Rosalyn Drexler

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Rosalyn Drexler
Born Rosalyn Bronznick
(1926-11-25)November 25, 1926
Bronx, NY, United States
Nationality American
Known for Painting
Notable work Marilyn Pursued by Death, 1963
Movement Pop Art
Spouse(s) Sherman Drexler (1925-2014)

Rosalyn Drexler (born 1926) is an artist, novelist, Obie Award-winning playwright, and Emmy Award-winning screenwriter, and former professional wrestler. She grew up in the Bronx and East Harlem, New York. Her first foray into visual art making was in sculpture in the late 1950s; she would often use found objects and make small-scale assemblages. Later, she would switch to painting, the medium for which she is most well-known. As in sculpture, she used found imagery in her painting, though this time the imagery was sourced from pop culture rather than the New York City streets. Photographs from newspapers, television stills, and movie posters were frequent sources for her subject matter. Her oeuvre has been linked to Pop art, though she is considerably less well-known than her contemporaries Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Tom Wesselmann. This may be due to the fact that in the 1980s she shifted her focus to writing and other trades and was initially part of an art world where female artists encountered a considerable amount of bias.[1] However, recently, her work has received renewed critical attention and a retrospective exhibition of career opened at the Rose Art Museum in February 2016. She lives and works in Newark, NJ.

She is represented exclusively by Garth Greenan Gallery.[2]

Early life[edit]

Rosalyn Drexler (née Bronznick) was born in 1926 in the Bronx, New York. Drexler has said of her New York upbringing,

I grew up in East Harlem and the Bronx. My grandparents had a secondhand store in Harlem, I used to climb up to the loft where they kept the mattresses, and I hid there: warm, giggling, sure they’d never find me, and we lived there for a while. Grandpa used to buy stolen jewelry that he kept in boxes under the bed. There were diamond tie-pins, and gold watches. I heard the adults whispering about it. There’s a whole thing I went through about growing up in the Bronx where they still had tomato plants growing. It was like a whole different place. And the Russian immigrants sat in Van Cortlandt Park across from Hunter Hall playing mahjong. I can still hear that sound. The clicking of the ivory pieces.[3]

Drexler had considerable exposure to the performing arts as a child. Although her family's financial instability prevented her from seeing hot ticket Broadway productions, vaudeville acts became a treat of equal merit for the artist, her friends, and family.[4] \

She attended the High School of Music and Art in New York City where she majored in voice.[1] She attended Hunter College for one semester only before leaving school to marry figure painter Sherman Drexler in 1946.[5] She is the sole subject of many of her husband's paintings.[6] Together, they had a daughter and a son.

Professional Wrestling Career[edit]

In 1951 Drexler pursued a brief career as a professional wrestler under the name "Rosa Carlo, the Mexican Spitfire."[7] Drexler explains how she sort of fell into wrestling because she lived near Botner's Gymnasium where other female professional wrestlers practiced. In an effort to temporarily escape the confines of her domestic role, she took the opportunity to travel away from home and perform as a wrestler. However, once she left her liberal minded social circle in Manhattan and encountered blatant racism in southern states during the tour, she decided it was time to move back home. Andy Warhol made a series of silkscreen paintings based on a photograph of Drexler from her wrestling days.[8] Drexler's experience as Rosa Carlo later formed the basis of her 1972 critically acclaimed novel To Smithereens. The novel inspired the 1980 film Below the Belt.

Artistic career[edit]

Drexler began making found-object sculptures while living in Berkeley, California where her husband was finishing his art degree. In 1955, Drexler exhibited her first works alongside her husband's paintings. Made as amusements for display in her home, Drexler exhibited her work once she moved back to New York City at the urging of dealer Ivan Karp. One critic called these early works "ridiculous and nutty" sculptures that revealed a "real beauty beneath their I-don't-care attitudes."[9] These lumpen plaster accretions, built around found scrap metal and wood armatures, were very much in keeping with the informal aspects of Abstract-Expressionist-influenced Beat sculpture of the time. She credits both her husband's art practice and her own appreciation for museums as the impetus for creating these sculptures; she imagined she would create her own museum at home with these sculptures.[4] After she had returned East, her works were shown in New York in 1960 at Reuben Gallery, whose associates included Allan Kaprow, Claes Oldenburg and Jim Dine. The first Happenings also took place at the Reuben Gallery, in which Drexler participated.[10] However, the Reuben Gallery closed after a year. While other artists had little difficulty finding representation elsewhere, Drexler struggled.

Women were not bankable at that time. Every other male artist…other galleries came along. I received no offers. In my naivete I thought it was because I was not a painter so I must make paintings. —Rosalyn Drexler[11]

Although notables of the New York School including David Smith and Franz Kline endorsed her sculptures, by 1961, Drexler switched to painting, organically developing her work from assemblage to Pop Art.[12][13] In the same way that she went through her drawers looking for materials to add to her sculptures, she flipped through old magazines, posters, and newspapers to source imagery for her paintings. She explained how she could look at a photograph and immediately think of the scale and composition of the painting she would later produce with it. Entirely self-taught, her process consisted of blowing up images from magazines and newspapers, collaging them onto canvas, and then painting over them in bright, saturated colors. Drexler started appropriating popular imagery in her art at the same time as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein were developing similar techniques, putting her at the forefront of the Pop art movement.

Drexler eventually signed with Kornblee Gallery, where she had solo shows in 1964–1966. In January 1964 her work was included in the "First International Girlie Exhibit" at Pace Gallery, New York. She and Marjorie Strider were the only two women Pop artists included in this landmark exhibition, which otherwise featured a variety of male artists including Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Tom Wesselmann. Drexler exhibited collages cut and pasted from girlie magazines. The work scandalized many, but her paintings were otherwise well received. As one critic noted, "Miss Drexler’s collage paintings…fly through contemporary life and fantasy with a virtuosic, uninhibited imagination that is refreshingly direct in its frank expression of brutality, desire, pathos and playfulness."[14]

Although her paintings continued to enjoy favorable reviews and were exhibited in major Pop art exhibitions throughout the 1960s, Drexler did not gain the same level of recognition or success as many of her male peers. Not only was she a woman in a male-dominated field, the major themes in her paintings—violence against women, racism, social alienation—were decidedly "hot" topics in a genre known for being "cool" and detached.[15] For these reasons, her Pop paintings have been identified more recently as early feminist artworks, yet Drexler vehemently objected to having the label pushed upon her identity. She often considered herself a loner, outside of any particular social groups, despite her friendly relations with many of her contemporary culturati in New York.

Don't try to make me into a politically conscious artist. I wasn't. I don't teach lessons...My work does not lend itself to causes. Unless it does when I'm not looking. —Rosalyn Drexler[16]

In 1968, Drexler signed the "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.[17]

Major Themes & Works[edit]

Drexler's work often revolves around women's roles as portrayed in pulp cinema, as well as her own experiences, including women as moll, femme fatale, home wrecker - those "destined to receive a physical slap as brutal moral comeuppance." [18] This type of full-on violence mirrored the reality for American women in general, communicated in images drawn from public media that are easily understood by all.

Specifically, The Love and Violence series refers to a body of paintings that depicts abusive relationships between men and women. The canvases evoke the covers of pulp fiction novels, B-movie posters, and scenes from gangster films or film noir.[19] Titles such as I Won’t Hurt You (1964), This is My Wedding (1963), and Rape (1962) make explicit the sexual violence against women suggested in the scene. While the men depicted are most often the abusers, in some paintings, such as Kiss Me, Stupid (1964) and Dangerous Liaison (1963), the power dynamic between the male and female subjects is left more indeterminate. Other works in this series include The Bite (1963), Love and Violence (1965), and Baby, It’s Alright (1963).

  • Is It True What They Say About Dixie? (1966) was inspired by a newspaper photo of Bull Connor, the police chief who instigated the Birmingham race riot of 1963, leading a group of white supremacists. The figures advance towards the viewer dressed in nearly identical black suits against a stark white background.

The painting's title is taken from an American song popularized in the mid-1950s by Dean Martin and Bill Haley that suggests the South is a romantic idyll. Drexler's painting acts as an ironic commentary on the racial violence of her time.[20]

Similar in composition and intent is the painting F.B.I. (1964) that both glamorizes the depicted government agents and inherently questions their status as figures of authority.

  • The Men and Machines series shows working men with various types of mechanical equipment. The series speaks to Cold-War era obsession with technological advancements and plays on the cliché of machines as phallic symbols of male sexual power. Paintings in this series include Pilot to Tower (1966).
  • Marilyn Pursued by Death (1967) is a haunting image of Marilyn Monroe being followed by a male figure. Although "Death" appears to be a stalker or member of the paparazzi, the photograph after which the painting was made makes clear that the man is actually her bodyguard.
  • Paintings made after movie posters include King Kong aka The Dream (1963), modeled after the lobby card for John Lemont's 1961 film Konga, and Chubby Checker (1964), inspired by the poster for 1961 movie musical Twist Around the Clock.

Selected Exhibitions[edit]

Solo Exhibitions[edit]


  • Rosalyn Drexler: Sculpture, Reuben Gallery, New York


  • O.K. Harris Gallery, Provincetown, MA
  • Rosalyn Drexler, Zabriskie Gallery, New York, April 15–May 4


  • Rosalyn Drexler, Kornblee Gallery, New York, March 17–April 14
  • Rosalyn Drexler, Ward-Nasse Gallery, Boston, October 3–22
  • Sun Gallery, Provincetown, MA


  • Rosalyn Drexler, Kornblee Gallery, New York, April 24–May 8
  • Feingarten Gallery, Chicago


  • Rosalyn Drexler, Kornblee Gallery, New York, March 19–April 14


  • Rosalyn Drexler, The Contemporary Gallery, Jewish Community Center, Kansas City, MO, November 4–24


  • Rockland State College, Suffern, New York


  • Rosalyn Drexler, The Visual Arts Gallery, Saint Catherine College, St. Paul, MN




  • Life: The Magic Show: Recent Paintings, LaMaMa Galleria, New York



  • I Won't Hurt You: Paintings 1962–1999, Nicholas Davies Gallery in association with Mitchell Algus Gallery, New York, March 7–April 8



  • Rosalyn Drexler and the Ends of Man, Paul Robeson Gallery, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Newark, NJ, September 5–October 18


  • Rosalyn Drexler: I am the Beautiful Stranger – Paintings from the ‘60s, PaceWildenstein, New York, March 16–April 21


  • Rosalyn Drexler: Vulgar Lives, Garth Greenan Gallery, New York, February 19–March 28


Group Exhibitions[edit]


  • New Forms–New Media II, Martha Jackson Gallery, New York, September 28–October 22
  • Homage to Albert Camus, Stuttman Gallery, New York


  • Group Show (with Sol Bloom, John Button, Morton Lucks, Kenneth Kilstrom, Renata McLean, Henry Raleigh, Salvatore Sirugo, Tom Wesselmann), Tanager Gallery, New York, May 19–June 8
  • Great Jones Gallery, New York


  • The Closing Show 1952–1962, Tanager Gallery, New York, May 25–June 14
  • Rosalyn Drexler and Tom Doyle, Zabriskie Gallery, New York, April 15–May 4




  • The Painter and the Photograph, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, October 5–November 2, 1964; Museum of Art, Indiana University, Bloomington, November 15–December 20, 1964; Museum of Art, University of Iowa, Iowa City, January 3–February 10, 1965; Isaac Delgado Museum of Art, New Orleans, February 28–March 22, 1965; Museum of Art, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, April 1–May 7, 1965; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California, May 19–June 21, 1965
  • Dealer’s Choice: An Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings, and Prints, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, TX, December 3, 1964 – January 3, 1965



  • The Harry N. Abrams Family Collection, The Jewish Museum, New York, June 29–September 5


  • Homage To Marilyn Monroe, Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, December 6–30
  • Protest and Hope: An Exhibition of Contemporary American Art, Wollman Hall, New School Art Center, New York City, October 24–December 2, 1967


  • January ’70: Contemporary Women Artists, Hawthorn Gallery, Skidmore College, Saratoga, NY, January 6–29


  • Unmanly Art, The Suffolk Museum, Stoney Brook, NY, October 14–November 24


  • Rockland Community College, State University of New York, Suffern




  • College of St. Katherine, Saint Paul, Minnesota





  • American Women Artists: Part 1. 20th Century: The Pioneers, Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, January 12–February 4
  • The New Portrait, P.S. 1, Long Island City, NY, April 25–June 10
  • 1+1=2, Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, NYC (traveling exhibition), January 24–February 18


  • Made in U.S.A.: An Americanization in Modern Art, the ’50s and ’60s, University Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley, April 4–June 21; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, July 25–September 6; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, October 7–December 7


  • Back Room: The Abortion Project, Simon Watson Gallery, New York, March 30–April 27





  • 50 Years at Pace, Pace Gallery, New York, September 17–October 23
  • Shifting the Gaze: Painting and Feminism, The Jewish Museum, New York


  • Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958–1968, Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery, University of the Arts, Philadelphia, January 22–March 15, 2010; Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, Nebraska, July 30–September 10, 2010; Brooklyn Museum, New York, October 10, 2010 – January 9, 2011; Tufts University Art Gallery, Medford, Massachusetts, January 20–April 3, 2011
  • Power Up: Female Pop Art, Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, November 5, 2010 – February 20, 2011; Deichtorhallen Hamburg, April 29–July 10, 2011; Städtische Galerie Bietigheim-Bissingen, Germany, July 23–October 9, 2011


  • In the Pink, Joe Sheftel Gallery, New York, June 21



  • Pop Abstraction, Garth Greenan Gallery, New York, January 18–February 15, 2014



  • International Pop. Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, April 11–September 6
  • Paper, Garth Greenan Gallery, New York, July 9–August 14, 2015


Selected Public Collections[edit]



  • I Am the Beautiful Stranger (1965)
  • One or Another (1970)
  • To Smithereens (1972)
  • The Cosmopolitan Girl (1974)
  • Unwed Widow (1975)—written under the pseudonym Julia Sorel
  • Starburn: The Story of Jenni Love (1979)
  • Bad Guy (1982)
  • Art Does (Not!) Exist (1996)
  • Vulgar Lives (2007)

Adapted Screenplays[edit]

written under the pseudonym Julia Sorel

  • Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway (1976)—Adapted from the screenplay by Dalene Young
  • Rocky (1976)—Based on the screenplay by Sylvester Stallone
  • Alexander, The Other Side of Dawn (1977)—Adapted from the screenplay by Dalene Young
  • See How She Runs (1978)—Adapted from the screenplay by Marvin Gluck


Published work[edit]

  • Home Movies (1964).
  • The Line of Least Existence and Other Plays (1967)
  • "Skywriting" in Collision Course (1968)
  • "Hot Buttered Roll" in Theatre Experiment: An Anthology of American Plays (1968)
  • Methuen Playscripts (1969)
  • "Home Movies" in The Off-Off Broadway Book: The Plays, People, Theatre (1972)
  • Fiction (1972)
  • "Skywriting" in A Century of Plays by American Women, edited by Rachel France (1979)
  • Transients Welcome: Three One-Act Plays (1984)
  • "Occupational Hazard" in Women on the Verge: 7 Avant-Garde American Plays (1993)


Film and Television[edit]



  • Who Does She Think She Is? (1975), an hour-long film about Rosalyn Drexler directed by Patricia Lewis Jaffe and Gaby Rodgers
  • Below the Belt (1980), directed by Robert Fowler, suggested by Rosalyn Drexler's novel To Smithereens


Further reading[edit]

  • Johnston, Jill. "Rosalyn Drexler and Tom Doyle [Zabriskie; April 15–May 4]" (exhibition review). Art News 62 (April 1963): 14.
  • Sontag, Susan. "Going to Theater, etc." Partisan Review (Summer 1964).
  • Bourdon, David. "A Bout With Roslayn Drexler." Village Voice, 1965: 5–6.
  • Lippard, Lucy. Pop Art. New York: Praeger, 1966.
  • Drexler, Rosalyn. "Eight Artists Reply: Why Have There been No Great Women Artists?" Art News 69 (January 1971): 40–41.
  • Hess, Thomas B. and E.C. Baker. Art & Sexual Politics: Women’s Liberation, Women Artists and Art History. New York: Art News Series, Collier Books, 1973.
  • Alloway, Lawrence. American Pop Art. New York: Collier Books, 1974.
  • Alloway, Lawrence. Topics in American Art since 1945. New York: W.W. Norton Co., 1975.
  • Women in the Arts: Artists Choice, 1976–1977. New York: Women in the Arts Foundation, 1976.
  • Munro, Eleanor C. Originals: American Women Artists. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979.
  • Taylor, Roger G. Marilyn in Art. London: Elm Tree Books, 1984.
  • Russell, John. "Intimate Emotions" (exhibition review). The New York Times, 25 July 1986.
  • Newhall, Edith. "Eye of the Prophet." New York Magazine, 11 August 1986: 15.
  • Drexler Rosalyn and Steve Bottoms, "Rosalyn Drexler, Interviewed by Steve Bottoms, NYC, 14/8/96", August 14, 1996.
  • Danatt, Adrian. "NY Artist Q&A: Rosalyn Drexler" (interview). The Art Newspaper, (March 2000): 77.
  • De Salvo, Donna. "Underrated: Rosalyn Drexler." Art News (December 2000): 121–130.
  • Brauer, David E. Pop Art: US/UK Connections (exhibition catalogue). Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz Publishers, 2001.
  • To Smithereens: Paintings 1961–2003 (exhibition catalogue). Texts by Sid Sachs and Robert Storr. Philadelphia: The University of The Arts, 2004.
  • Rosalyn Drexler and the Ends of Man: Works from 1961–2001 (exhibition catalogue). Newark, NJ: Paul Robeson Gallery, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 2006.
  • Rosalyn Drexler: I am the Beautiful Stranger. Paintings of the ‘60s (exhibition catalogue). Text by Arne Glimcher and Rosalyn Drexler. New York: PaceWildenstein, 2007.
  • Baker, R.C. "Mexican Spitfire Returns" (PaceWildenstein exhibition preview). Village Voice, 7–13 March 2007.
  • Yau, John. "Rosalyn Drexler: I am the Beautiful Stranger—Paintings of the ‘60s" (exhibition review). The Brooklyn Rail, 16 March–21 April 2007: 36.
  • Minioudaki, Kalliopi. "Pop's Ladies and Bad Girls: Axell, Pauline Boty and Rosalyn Drexler." Oxford Art Journal 30.3 2007, 402-430.
  • Sachs, Sid and Kalliopi Minioudaki, eds. Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958-1968. [exhibition catalogue] University of the Arts, Philadelphia. New York and London: Abbeville Press, 2010.
  • Hirsch, Faye. "Rosalyn Drexler." Art in America, (May 2015):105, 157.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b Sachs, Sid (2010). Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958-1968. Philadelphia: University of the Arts. pp. 162–72. ISBN 9780981911922. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ John Yau, "In Conversation: Rosalyn Drexler with John Yau" the Brooklyn Rail, July–August 2007.
  4. ^ a b Siegel, Katy (2016). Rosalyn Drexler: Who Does She Think She Is?. New York: Gregory R. Miller & Co. ISBN 9781941366097. 
  5. ^ Roberta Fallon, "You couldn't have known my work. How could you?" the artblog, March 27, 2004.
  6. ^ "Her husband, a figure painter, considers her his only model—and 'that's the way it had damed well better be,' said Mrs. Drexler." Excerpt from Grace Glueck, "Hip Heidi," The New York Times, April 25, 1965. See also "Sherman Drexler. Art Paradise: Fifty Years of Painting. January 13-February 12, 2005" Press release, Mitchell Algus Gallery, 2005.
  7. ^ Roni Feinstein, "Strangers No More," Art in America, June/July 2007, p. 177. See also Roberta Fallon, "You couldn't have known my work. How could you?" the artblog, March 27, 2004.
  8. ^ Bradford R. Collins, "Reclamations: Rosalyn Drexler's Early Pop Paintings, 1961-1967," in Sachs and Minioudaki, Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958-1968, University of the Arts, Philadelphia, New York and London: Abbeville Press, 2010, p. 164.The photograph was not taken by Warhol as indicated by Collins.
  9. ^ V.P. "Nine [Tanager], " ARTNews, Summer 1961, p. 18.
  10. ^ L.C. "Three More Faces of Eve: Rosalyn Drexler," ARTNews, March 1964, p. 64. See also Bradford R. Collins, "Reclamations: Rosalyn Drexler's Early Pop Paintings, 1961-67" in Sachs and Minioudaki (2010), p. 164.
  11. ^ Rosalyn Drexler, as quoted in Roberta Fallon, "You couldn't have known my work. How could you?" the artblog, March 27, 2004.
  12. ^ Axell, Evelyne, and Angela Stief. "Rosalyn Drexler." Power up - Female Pop Art: Evelyne Axell, Sister Corita, Christa Dichgans, Rosalyn Drexler, Jann Haworth, Dorothy Iannone, Kiki Kogelnik, Marisol, Niki De Saint Phalle ; Kunsthalle Wien, 5. November 2010 Bis 20. Februar 2011, Phoenix Art. Köln: Dumont, 2010. 129.
  13. ^ Elaine de Kooning with Rosalyn Drexler, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? Eight Artists Reply. Dialogue," ARTnews, January 1971.
  14. ^ J.J., "Rosayln Drexler and Tom Doyle [Zabriskie; April 15-May 4]" ARTNews, April 1963, p. 14."
  15. ^ Bradford R. Collins, "Reclamations: Rosalyn Drexler's Early Pop Paintings, 1961-67" in Sachs and Minioudaki (2010), p. 162.
  16. ^ Rosalyn Drexler, as quoted in Bradford R. Collins (2010), p. 166.
  17. ^ "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" January 30, 1968 New York Post
  18. ^ Sid Sachs, reviewing Rosalyn Drexler in POWER UP: Female Pop Art. Kunsthalle Wien, Gargosian Gallery (Dumont Publishers) - p129.
  19. ^ Collins (2010), p. 166.
  20. ^ Jorge Daniel Veneciano, "Rosalyn Drexler and the Ends of Man," in Rosalyn Drexler and the Ends of Man, exhibition catalogue, Paul Robeson Gallery, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 2006, pp. 16-18.
  21. ^ "Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden". Retrieved 7 May 2016. 
  22. ^ "Walker Art Center". Walker Art Center. Retrieved 7 May 2016. 
  23. ^ "Whitney Museum of American Art". Whitney Museum of American Art. Retrieved 7 May 2016. 
  24. ^