Joseph Drapell and the New New Musuem

October 12, 2009 § 2 Comments

On my first visit to the Museum of New New Painting I was both sceptical and intrigued. The name was suspect to me but I was intrigued by the artist’s work I had researched. This exhibition space is given over to the New New Painters who are a group that eschew such factions as Dada, and are best classified as Colour Field painters.

Interior of the New New Museum

Interior of the New New Museum

Joseph Drapell is

a New New Painter and founder of this unique museum. This generous spirited man takes self-expression and colour to monumental heights both in hi

s approach to painting and in his technique. As an exile from Prague his art was discovered by Robert Elcon and Jared Sable in the seventies.  In 1991 his colleagues invited this International artist to join the New New Painters from which he has never looked back, and from which he has made significant strides both in the introduction of his art to the public and being an outspoken critic of the current art scene.

Since the 1960’s Drapell has been formulating his own acrylics from powdered pigments and has fashioned several homemade implements from which to paint, including long handled spreading devices and striated trowels. Drapell’s  non-representational paintings merge broad areas of sweeping colour utilizing his unique acrylics and reflective paints. The layered colours are rich in hue which shine and glisten with ever changing results depending on the viewer’s position in front of each piece. Through the clever use of under painting incorporated with several top layers of colour, Drapell infuses vibrancy, depth, textural elements and a dramatic play of light upon the various grooves, ridges and built up edges that figure prominently in his work. These manipulations are an identifying touch of his and add an extra optic element to his work.



The results are ethereal, spiritual images of vistas and expanses inspired by his youth in Prague and of his time spent in Georgian Bay where he draws inspiration from many colourful and diagonal elements and from the granite rock formations. He also engenders dynamic figural compositions with élan that are represented in both frontal and contrapposto poses. The viewer must intently engage with these images with an open mind in order to really grasp the meaning. Drapell achieves an art that “expresses and reflects us” and he has an unconscious motivation in his work that does not obey the will. This is an artist who is extraordinarily ambitious and spiritual and roots his art in “human experience.”

Drapell is quite dynamic when painting and achieves his results while working over top of large canvasses which are laid flat on his studio floor. He is not averse to climb scaffolding in order to view his work in progress and finds this technique invaluable in order to justify his subsequent strokes of paint. It is also quite common for him to reference other artists in his work such as that of Jules Olitski when rendering a raised ridge of paint on the canvas edge.



Joseph Drapell believes that “painting should be visual” and equates his expression to that of his own artistic struggle which he symbolizes to that of a snail. This is an artist that strove against the conventions of the day to pursue his art with emotion. The critic Clement Greenberg, being a fan of Drapell’s admired his achievements and independent streak. Drapell also thinks that there is a global art crisis both in the quality of work produced and displayed today and that there should be more emphasis on “art in which we cannot lie.” He states that the authentic artists of today should challenge the official scene and the instant art that is so prevalent in the vain of Duchamp and Warhol. Very good art is sometimes rejected he thinks because it takes time for the viewing public to respond to this new imagery. Art to Drapell is about the elimination of ideals that are not inherent to painting, and he produces work that has emotional and intellectual meaning which is about the act of painting itself. He is most uncomfortable with the conventional dogma so present in the art world today and questions many curators’ safe choices of harmless predictable art in greys and blacks. “Colour can be dangerous” states Drapell and many artists have shied away from the process and instead have embraced the areas of new media.   Drapell is an artist who envelops his own vision in art and who strikes across the grain of convention as did similar artists before him such as the Impressionists and the Post-Impressionist Cezanne.

In 2005 the Art Galley of Ontario excluded the New New Painters from its exhibition The Shape of Colour: Excursions in Colour Field Art, 1950 to 2005.  As a response to this rebuff Drapell staged a symposium at his museum on 4 March, 2006 entitled “High Stakes, The Crisis in Art” in which he challenged Dr. Davis Moos, curator of the exhibition to defend his reasoning for this rejection. Also comprising the panel were professors Robert Linsley and Graham Peacock. Dr Moos stated that the exhibition strove to “look at the roots of the movement and its legacy.” He supported his choices on the premise that the show would strive to look at the advent of other movements and new media influence on the Colour Field genre, which in turn dictated the choices for the exhibition. Out of the symposium came some interesting ideas and values from Drapell and his colleagues. One of these was that the global art scene cannot seem to grasp what colour can do and that the Colour Field artists of today celebrate colour and utilize it in the tradition of the Old Masters such as Giotto, Titian and Miro. These New New painters utilize a form of drawing and colouring which comprises a legacy of this genre. Two other ideas that came from the symposium was the rationale that good art survives under pressure and that the art of the past is related to materialism and convention.


Chris Le Page

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All images courtesy of Joseph Drapell

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