Debra Drexler is an American painter, installation artist, curator and professor. Her work is informed both by participating in the contemporary resurgence of abstraction coming out of New York, and by living in the Post Colonial Pacific since 1992. She has participated in over thirty solo and over 100 group exhibitions in national and international venues and is represented by Front Room Gallery in New York. Recent solo exhibits in and around New York include: Van Der Plas Gallery (2015, 2017, 2018), The Majestic Theater curated by The Dorado Project in Jersey City, White Box-The Annex, Pool Art Fair, Chelsea Hotel Blue Mountain Gallery, HP Garcia Gallery and Java Studios Gallery. In addition, Drexler has exhibited in group exhibitions in New York including Front Room Gallery, The Drawing Center, Denise Bibro Gallery, Exit Art, Art Finance Partners, and Stephan Stoyanov Gallery, and Sideshow Gallery. She maintains studios in Brooklyn, NY and on the island of Oahu in Hawai’i. Debra Drexler's most recent work is highly experimental large-scale abstract painting. In a recent review of a two-person exhibition at Gallery Gary Giordano (Whitehot Magazine, 2017) Drexler's work as clearly referencing the long tradition of American abstraction and the established legacy of the New York School. The reviewer, Jonathan Goodman, described the work as a “new non-objectivity” that comes out of the current moment. He states that Drexler's painting “quite accurately describes the spirit of abstract art today, in which painting is struggling to break free of the constraints of time."

Debra Drexler is a Professor at the University of Hawaii, where she is Chair of the Drawing and Painting Area. She has had solo exhibitions in Hawai’i at The Honolulu Museum and Maui Arts and Cultural Center. In October, 2015 she co-curated with Liam Davis New New York at the University of Hawai’i Gallery, a survey examining the resurgence of contemporary abstract painting featuring the work of 30 internationally recognized artists. New New York traveled to The Curator Gallery in Chelsea in 2017. She has also curated exhibits in New York including at The Lab of Rogersmith Arts, as well as in Hawai’i and Australia. 


My work is informed both by participating in the contemporary resurgence of abstraction coming out of New York, and by living in the Post Colonial Pacific for close to three decades. In the 21st century, much of our experience is mediated through the screens of our devices. In contrast, the making and viewing of paintings remains a direct, immersive experience. I aim to take us to a state of timelessness that is primal in its humanity, disconnecting us momentarily from the mediated “now” of our electronic devices, and connecting us to a “now” that gives us a glimpse of the infinite. It is painting that challenges through its brazen sincerity, abandonment of the ego, and ancient materiality.

At first glance my paintings seem effortless and playful, but upon closer examination the work is intricate and multifaceted. Numerous layers, which contrast areas of depth and flatness, organic and synthetic color, matt and gloss surfaces, create complex spatial interactions. In places, the bare canvas is allowed to shine through, while other zones of the painting are encased in over forty layers of paint. The edges of the mark tell the story of excavation, history, and time. Sometimes the same brushstroke in the same place is repeated over and over, belying the illusion of spontaneity it presents.

As a colorist, I provoke unexpected color relationships and the spatial contradictions that come from those interactions. Color has the ability to communicate on many levels simultaneously, spatially creating depth and push-pull, through the dynamics of temperature, saturation, and focus. My palette is influenced by the ability of color to convey place, culture, spirituality, psychology, emotion, technology, gender, and history. For example, I frequently use hot pink, a color with heavily gendered associations. My hot pink brushstrokes reference the “heroic” marks associated with Action Painting, and feminize them.  

The luminosity and high key saturation in my work are created through multiple layers of glazing of pigment mixed with polymer and alkyd media. Some of my color choices reference the post digital experience with its highly saturated synthetic color. The luminosity and saturation also mirror the unique quality of light and the over-the-top, tropical color interactions in Hawai’i, where I have been living since 1992. In addition, I am a daily meditator, and vibrancy of color references the experience of inner light and vibrant color I see when I meditate. I am interested in synesthesia, and the potential for color to directly transport the viewer to another state of awareness.

My work is driven by an athletic painting process, where I work back and forth between the floor and the wall. The marks are made with the entire body, in choreography with the canvas. Working on the floor allows for gestural sweeps, applications of thin glazes, and pooling of paint. I am interested in the viscosities of paint that can be achieved through varying medium and application. The scale is often human sized or larger, creating an expansive experience, immersing the viewer within the frame of the painting. Often I add an unexpected element that deconstructs and flattens and suggests another reading of space and time. I experiment with layering a combination of acrylic and oil. I experiment with the reactions and interactions of various viscosities of experimental polymers and oil-based media that are added to paint to enhance transparency, bite, porousness, impasto, gradations of matt to gloss, and surface dynamics.

Although the Internet makes all eras accessible at once, I believe contemporary painting must go beyond a mere repetition of historic styles. I strive to create something new, present, and honest in the painting. In a time in which everything seems to be happening at the same moment, forcing us to live in an increasingly distracted and connected present, my work aims to take us out of our distracted state and into a relationship with our animal and spiritual natures that is more grounded, focused, and aware. The fleshy materiality of the paint mirrors our fleshy body; the expansiveness of the painting, our expansiveness. 

With studios in both Brooklyn and Oahu, my work both engages in the dialog around abstraction that is happening now in New York, and arises from a Pacific sense of place. The current abstraction that I am working on emerged organically out of prior narrative work. For example, my previous project “Gauguin’s Zombie” developed over seven years of research and art making between 1998 and 2005. Based on the premise that Paul Gauguin, French painter and visitor to the South Pacific, has returned to life in a fictional exhibition in a fictional museum, this installation explores the complex dynamics between the past and present, the influence of colonialism and cultural identity, and the traditions of the Western and non-Western worlds. The installation included large-scale paintings, woodcarvings, a thatched hut, and fabricated writings such as emails, faxes, press releases, journal entries, and artist’s statements. Although my work is no longer narrative, the sense of location remains. My current work bridges the critical conversation around abstraction coming out of New York with the unique vantage point of the Pacific.



[1] Goodman, Jonathan, “’Galkyd, Galkyd’” Presents the Best of Today’s Abstraction,” Whitehot Magazine, August 2017.