“I cannot just do nothing,” said Rosalyn Drexler. At 90 years old, the acclaimed artist, novelist, and playwright is as busy as ever, having just opened a show at Garth Greenan in New York, her second since joining the Chelsea gallery in 2015.
It was there that she spoke to artnet News about the exhibition, which features darkly political large-scale works from 1986 to 1989; finding renewed success late in life; and the endurance of a career that has seen her excel at everything from teaching at the renowned Iowa Writers’ Workshop to authoring Emmy and Obie award-winning scripts and plays to touring the country as a professional wrestler.
“It was a rich life,” Drexler admitted, recalling fondly the New York art scene of the 1960s, which she describes as “a smaller community” where folks such as Franz Kline, and Elaine and Willem de Kooning would all attend each other’s openings and gather at watering holes such as the Cedar Bar and Max’s Kansas City.
“I surrounded myself with artists, and it must have rubbed off,” she said.
A native of the Bronx, Drexler had her first show out in Berkeley, where she lived briefly with her husband and fellow artist, Sherman Drexler (1925–2014). It was a joint exhibition for the couple, who met studying at New York’s Hunter College and married when Drexler was just 19. She had studied art in high school, but never finished her college degree, giving birth to a daughter, the first of two children, at 20.
In Berkeley, Drexler showed her found-object sculpture, which was made from “junk from the street,” she said. The work “filled the whole house.”
Among her early and most fervent supporters, upon her return to New York, was David Smith. “He said, ‘A lot of women seem to be very talented, and then they disappear. I don’t know what happens, but could you please continue sculpting?’” Drexler recalled.
Of course, Drexler is today best known for her painting, switching mediums after her dealer, Anita Rubin, closed the Reuben Gallery in 1961. The other artists in Rubin’s stable included Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, Lucas Samaras, and Red Grooms. “All the guys found a place to go, and I didn’t,” Drexler recalled. “I was so naive. I was thinking ,’Well, it’s because I’m not a painter!’” Read more