The gauze-wrapped building towered over the East Village like a bandaged wound. It was May 1979 and the artist, Francis Hines, had covered an abandoned five-story building with 3,500 yards of white fabric, sealing loosely inside strewn drug needles and crumbling walls.
At the time, said a friend of Mr. Hines, the soft, bloated installation brought “life, beauty and possibility” to the East Village, then an emblem of civic neglect.
Mr. Hines won critical acclaim for wrapping this and other New York City structures, including the Washington Arch, in fabric before disappearing from the art world. He died in 2016 at age 96.
His work was rediscovered a year later by Jared Whipple, a Connecticut man who found hundreds of Mr. Hines’ paintings in a dumpster and has since made it his mission to get the attention that he thinks the artist deserves.
For the past five years, Mr Whipple, 40, has pored over Mr Hines’ diaries, corresponded with the artist’s friends and relatives and unearthed archival footage. His work as a self-taught scholar Hines will reach a milestone this week when some of the paintings found in the dumpster will be put up for sale.
The personal exhibition opens thursday at the Hollis Taggart Gallery in Southport, Connecticut, and will be accompanied by a small presentation in New York.
Mr. Hines’ escape from obscurity began in September 2017, when Mr. Whipple was invited into a dilapidated barn by a friend who had been hired to clean it up and knew that Mr. Whipple enjoyed salvaging discarded gear. scum.
In a dumpster outside, he found neat piles of hundreds of canvases wrapped in thick plastic and assumed it was the work of an amateur.
“When we started to open them, that’s when we realized there could be something more,” Mr Whipple said.
Mr Whipple, a mechanic who also does building maintenance for churches, said he was drawn to the brightly colored depictions of broken cars and car parts. He decided to transport the collection to his warehouse, where he spent more than a decade building an indoor skateboard park.
Mr Whipple learned the identity of the artist after finding one of the paintings signed with his full name, Francis Mattson Hines. An online search led Mr. Whipple to a book that Mr. Hines’ wife, Sondra Hines, self-published about her husband’s most recognized work: the installation of the Washington Arch. In 1980, he used 8,000 yards of white polyester to wrap the arch as part of a fundraising campaign by New York University to restore the monument.
In a video provided by Mr Whipple, former New York Times journalist and arts critic Grace Glueck praised the installation.
“Well, I think it’s very beautiful and as I’ve told you before, anything covering Washington Square Arch, which I’ve always found incredibly ugly, I find attractive,” Ms. Glueck said.
Mr Hines, who worked as a commercial illustrator, continued to sculpt, paint and draw after the momentous installation, but failed to attract the attention of gallery owners.
For decades, he shipped his finished work to a barn in Watertown, Connecticut, which he rented for storage and used as his main studio in the 1970s, Mr. Whipple said.
Over the past decade, the owners of the barn have repeatedly asked Mr. Hines to move the art because they wanted to sell the property.
He never did. Instead, he let the protected art accumulate under dirt, grime and animal droppings, leaving the project for another day – or another person. After Mr. Hines died, his family took the things that mattered most to them, leaving behind the treasure that Mr. Whipple found.
Mr Whipple has an insatiable appetite for information about the artist and has contacted his friends and associates, who have shared photos, videos and letters. Mr. Whipple spent two years looking for a photographer, Ken Hellberg, who let him search his basement for 35mm slides of Mr. Hines’ work.
The Reverend Alan Johnson, 78, who had known Mr Hines for decades and considered him one of his closest friends, said in a telephone interview he was grateful for the discovery and perseverance of Mr. Whipple.
Mr Johnson was a leader of the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, which sponsored the East Village project in 1979, and was interviewed by the Times on this subject in 1979:
“Francis Hines took a place in town that is struggling and brought it something alive, beautiful and possible,” Mr Johnson said.
He and Mr. Hines would share their successes and sorrows over single malt Scotch at the White Horse Tavern and take trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which Mr. Johnson said was one of the few places Mr. Hines would visit. north of 14th Street. in Manhattan. The artist has always insisted that they only visit the African Art Wing.
“He was coming down, looking at artifacts, these beautiful bowls and pictures and he was saying ‘people with their hands did this and they did something that would be functional and useful,'” Mr Johnson said.
Mr Johnson said Sondra Hines, who died in 2013, would have appreciated her husband’s work gaining recognition. In a catalog of his work, Mr. Hines wrote a dedication to Sondra: “Without her talents and dedicated work, much of what I do would never see the light of day.
Mr Johnson said Mr Whipple was an ideal custodian of his friend’s art, as he approaches projects with a hands-on, hands-on style, in line with Mr Hines’ philosophy that ‘art solves problems’ “.
Jonathan Hines, the son of Mr Hines, said in a statement provided by Mr Whipple that it was “fate” for someone outside the art world to discover his father’s art and that it would not wouldn’t have happened if he had decided to keep the art, instead of throwing it away.
“The bottom line is that my dad gets the recognition he deserves,” Mr Hines said.
The new attention to Mr. Hines’ art has drawn comparisons to the works of Christo, the Bulgarian-born artist, who, along with his wife and collaborator, Jeanne-Claude, used fabric to cover and create structures, including The triumphal arch. Christo — who only used his first name — died in 2020.
The Connecticut gallery that will be exhibiting Mr. Hines’ work starting this week specializes in paying attention to lost and forgotten art. Gallery owner Hollis Taggart was introduced to the Hines Collection by art historian Peter Hastings Falk.
Mr Taggart said he was struck by the way Mr Hines used pastels on board and then wrapped the paintings with fabric, something he had never seen before.
“In today’s contemporary market there is a great interest in alternative mediums, you see a lot of works made of fabrics, ceramics, installations, wall hangings, things like that,” said said Mr. Taggart. “What he was doing with fabric on paintings kind of matches what a lot of artists are doing today using alternative mediums.”
Mr Taggart said around 30 of Mr Hines’ pieces, including paintings, drawings and a sculpture, will be on display next week. He said prices would start at $5,000 to $8,000 for works on paper, $20,000 to $35,000 for wrapped paintings, and $55,000 for sculpture.
Proceeds from sales will go to Mr. Whipple, who said he plans to use most of the money to upgrade his warehouse in Waterbury, Connecticut, where he exhibits works by Mr. Hines and others. local artists.
The exhibition may look like the culmination of the Francis Hines project, but Mr Whipple said it was just one more step in his mission to gain recognition for the artist.
He is also working on a documentary about Mr. Hines and hopes to see the artist’s work exhibited in a major museum in New York.
Mr Whipple and Mr Johnson admitted Mr Hines had been a man of the moment and did not share concerns about his legacy.
In an interview with The Times in 1979Mr Hines made it clear he was not valuable to his job, after someone set fire to the East Village facility, gnawing through a strip of the gauzy fabric.
“Whatever happens happens,” Mr. Hines said. “It’s almost part of the process. Your work is subject to all sorts of things, including weather and vandalism. »