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In Hell + Why: Clifford Odets, Paintings on Paper from the 1940s and 1950s

April 11 – June 8, 1996


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Press Release

Michael Rosenfeld Gallery is pleased to announce the exciting rediscovery of paintings on paper executed by playwright Clifford Odets. Odets's paintings are honest expressions by an extremely creative and sophisticated man and they candidly unveil his complex psyche and perceptions of the world. According to his son, Walt Whitman Odets, Clifford Odets painted at his desk, often at night when suffering from bouts of insomnia and procrastination. The exhibition title, In Hell + Why, is also the title of one particularly poignant and autobiographical self-portrait included in the exhibition.

Clifford Odets gained his status as a legendary cultural figure for his accomplishments as well as his tragic and tumultuous decline. In 1931 at the age of twenty-five, he was a founder of the Group Theater, New York. Awake and Sing (1933), Waiting for Lefty (1935), Paradise Lost (1936), and Golden Boy (1937) are among the plays he wrote. He spent much of the 1940s and 1950s in Hollywood writing screenplays, such as None But the Lonely Heart (1943). In 1947, Odets was named by the House Un-American Activities Committee as a Communist, and in 1952, he was questioned by the Committee. As a result, Odets was blacklisted and persecuted for his left-wing plays and in 1963, Odets died of cancer in Hollywood.

Clifford Odets considered his artwork an important creative outlet as did some of his contemporaries. The dealer J.B. Neumann sponsored two exhibitions of Odets's work at his New York gallery during the 1940s and the Philadelphia Museum of Art included Odets in a 1952 exhibition. Since the 1940s, the only one-man exhibition of Odets's work was a small presentation in 1983 at the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.

The Clifford Odets paintings included In Hell + Why are all small-scale, vividly colored works on paper and few are larger than an 8.5” x 11” sheet of writing paper. The images tend to be figurative, anecdotal and imbued with a strong mood. Narrative titles offer insight into Odets’s world. Odets’s personal turmoil and satirical wit are evident, though masked beneath vibrant, rhythmic, and playful facades which were inspired by modern masters like Picasso, Matisse, Magritte, and Klee; artists who he admired and collected.

Michael Rosenfeld Gallery is the exclusive representative of the Estate of Clifford Odets.