Spending time with Dudley Huppler's Work
Posted on February 19 2020
by Mitchell R. McInnis
Spending time with Dudley Huppler’s work, a viewer finds her or himself existing in a precarious – though painstakingly made – world of the artist’s making. While Huppler’s associations and friendships spanned many schools of visual art, he identified as a Pointillist.
And in this choice, we see another of Huppler’s choices: to simultaneously embrace and disavow Pointillism. French founders of the movement, Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, were clear in the definition that Pointillism is the application of pure dots or daubs of color to create a composition.
Huppler was equally definitive in his method – antic though it may seem – by always using a Parker 51 black ink pen. Sometimes he applied a casein wash to the drawing surface before settling in with his Parker 51 in black, but that one style of pen was his brush of choice, so to speak.
Examining Huppler’s corpus of work, family sources say unequivocally that he was almost exclusively using his Pointillism technique from 1947 well into the 1970s.
To better understand Huppler, his biography lends insight to his capacious mind. He excelled as a student of literature, and was named an Adams Scholar at the University of Wisconsin, where he pursued his PhD in English.
Given this background, Huppler had a cultivated point-of-view as well as an agile mind and ethic that allowed him to move with relative ease between the commercial-illustration world and fine art. Indeed, these were boundaries enforced by galleries and collectors in the 1950s and beyond.
As someone who traveled in the circles of Andy Warhol and the coterie who populated The Factory, breaking boundaries was the credo, not enforcing them. Because of this, Huppler’s work has a delicious sense of moment, the way Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photos capture the perfect moment, Huppler’s work lends viewers a perfect moment from within his mind.
Offering such moments assembled of dots. Dots that had and have shifted meaning in the days since Seurat and Signac. His work seems hyper-prescient in a digital word where the word pixelated means not close enough to photographic reality. Such dots also suggest the Fourier transforms at the base of television signals – the advanced mathematics behind the great communicator of our age – TV.
These are the moments Huppler delivered over and over in his work. Moments conceived in a capacious mind then broken down into dots before being allowed viewers to visit the wholism of composition.
In his Potrait of D.H., Robert Cozzolino gives a perfectly concise summary of Huppler’s youth:
Dudley Gregor Huppler was born in Muscoda, Wisconsin on August 6, 1917 to Theodore and Christina (Bock) Huppler. Then and now, Muscoda was a quiet small town, just west of Madison. Huppler was the eldest of three children in a Catholic family; his brother, John, was born in 1919 and sister, Elizabeth, in 1921. John recalled Christina as the family’s unrivaled matriarch, ‘We grew up in a mother-dominated family. She was the queen, the boss.’ Dudley tended to do things his own way from an early age. John recalled, ‘He was always different whether it was in school or doing things other boys didn’t do. I think he was trying to find a place for himself, and Muscoda obviously wasn’t it.’ Dudley’s strong-willed, independent nature sometimes led to defiance. In one period he avoided school by dilly-dallying along the way and talking with ladies in the neighborhood. Once he found his way to school, Dudley immersed himself in reading and excelled in many subjects.
Cozzolino does a wonderful job encapsulating pivotal moments in Huppler’s youth. His dominant mother, his obvious intelligence, his need to set himself apart and have a space for himself. Like so many artists before him – and since – Huppler sought out the world of pictures. Of making pictures. Of building worlds of his own creation.
Worlds of one’s own devising are the stuff of artists, but those worlds are lent depth and decoration by Huppler’s reckoning with his sexuality. Paul Masterson has dubbed Huppler ‘Wisconsin’s forgotten gay artist.’ Within the market itself, Wisconsin might have to negotiate with Colorado over rights to claiming Huppler as their own. He spent much of his life in Colorado, and as Cozzolino wrote that Dudley doted on his sister and her children.
Huppler had an organic understanding of how high society works. As a child, he and his brother were invited to teas at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin. His brother recalled Huppler only being comfortable around ‘artistic types.’ Not unlike society fixtures like W. Somerset Maugham, Huppler found his way among the artists to a place of his own. As Maugham wrote, “I can imagine no more comfortable frame of mind for the conduct of life than a humorous resignation.” This tone echoes throughout Huppler’s work, and it is a tone of freedom reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley and others.
Huppler’s connection and the rich terrain of his psychology lend much to the collectability of his work. He was friends with the luminary poet, Marianne Moore. As Moore once wrote, “The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence.” Such is the appeal of standing in front of Huppler’s work: it is a complex glimpse into a man’s psyche caught between multiple worlds. A man observed who – on the one hand – craved silence; on the other hand, he was a bon vivant par excellence. Such complications and contradictions make for sustained interest while engaging Huppler’s work.
Now is the time to revisit Dudley Huppler’s work. To seek out his work and enjoy the chain of connections that define this unique artist’s milieu. If his life and work remind us of anything, it is of the potency of love and the never-expiring quality of imagination, even amidst intolerant times.