James Hennessey, Retrospective at the Creative Alliance, Baltimore, Maryland


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Press Release from the Creative Alliance, 3134 Eastern Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland, 21224, 410-276-1651

On View: ENDURING CONCERNS, December 9, 2017 – January 13, 2018
Opening Reception: SAT DEC 9 | 6 – 8PMjim hennessey image
Gallery Talk: SAT JAN 6 | 7PM | FREE

When artist James Hennessey moved to Baltimore in 1965 to teach painting at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), he never anticipated the influence he would have on thousands of young painters who took his classes until 2002. Beyond his impressive career as a teacher, Hennessey’s success as a painter has seen his signature soft palate aesthetic and subtle depictions of mythological fables exhibited across the globe. Enduring Concerns focuses on Hennessey’s large paintings and celebrates more than 50 years of his work in Baltimore.

James Hennessey is a painter’s painter: his daily studio practice finds him methodically working his large canvases, adding and subtracting inflections of color and light, scraping and sanding away excess, and repeating as necessary to achieve his thoughtful surfaces. While his subject matter varies slightly between series, he concentrates on landscapes, interior spaces, figures, light, and atmosphere in his carefully constructed compositions. Hennessey paces himself when creating work, sometimes taking months to complete a single painting, and generally working on only one painting at a time.

The exhibition’s title, Enduring Concerns, references his steadfast consistency, and intense focus on a small number of subjects. According to Hennessey, “my work is episodic – there are clusters of paintings that fall into categories, such as ‘Windows’, ‘Irish Paintings’, ‘Italian Paintings’, and ‘Furniture’, among others.” All episodes of the artist’s illustrious time in Baltimore will be represented in this rare survey.

Artist Biography:

James J. Hennessey earned his undergraduate degree at Illinois Wesleyan University and a graduate degree at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he studied with Richard Diebenkorn, Wendell Black, and Roland Reiss. Hennessey’s first teaching position was at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, where he was hired in 1960.

In 1962, one of Hennessey’s paintings was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition, “Recent Painting U.S.A., The Figure”. The show was a juried exhibit that subsequently toured the country after the New York opening. In the same year, the American Academy in Rome, Italy awarded Hennessey “The Rome Prize”. As a result, he was in residence for two years in Rome and exhibited in several galleries both in Rome and Milan.

In 1965 Hennessey joined the faculty of MICA, where he taught until he retired in 2002. During this time he accrued an extensive exhibition record with works shown in New York at the Marilyn Pearl Gallery, the Boris Mirski and Alpha Galleries in Boston, and at the Pensler Galleries in Washington, DC, to name a few. He directed programs for students, faculty, and professional artists in Italy and France, including the MICA Italian Program in Sorrento, Italy, and the Alfred and Trafford Klots Residency Program in Rochefort-en-Terre, France. His paintings continue to be fueled by his extensive European experiences.

James Hennessey maintains an active studio in downtown Baltimore, Maryland.


James Hennessey Gallery, website


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http://rover.ebay.com/rover/1/711-53200-19255-0/1?ff3=4&pub=5575560308&toolid=10001&campid=5338637638&customid=Photograph+Artworks&mpre=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.ebay.com%2Fitm%2FNikon-D3500-Digital-SLR-Camera-Black-3-Lens-18-55mm-VR-Lens-32GB-Bundle%2F223183887864%3Fepid%3D4026509361%26hash%3Ditem33f6cbddf8%253Ag%253AsLsAAOSwb3hb9Zu7%26_trkparms%3D%252526rpp_cid%25253D5cc1dee8e7abc5604619e775Well, we’ve been talking about creating a web page to show Jim Hennessey’s paintings and drawings for a long time, and we’ve finally done it.  The platform is Square Space, which offers many options for artists, in terms of page design, as well as terrific ongoing support. The link to the page is below and if you would like to type it into your browser you can also get to it via jameshennessey.com

Explore the Website

Maurice Sendak Exhibit at the Pratt Library

sendak sign

A post from May 2012, written the day after Maurice Sendak’s death, talks about the prolific illustrator and his relationship with Baltimore. The link between artist and City continues with a spectacular memorial exhibit at the Central Enoch Pratt Free Library that opened on October 18 and continues through January 4, 2015.

The display is located on the second floor of the handsome Art Deco Library building and includes a recreation of Max’s room. Max is the protagonist in “Where the Wild Things Are,” Sendak’s best known children’s picture book– with almost 20 million copies sold to date. Sendak won the prestigious Caldecott Medal in 1964, the year after the book’s publication, and “Where the Wild Things Are” was so popular with both children and parents that it was made into an animated short, a full-feature film, and an opera!

sendak elevators

When exiting the elevator visitors see Pratt’s version of the room to the left. A recording of chirping birds provides appropriate background sounds to set the scene, and young readers familiar with the story understand they are about to enter Max’s domain where he was sent to bed without his supper.  The moment depicted is Max’s return home from his night time adventure to the island populated by the Wild Things. sendak archway You enter the space through a proscenium arch of leafy trees. There is a doorway inside the room to the left, and when you open it you can see Max swinging in the forest. He is about to plop down into his room near a small table, which has chicken soup, milk and a slice of cake set out on its top—the first thing Max sees upon his return.sendak table

The food is made of polymer resin and appears to be real until visitors reach out and touch the surfaces. sendak cakesendak soup_edited-1 The exhibit designer, Jack Young,  also created a full-size bed with tree trunks for posts, which are covered with moss at their bases.  The organic bed seems to grow out of the floor and the puffy bedding is so inviting to young visitors that it has been a full time job to keep them from jumping onto the structure.sendak bed_edited-1

In the space just outside the room Young has positioned a large orange sail boat that functions as a bookshelf, with many Sendak titles balanced on strips of wood attached to the interior of the boat. Next to the boat is a flat of Max as the “King of the Wild Things.” sendak boaT BOOK CASEsendak boat kid  The face is cut out so that children can insert their own and thereby become Max for a moment.  Down a long hallway, perpendicular to this space, are huge illustrated flats set up in the windows at both ends. A ten or twelve foot Max, as King of the Wild Things, looks out from the the Administrative Offices reception room.  sendak max king of wildthings sendak wild things hallway At the opposite end of the hall,  behind a secondary exhibit of work by artists inspired by Sendak, are huge constructions of rampaging Wild Things.

Jack Young,  the head graphic designer at the Pratt, has done a spectacular job with this major undertaking.  His ongoing work for the Library is most visible to the public in the over-sized display windows on the front of the building where Library events are advertised with huge, colorful posters. And, the familiar Pratt logos, also designed by Young, are certainly well-known to the populace of Baltimore.  If the windows, logos and the many illustrations for in-house publications were your only experiences of Jack’s work, you’d believe that two dimensional design is the artist’s major interest and his forte.  However, after visiting the Sendak exhibit I asked myself if Jack Young ever considered stage design.  He has certainly proven himself to be more than capable of creating 3-D recollections of imaginary worlds with this theatrical display in honor of Sendak and his charming book.

A recent film for Shine Creative’s “Bright” series is a studio interview spotlighting Baltimore’s veteran painter, James Hennessey.  The artist reveals some of his strategies for painting while chatting with the film maker in front of several large-scale works, including a close-up view of a painting about Mad Sweeney.

Film maker, Drury Bynum, chose to highlight Hennessey’s working methods, tools, materials, inspiration and subject matter in this intimate view of a contemporary artist in his working environment.

Sorrento and Surrounding Region: Artistic Inspiration


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For nearly a decade the painter Jim Hennessey was the director of a summer painting program in Southern Italy. He and his wife, Dr. Pamela Potter-Hennessey, were the artist and the art historian in residence. Together they brought more then 75 painting students to the region where they experienced the landscape and light of this amazing region.

Each fall Hennessey returned to his Baltimore studio with numerous Italian references– recorded on paper and canvas, or stockpiled as memories and ideas in his head. This raft of material was the fodder for winter production, and out of his summer experiences the artist created many paintings and drawings that are either directly referential, or inspired by the area.  His tendency was to make watercolors, or drawings while in residence in Italy, and then on his return to Maryland the studio production became oil paintings– some large and some small, like the painting above.  The subjects range from expansive views out of the hotel window or from perches on the regional hill tops, to more intimate views of familiar locales.  This particular painting is from 1995, and is titled S. Agnello, 24.5″ x 18.5″ the name of the tiny Italian town where Hennessey stayed with his students.

The group was always in residence at the Grand Hotel Cocumella, a wonderful, historic hotel that has a long history (since 1777) of hosting artists, writers and other creative people like Goethe, Freud and the Duke of Wellington!  cocumella

The opportunity to spend time in Italy at this amazing locale was the gift of Nino del Papa, a well-known Neapolitan architect who was the proprietor at the time. His interest in supporting artists extended to young American students from the Maryland Institute College of Art, in Baltimore.  The Cocumella staff helped create an atmosphere that was supportive of creativity and was welcoming, warm and intimate.

Each year, at the close of the painting program, the City of Sorrento would host an exhibition of the young artists’ work in the City Hall courtyard, or at the nearby Cloisters of S. Francesco.   sfrancesco  The facilitator of these exhibitions and the person who forged a link between Hennessey’s student groups and the town of Sorrento, was Antonino Fiorentino, a member of the Sorrento City government.  Fiorentino’s father, Domenico Fiorentino, was one of the local artists the students met and were fortunate enough to interact with (see past post: Domenico Fiorentino: Influence Reassessed).


Hennessey’s paintings that were inspired by his time in Southern Italy always seem to take into account the amazing light of the area.  Because the towns of Sorrento and S. Agnello sit on the cliffs above the Bay of Naples, there is often a misty quality to the air, even if the sun is shining.  The detail above illustrates how Hennessey took into account this hazy, mysterious light.

If you are interested in purchasing this painting, the link is:http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=221179061531&ssPageName=STRK:MESE:IT#ht_1497wt_1163

Inside/Outside: Views by the Painter James J. Hennessey


For decades, James Hennessey has been painting interior scenes with a view to the outside world.  Flaneur, a recent painting, reminds the viewer that the artist was heavily influenced by his teacher Richard Diebenkorn.  He studied with Diebenkorn at the University of Colorado, and the West Coast painter became a significant, life-long influence on Hennessey’s aesthetic. Hennessey’s translucent veils of color, with layers of rich tones reading through, seem suspended in shifting space, part of a tug of war between color and line– the dual concerns driving Modern painting.

Whether Hennessey’s paintings depict the actual view from his studio, from a hotel window, or even if they are made-up scenes and interiors from the artist’s imagination, as in the Flaneur, the viewer senses a relationship between the figures and objects within, and the scene outside.


A 1979 self portrait of Hennessey smoking, while standing in his Eutaw Street studio with his back to the windows, again suggests an interplay between outside/inside.  Has Hennessey stepped back to look at the painting of himself smoking? More than merely a painting of an interior figure with a cityscape as backdrop, the composition suggests a direct relationship between the dark, smoky jumble in the studio and the activity in the world outside with sharply defined architecture and deep blue sky.

Show by James J. Hennessey Closes in Baltimore

A one person exhibition by James J. Hennessey, Baltimore, closed a couple of weeks ago on October 28.  It was the final exhibit at the Antresian Gallery, a commercial space that attempted to make it in the tough Baltimore art market.

Robert Antresian closed shop at the end of October after giving his all to the gallery space on 36th St.  The store website is still up and running, and if you’d like to take a look, here is the link: http://www.antreasiangallery.com/ 

Historically, Baltimore has not been supportive of commercial galleries. One can only think of the many that have gone by the wayside in the past 20 years to recognize that this town is not the best place to show artwork.  The reasons for this apathy and failure are many and the discussion is much too long for this space.  What I’d like to do is showcase some of Jim Hennessey’s paintings, to give you an idea of the work of one significant Baltimore artist.   This is also an opportunity to thank the many people who came to Jim’s opening and to recognize those who bought many of his paintings and drawings from the exhibit. If only all Baltimore exhibits were as successful as this one was, we’d see more viable galleries in town!

The painting is titled, “Gianicolo,” 16.5″ x 18.5″

Hennessey’s landscape painting is of the Gianicolo, or in Latin the Janiculum, the second largest hill in Rome, Italy.  It is also the location of the American Academy in Rome, where Jim was in residence as a Fellow from 1962-1964.

The painting is available at:  http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=370688527644&ssPageName=STRK:MESE:IT


RIP Maurice Sendak: Baltimore Savored His Distinctive Designs for the Opera “Hansel and Gretel” in 2000


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Maurice Sendak (1928-2012), the best known children’s book illustrator of the 20th century, died yesterday.  As a collector and avid reader of Sendak’s engaging children’s books, I’ll miss him terribly.  So soon after his death it’s difficult to grasp reality: this amazing artist will never draw new characters to inspire and amaze his loyal audience.

Sendak’s appeal transcended the world of the child.  He was not only an illustrator of their books, he also designed the sets for several operas that were meant to appeal to adults and children alike. Here in Baltimore we enjoyed his quirky creations for the opera “Hansel and Gretel.”  The now defunct Baltimore Opera Company staged the production, and out of all the Company’s elaborate productions Sendak’s was one of the most memorable.

Today in Tom Smith’s “Cleff Notes,” a Baltimore Sun Paper blog, Smith discussed Maurice Sendak’s set design:

“Baltimore audiences had an opportunity to savor Mr. Sendak’s distinctive designs in a production of Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” [in 2000]…. That staging, originally for Houston Grand Opera and used by other companies over the years, made quite a statement. Please forgive the self-quoting, but here’s what I wrote 12 years ago:

Maurice Sendak has seized on the shadowy insinuations of “Hansel and Gretel” in designing the eye-catching scenery … The famed illustrator of children’s books fills the Lyric Opera House stage with fanciful trees and buildings that hide spooky faces; the witch’s house has roving eyes. The witch herself is first seen as a giant, menacing figure flying about on a broom, her giant jaw in constant chomping mode, looking for fresh victims.

The musical performance did not live up to the scenic potential, but Mr. Sendak’s contribution proved memorable. Among other operas he designed are …

Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” (the latter, which I saw in the early ’90s in a Florida Grand Opera production, created an engaging fairy tale for adults) and Janacek’s “The Cunning Little Vixen.”

Smith is one of thousands of fans who wrote about their experiences with Sendak’s work yesterday.  His death will spark a closer look at the man himself.  He was enigmatic and often reticent about his career as an illustrator.  Sendak was quite candid, though, about his motivations during an interview in 2002 by Jeffery Brown, who covered an exhibition of children’s book illustrations. He had the opportunity to chat with Sendak:


Future posts on this website will include photos of Sendak’s drawings, as well as bits and pieces of information about the artist’s long and prolific life. He is best known for his most popular book, Where the Wild Things Are, 1963, an entertaining, but dark and candid view of childhood fears.

I can only imagine the many young illustrators who have been inspired by this master’s work.  Rest in peace Mr. Sendak.