Greenville County Museum of Art

Greenville, SC



Henry Casselli: Master of the American Watercolor


Complex, personal, and evocative images will draw visitors to a mid-career retrospective of works by New Orleans watercolorist Henry Casselli. The exhibition, Henry Casselli: Master of the American Watercolor, will be on view from February 7 until May 6, 2001, at the Greenville County Museum of Art.

Organized by the New Orleans Museum of Art [see Henry Casselli: Master of the American Watercolor (11/16/00)] and presented in Greenville with the support of Bowater Incorporated, the exhibition is a stirring selection of major paintings, as well as studies and sketches from throughout Casselli's career. His work has ranged from the battlefield to the space program, from portraits of Ronald Reagan and Muhammed Ali to depictions of everyday people in the settings of his native New Orleans. This topical depth is complemented by a series of paintings of mimes, ballet, and family images-poetic figure paintings in watercolor on paper.

Born in 1946 in New Orleans, Casselli studied at the school founded by American Scene painter John McCrady. He entered the U.S. Marine Corps at the age of 21, assigned to the front lines as the Marines' first official "combat artist." He received combat decorations for his service, and he completed more than 680 paintings and sketches that depict the individual Marine on the battlefield. "I did it for the guys who were there," Casselli has said. Seven Vietnam images are included in the exhibition. (left: Sore Ankles,1982)

When he returned from Vietnam, Casselli's paintings focused on his African-American neighbors in the lower-class New Orleans neighborhood where he was raised; for Casselli, painting these people in their dusty, hot environs was painting what he knew. It is a theme that has carried through the past thirty years, and it is amplified in the development of the artist's work. Almost Ain't Enough and I Remember the Day Old Man Williams Died (1974) are topically similar to Bird's Nest (1987), Echo (1986) and Crow (2000); yet the latter three are very different in technique, style, and their dramatic use of negative space.

It was also during the1970s that Casselli began painting the art of ballet, working backstage at a local dance company during rehearsals and performances. The exhibition includes a variety of sensitive and detailed watercolors of ballet, such as End of Class (1993) and Sore Ankles (1982). It also includes four ballet images (Exit #1, #2, #3, and #4) which Casselli painted in oil in 1986. Casselli's interest in ballet grew stronger when his two daughters began taking classes at an early age. In fact, family images occupy a central role in Henry Casselli: Master of the American Watercolor. There are touching sketches of his children, Marin and Dana, as they grew from infants to young women. We meet Dana in First Born (1975), one of the many watercolors in the mother and child motif that Casselli has produced during the past two decades. We follow her through toddler-hood, and we appreciate the emotion with which she is rendered in Dana's Wedding (2000). (right: End of Class, 1993)

"Emotion" and "personal" are words frequently associated with Casselli's paintings. The breadth of this retrospective carries the viewer through wide-ranging themes, but Casselli's ability to capture people-in a deep and sensitive way-is a central quality that has made him an important artist in our times.

rev. 1/26/01

Read more about the Greenville County Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine

For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/23/11

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