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Modernism: James Hilleary And Color

UMUC welcomed a giant of 21st-century modernism to the university with an opening reception and discussion Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012, in the Arts Program Gallery. Modernism: James Hilleary and Color showcases 30 works spanning 50 years, and runs through Feb. 3, 2013.

Hilleary is the embodiment of a local artist, born in Washington, D.C., and educated at District schools—first at Gonzaga College High School and later at the Catholic University of America, where he studied architecture. His father, an aspiring visual artist and musician, studied under C. Law Watkins at the Phillips Collection—Washington, D.C.’s first museum of modern art—and Hilleary grew up immersed in art and the local art scene.

“To a certain extent, I was . . . a clone of my father,” Hilleary said, in an interview with Brian Young, curator of UMUC’s Arts Program. “We had two shared interests—art and music. That was all we ever talked about.”

After serving his country during World War II and completing his undergraduate studies in architecture, Hilleary launched a career that spanned the arts—performing professionally as a pianist, practicing as an architect, and eventually turning his full attention to visual art. As he explained later, the world of abstract art offered a welcome respite from the rigors of architecture.

“Everything had to be so tight. So perfect! So accurate!” Hilleary said, of the world of architecture. “It was kind of fun to . . . just surrender.”

That shift was apparent to David Gariff, senior lecturer at the National Gallery of Art, who participated with Amy Cavanaugh, executive director of Maryland Art Place, in the moderated discussion that served to open the exhibition at UMUC.

“As one progresses through his work, . . .” Gariff wrote, in a scholarly essay on Hilleary’s career, “we witness a growing engagement with nature, light, atmosphere, mark-making, and the intangible and subjective elements of personal expression. This tension between the objective and rigid world of pure painting found in Hilleary’s earlier works, and the subjective and protean quality of his later paintings, charts one of the major journeys in his life as an artist.”

Modernism: James Hilleary and Color runs through Feb. 3, 2013, in UMUC Arts Program Gallery, in the lower level of the UMUC Inn and Conference Center, 3501 University Boulevard East, Adelphi, Maryland 20783. The gallery is free and open to the public 9 a.m.–9 p.m. daily.