Lee Hall

As a second-generation Abstract Expressionist,  Lee Hall’s work was often shown among the first. Hall spoke frequently of her relationship to nature and its various elements that she has used as inspiration. Though abstract, the shapes Hall is inclined to paint are vaguely familiar, roughly geometric though softened with oblique angles and gentle tones. Her palette also hearkens back to the earthy palette used by Picasso and Braque when they worked closely in their cubist phases. 


In a speech Hall gave in 1981 at Rhode Island School of Design she explained, “I am, in brief, a landscape painter. All of nature—rocks, trees, mosses, flowers, horizons shifting and darkening or lightening, shore edges, mists, dawns, dusks, reaches of sky and sand, hills and valleys, near and far ridges, gentle or fierce clouds, sunrises and sunsets, and all the color and all the movements and all the stillnesses of canyons and forests are mine for the claiming and taming with a given day, in clear knowledge of that day's light.” A connection to nature is not a commonly heard cry from Abstract Expressionists, but Hall’s predilection for the natural world comes through in her painting even as it resonates as unequivocally abstract.


Many of Hall’s pieces feel like collages and also like aerial views of farmscapes or landscapes. “Epitaph” for example could be a farm with partitioned lots for a house? A barn? The garden, a yard surrounded by fields with a couple different crops, a driveway? The ambers, ochres and umbers, the greens, and purples are in the tones of the natural world, while the white might be the signs of a pastoral existence. Pareidolia (the tendency to apply familiar patterns to the unfamiliar—an elephant in a cloud, for example) intercedes and takes the mind for a fieldtrip.


In addition to being an exceptional painter, Lee Hall was a writer and an academic. She wrote controversially about Elaine and Willem de Kooning, their art and their affairs in Elaine and Bill: Portrait of a Marriage, as well as a “biography” on the Greek Goddess, Athena in addition to other titles. Her art was shown at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York, the Jerald Melberg Gallery. Hall’s works are included in the permanent collections of several museums, including the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Seattle Art Museum, the Newark Museum, the Hudson River Museum, the Weatherspoon, as well as in many corporate collections such as Chase Manhattan Bank, Citibank and Prudential.


As an undergraduate, Lee Hall studied under color field painter, John Opper at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She received a master’s degree in Art Education at New York University and a doctorate degree in Creative Arts there. Hall did post-doctorate work at Warburg Institute in London. She became the Dean of Visual Arts at the State University of New York at Purchase and was the president of the Rhode Island School of Design from 1975 to 1983, followed by an executive position at the Academy for Educational Development in New York. Hall died on April 17, 2017 at the age of eighty-two.