Artist Hugh Kappel

American Expressionism

Have you ever heard of the artist Hugh Kappel? Unless you have made a visit to the Hiro gallery, you may not be familiar with his work, justifiably for the sake of his absence in surveys of art history. As New York was gaining a foothold as the international center of the modern art world following World War II, many native and immigrant artists raced to reach artistic fame. Hubert Kappel was a German Jew born in 1910, and an expatriate who fled Nazi persecution, attaining U.S. citizenship in 1939. The growing movement in America was Abstract Expressionism. It was arguably the greatest American painting movement of the twentieth century, akin to the reach of Impressionism in 1870. You may be more familiar with celebrated artists such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, and Franz Kline. Until very recently, the scope of recognized Abstract Expressionist artists was not expanded upon. Pure talent receded in the face of other artist’s exceptional abilities and tactics that some were able to muster, such as self-promotion, clever recognition, and pure luck.

The artist Hugh Kappel was an early and articulate member in the movement by 1945 and his work was included in the two seminal Expressionist exhibitions in 1951 and 1953. Kappel held his own in invigorating trained members of the New York School practicing European “New Art” movements (such as Fauvism, DaDa, Cubism, etc.), by expanding their vision and vigor for art. He was a part of the new way of seeing. As a member of the 8th Street Club, the major force behind the diffusion of Abstract Expressionism, he lectured on a new way of perceiving space and time. But Kappel’s notoriety may have been decreased simply by his residential move from New York. Additionally, why Kappel is not included in the art-historical canon may be due to the flocking of artists to the movement (see the large quantity of artists exhibiting alongside Kappel in figures 1-2). In written texts, especially surveys of history, few artists are ever allotted slots as representatives of any particular art movement. However, the artist Hugh Kappel’s early addition to the movement is undeniable.

Kappel’s “longing for pure forms and the beauty of color” became the basis of his individual philosophy of artistic expression, which was fulfilled by creating non-objective art. He felt that this genre most strongly fostered an affirmation of the human spirit. Such strength is seen in many of his works, including Trapped and Enthroned (figures 3-4) through tense and vigorous design, and free color gestures. More concretely, he exited the Cubist style by breaking the form of shapes into expressive brush strokes. He elevated the effects of vibrant colors in generating an explosive spectacle of color, which balanced its loose forms upon the picture plane. These intense paintings were created at the height of the Abstract Expressionist movement, an energetic moment of artistic revelation.

To discover more details about Kappel’s artistic journey in navigating the early American art scene, view his online biography or browse his work.

The Hiro Fine Art gallery recognizes the artist Hugh Kappel’s importance in cultivating Abstract Expressionism, and the sustained value of his striking paintings. We are home to several of his important paintings. Now that you know a little about Kappel, don’t be shy to view the vitality of his works up close at the gallery.


Figure 1
Exhibition flyer for the landmark Ninth Street Show in 1951. Designed by Franz Kline. Around sixty artists exhibited.

Figure 2
The 1953 poster for the successive exhibition to the 9th Street Gallery show, which would be held at the Stable Gallery thenceforth annually. Kappel’s name is located to the left middle.

Figure 3
Hugh Kappel
Oil on canvas

Figure 4
Hugh Kappel
Oil on canvas