Jean Helion: A Painter's Journey in Life and Art

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Friday, February 15, 2013 - Saturday, May 25, 2013

French painter Jean Hélion (1904 - 1987) was a leading figure in the Paris art world in the 1930s, associated with the best abstract artists of his time.  Yet he had vital roots in Virginia, including a studio in Rockbridge Baths.  This unique exhibition tells the story of this artist in 18 works from local collections that span nearly 50 year, a story told from the point of view of guest curator (and painter) Bill White, himself one of the most important artist in the state.

The show maps a man's journey from Paris, to New York then to Rockbridge Baths, where Hélion settled with his American wife from Richmond.  It is a dramatic life story that includes being a prisoner of war during World War II for two years, then escaping, The paintings and drawings on view also reveal his visual journey from abstract art to painting figurative images that depict life on the streets of post-War Paris, a later style that White links to a revival of realist art in later twentieth century painting.  Hélion's struggle between abstraction and representational art has inspired scores of artist to this day, including the show's curator.

This exhibition is curated by Bill White, Professor Emeritus in Drawing, Painting, and the history of Modern Art, Hollins University.  The works in the show are drawn from a prestigious regional collection, with an additional important loan from the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum at Hollins University in Roanoke.  Organized by the Taubman Museum of Art.

Image: Jean Hélion, Tete (Head), c. 1943, gouche on paper, 25x20 inches, private collection.