This major retrospective is the first opportunity to fully examine Reynal’s significant contribution to post-World War II American art. On view will be work from the early 1940s to 1970, including works on loan from the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Sculpture Garden.
Jeanne Reynal (1903 – 1983) was a mosaicist, and a first-generation New York School artist. She challenged expectations of the medium by creating, as she described, “a new art of mosaic, a contemporary and fresh look for this ancient medium.” Her work was largely abstract, and she was dedicated to the ways in which hand-cut stones and glass tiles, set on a bias, could reflect and create light across a surface. She applied tesserae (the tiles, stone, and shells she used to construct her mosaics) in loose formations, to a ground of pigmented cement. Her work was often subtle and painterly.
Reynal would begin directly, without preparatory designs, and elaborately re-work her surfaces by removing tesserae and re-applying thin layers of cement.
“These surfaces, so appealing to the tactile sense, carried the eye on a fantastic journey through planetary landscapes punctuated by crusty routes of closely-grouped obsidian, and soft, misty hills of pulverized mineral matter. In these compositions the artist approached the freedom of the easel painter.” - Dore Ashton
Reynal was the subject of three solo exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: the first in 1941. At this time, Reynal developed a relationship with the first director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Grace McCann Morley. Reynal introduced Morley to the work of Pollock, and counseled her on other artists emerging in New York, such as Arshile Gorky: profoundly impacting the course of acquisitions and exhibitions at the museum.
During her California years, Reynal also developed a lifelong friendship with Isamu Noguchi who had enrolled, voluntarily, in an internment camp to aid other Japanese-Americans. She collaborated with Noguchi on several mosaics for tables of his design. The exhibition includes a 1942 table on loan from the Noguchi Foundation.
Reynal was associated with the Surrealists - many of whom were living in exile in the U.S. Her 1950s work utilizes the biomorphic shapes associated with the intersection of Surrealism and early Abstract Expressionist painting. Reynal’s work was part of the seminal 1947 exhibition “Bloodflames” —designed by Frederick Kiesler and presented at the Hugo Gallery — alongside Wifredo Lam, Roberto Matta, Arshile Gorky, David Hare, and others.
In 1946, Reynal moved to New York City, where she would live and work for the rest of her career. In 1953, she married Thomas Sills, a largely self-taught African American painter, who went on to have a significant career. It was in this period that Reynal began exhibiting with Betty Parsons Gallery. She also began working with shaped surfaces: diamond, octagonal, and circular structures.
1965 SFMOMA Travelling Solo Exhibition | Installation Photograph
Mosaic Is Light, Installation Photograph | Eric Firestone Gallery
Reynal was an extensive traveler, and was influenced by indigenous art across the world. In the late 1960s, Reynal began making totem sculptures. These monumental, freestanding sculptural works, some of which are over 10 feet tall, were originally exhibited at Betty Parsons and at the Art Association of Newport, Rhode Island. A large group of these works is on view in this exhibition.
Reynal’s work can be found in numerous institutional collections throughout the country, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Noguchi Foundation and Sculpture Garden; the Menil Collection, Houston, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The estate of Jeanne Reynal is exclusivly represented by Eric Firestone Gallery.