes of color upon a white canvas. The visible left side of the space displays the simpler works of Hines, while the right side holds large paintings from Thomas.
Following the natural path of exploring Hines’ works first, viewers begin to fully appreciate the sharp edges in the compositions: they were painted with a consistently steady hand as opposed to the popular method of using tape to divide sections of color in Cubist works. His geometric use of shapes against striking colors on smooth surfaces creates the illusion of unusual depth. Also interesting are two ink wash pieces that appeal more to creative minds in their depictions of abstract scene.
After experiencing the more formal style of Hines, the exhibit fades into Thomas’ collection of works, which all share the central theme of mediations on nature. While there are fewer works by the latter artist, the pieces compensate with a heightened level of intensity and imagination that recall the style of French modern artist Henri Matisse. The lively, blissful atmosphere created by her section of the exhibit is visually satisfying.
In addition to the works of the artists, an open room in the center of the exhibit allows observers to create abstract works of their own, either using magnets on whiteboards or drawing on postcards. The added element of physical interaction with the space creates a playful environment that the entire family can enjoy.
Color Balance is an intriguing exhibit that is enjoyable even to those who aren’t well versed in art. Though Thomas’ works are more digestible, careful attention paid to both artists will lead to the most satisfying visual equilibrium.
Color Balance will be on display at the Nasher Museum of Art until Sept. 5. The Nasher is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.