Arts and Culture

Paintings by the first woman to graduate from the Hite Art Institute are now on display at the University of Louisville.

Sally Hazelet Drummond received a master’s degree from the Hite Institute in 1952, where she was exposed to abstract expressionism for the first time. After graduation, she moved to New York City, where she joined the Tanager Gallery, a well-known artist co-op, and continued refining her style.

“Iconoclastic Fervor: Sally Hazelet Drummond’s Road to Abstraction” was curated by Hillary Sullivan, a master’s candidate in critical and curatorial studies, who found Drummond’s work in the Hite archives and was intrigued by her story.

There are two main types of abstract expressionism, according to Sullivan: gestural, in which the gestures of the artist can clearly be seen (Jackson Pollock and his paint drips are an example), and color field, in which layers of paint create colored areas (like the paintings of Mark Rothko).

Sullivan said Drummond’s work fits into both categories at the same time.

Bluebird, 1960Sally Hazelet Drummond

Bluebird, 1960

The exhibit is centered on a collection of paintings that look like glowing washes of color from far away.

“But when you go up closer, you can tell that it’s made out of thousands and thousands of dots of color, and so they create this starburst radial-like image,” said Sullivan.

Most of the dotted paintings feature either a light or dark area at the center of the canvas. To the viewer, they’re almost an optical illusion.

“They fight space and time,” Sullivan said. “It’s hard to tell what’s the foreground and what’s the background. They’re not necessarily all large in size, but they expand beyond the parameters of the frame.”

Drummond now lives in Germantown, New York, although she stopped painting in the last few years following a stroke. Sullivan traveled to New York to interview Drummond for the project, and said Drummond was delighted at the idea that her work was being shown at U of L.

“Iconoclastic Fervor” is open until Dec. 18 at the Schneider Hall Galleries on U of L’s main campus.

Tara Anderson is the host and producer of Five Things, a podcast about the objects that tell our stories.