Born 1926, Bronx, New York
Born 1926, Bronx, New York
Rosalyn Drexler, born in the Bronx, New York, in 1926, is a critically acclaimed visual artist, novelist, playwright, and former professional wrestler. Today she is recognized as an important figure in the traditionally male-dominated Pop art movement. Known for repurposing images from the mass media—celebrity and girlie magazines, newspapers, and other printed matter—Drexler recontextualizes her source images drawn from popular culture in her paintings. Her paintings often focus on a heightened moment of action. In making her paintings, Drexler adheres printed materials to her canvases and then paints over them with bright pigments and oil, situating them in fields of flat color. By isolating still images and placing them on solid, saturated backgrounds, Drexler investigates the implicit social narratives behind them, exploring the representation of women and issues of race in postwar American society. Her use of collage challenges the concept of originality and the role of the painter’s hand in an era of mass reproduction, engaging concerns also explored by her Pop contemporaries such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.
Drexler began exhibiting her work in the late 1950s and had gained prominence in the vibrant New York City art scene by the early 1960s when she abandoned her gestural, abstract work for a more Pop aesthetic. Surrounding herself with artists, she participated in the Happenings in the 1960s, and Andy Warhol created a series of silkscreen paintings based on a photograph of Drexler as “Rosa Carlo, the Mexican Spitfire,” her wrestling persona. An accomplished novelist and playwright, she taught at the Iowa Writers Workshop and has won Emmy and Obie awards for her scriptwriting. Her love of performance has influenced her work across disciplines.
"If you're never scared or embarrassed or hurt, it means you never take any chances."
In Night Riders, an early example of Drexler’s Pop paintings, a red horizontal rectangle runs along the top edge of a black canvas, above an orange arch. These graphic color blocks suggest landscape or architecture and frame the scene below. Along the right edge of the canvas, white silhouetted figures rhythmically increase in scale as they move toward the bottom edge, creating a sense of encroachment. These white figures dissolve into the black background, and the interplay between positive and negative space creates both disorientation and visual interest.
Now in her 90s, Drexler continues to create, and her newer paintings build upon her breakthrough works of the 1960s. She gained prominence later in her career as an important counterpoint to many of the Pop images of women, presenting an alternative to the objectifying representations of women so prevalent in the movement.
Along with Marjorie Strider, she was one of two female artists included in the First International Girlie Exhibit at Pace Gallery in New York in 1964, which also featured work by Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselmann, and Warhol. Other important exhibitions included Pop Art USA at the Oakland Art Museum, California in 1963; American Pop Art at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1974; Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958–1968 at the Brooklyn Museum and the University of the Arts in Philadelphia 2010-2011; International Pop at the Walker Art Center, Dallas Museum of Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art from 2015–2016; and Human Interest at the Whitney Museum of American Art from 2016–2017.
Drexler’s work is featured in the collections of many museums, including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY; the Allen Memorial Art Gallery, Oberlin College in Ohio; the Grey Art Gallery, New York University in New York; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts; the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota; the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; and The Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Art © 2023 Rosalyn Drexler / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.