The establishment of Rhino Horn came about primarily due to the friendship and numerous collaborations of Jay Milder, Bill Barrell, and Peter Passuntino, among themselves and with their friends and fellow artists such as Christopher Lane and Red Grooms. All of the original Rhino Horn artists had shown together in various locations, such as the Paul Kessler Gallery and the influential Sun Gallery (1955-1960), both in Provincetown, Massachusetts, the Tenth Street Galleries (1952-1962), the “happenings” of the Downtown art scene in New York City, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and with the Exhibition Momentum Group at the Art Institute of Chicago (1948-1964). The majority of the artists in Rhino Horn were young, but they were not inexperienced. Indeed, despite their diverse upbringings, each had already established a lucrative personal career.
Jay Milder was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1934, a descendent of the Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), the patriarch of Hasidism and mystical Judaism and the Hasidic mystic Reb Nacham (1772-1810) of Breslov, who founded a branch of Hasidic Judaism that emphasizes joy and intensity in living life through God. In his teenage years, Milder would begin to explore this mystical lineage, which fueled him with a desire to journey across the globe. Milder began his travels at the age of twenty, when he went to Paris to study the cubist style of painting at La Grande Chaumiere and the Sorbonne. He also took painting classes with Andre L’Hote (1885-1962) and studied sculpture with the Russian born sculptor, Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967). Milder later recalled that he received praise from his teachers for incorporating a very rough, expressionistic, and organic approach to the Cubist style. Zadkine introduced Milder to the work of Chaim Soutine (1893-1943), and Milder’s acquaintance with Karel Appel, whom he met in Paris, undoubtedly made Milder aware of the European avant-garde group called CoBra, which bore some similarities to Rhino Horn, such as elements of color, form, experimentation with pigment, and spontaneity. Both Soutine and the CoBra group would influence Milder’s signature blending of organic Cubism and spontaneous Figural Expressionism coupled with his unique interest in Helena Blavatsky’s teachings of Theosophy, which unified the ancient spiritual religions of the world, and organized the fundamental nature of various spiritual teachings into a comprehensive synthesis.
After Paris, Milder traveled to Morocco in late 1954, where he lived briefly in the Arabic section of Tetouan. Like Paris, North Africa has a rich painterly history that inspired many of the great modernists, together with its colorful environment and daily life. For Milder, his time in North Africa would be key to developing a vibrant palette that became even bolder and more energetic over the years.
Following a brief period from 1956 to 1957 at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Milder traveled to Mexico, where he exhibited in Puebla and where he received the Mexican government’s Honor Award for artists. Milder then traveled to Provincetown in the summer of 1958, where he initially planned to study painting at Hans Hoffmann’s school; however, while there he found the work of other artists of his own generation to be more compelling. In particular, he met Barrell, Lane, Thompson, and Grooms, and they all formed a strong bond as artistic collaborators as well as friends.
Milder showed his first major series, called “Subway Runners,” in 1960 at the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York City. Then, in the late 1960s, he began a series of approximately 250 fully expressionistic, earth toned, smaller paintings entitled “Messiah on the IND and Other Biblical Tales,” which was based on themes from the Old Testament. When 40 of these paintings were shown in 1987 in a traveling exhibition that premiered at the Richard Green Gallery in New York City, the renowned art critic Donald Kuspit declared them to be “Impressive enough for me to say…that after Nolde’s biblical pictures, these are the best and most integral group of biblical pictures of the 20th century.”
Bill Barrell, another core member of Rhino Horn (though he would join later, he became a fixture in the group), was born in London, England in 1932, which meant that his formative years encompassed World War II and the Nazi Blitzkreig (1939-41). He later vividly recalled sitting down for family tea one Sunday night when the sirens went off throughout the city, warning of incoming Nazi bombers. However, his mother was a strong willed woman who would never let the chaos disrupt family routines such as tea time. At the age of 22, Barrell immigrated to The United States, where he lived first in Philadelphia and then in New York City. Then, in 1956, he set off for Provincetown to begin his career as a painter.
From 1957 to 1960 Barrell lived in Provincetown year-round. Barrell was unable to afford the tuition to attend Hofmann’s art school, but he did attend the public critiques that Hofmann would give on Fridays. Like many of his contemporaries who returned to figurative painting, he was heavily involved in the art scene that centered on the Sun Gallery, where he had his first exhibition in 1959. In fact, Barrell became the director of the gallery in 1960, and he kept the Sun open through its most controversial moment when the chief of Police and his deputy came into the gallery one evening and asked him to shut the gallery down at once, claiming that an exhibition of nude monotypes by Tony Vevers was pornography. Barrell refused and kept the gallery open after the officers left. Upon returning later in the evening the chief threatened to arrest both Barrell and Vevers if the show was still open the next day. In defiance, Barrell opened the gallery the next evening and the arts community poured in to show solidarity against the threats of censorship. Hofmann came into the Gallery and wrote out a declaration of innocence, which a number of renowned artists signed. The exhibition stayed open.
During the early 1960s Barrell traveled extensively, visiting Mexico City, London, Paris, Florence, and Madrid. He settled in Ibiza, Spain, where he connected with Bob Thompson, who was also living there at the time. Barrell later returned to New York and, in 1965, opened the Pitt Street Salon on the Lower East Side, where he showed his work and the artwork of his contemporaries including Jay Milder, Bob Thompson, Mimi Gross (b. 1940), and Red Grooms as an alternative to the Tenth Street galleries. The Pitt Street Salon was a 2,500 square foot loft located on Pitt Street between Delancey and Irvington Streets near the Williamsburg Bridge, a space for which Barrell paid $90 a month at the time.
A third member of Rhino Horn, Peter Passuntino, was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1936. At the age of 18, Passuntino was selected to be in a group show at the Carnegie Institute, and at 19 he was selected for a one-man show at the Artist Guild in Chicago. From 1954 to 1958 he attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Then, after receiving a Fulbright Fellowship in Painting, Passuntino spent time in Paris, from 1963 to 1965. While in Paris he studied art at the Istitut de Arts et Archeologie and exhibited in a solo exhibition entitled “Bad Manners, A Happening at the American Arts Center” (1963).
During his time at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Passuntino was an organizer of the artist run Exhibition Momentum Group, and he served as the group’s chairman in 1958. The Exhibition Momentum Group’s goal was to expand the scope of the Chicago-Midwest art community by providing ample opportunities for young local artists to exhibit their work while also bringing in emerging and established artists from the East Coast to Chicago as panelists and jurors of its exhibitions. In 1958, Passuntino worked with the group to organize an exhibition entitled “New Talent from the Mid-West” which was installed at the John Marshall Law School. The exhibition included young Chicago based artists as well as young artists from all over the Midwest, and Passuntino helped to put together a panel of distinguished American artists that included Franz Kline (1910-1962) and Phillip Guston, as well as Sam Hunter (b. 1923), then the curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. For Passuntino, these experiences organizing exhibitions and acting as chairman of the Exhibition Momentum Group led directly to his role in founding and organizing Rhino Horn.
Christopher Lane and Red Grooms were never members of Rhino Horn; however, they maintained an ongoing friendship with the group, with whom they often collaborated, even showing on occasion as “friends of Rhino Horn.” Lane was born in 1937 and raised in New York City. He graduated from the high school of Music and Art in New York and studied painting at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont from 1955 to 1957. After college Lane traveled to the West Coast, where he studied the art of brush calligraphy, and in the same year he traveled to Mexico City to study at the Escuela Esmeralda de Pintura et Sculptura. In the summer of 1958, Lane went to Provincetown, where he met and befriended fellow artists Jay Milder, Bob Thompson, Emilio Cruz, Mimi Gross, Mary Frank (b. 1933), and Irving Marantz (1912-1972). In the fall of 1958, Lane shared a studio with Jay Milder on Munroe Street on New York’s Lower East Side.
Lane worked in Paris from 1959 to 1962, during which time he met many of the European avant-garde artists there. Among others, he invited Alberto Giacometti to his studio, and Giacometti was impressed by the young artist’s work In 1961, Lane traveled from Paris to London, and there he met Helen Lessore (1907-1994), a distinguished art critic and Director of the Beaux Arts Gallery. Lessore offered Lane his first one-man exhibition in 1962 at her gallery in London. Then, in 1964, while living in New York, Lane walked into the office of Frank O’Hara (1926-1966), the Curator of Painting at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), with a little red satchel filled with 13 small paintings. O’Hara was impressed enough to include Lane’s work in a show called Landscapes by Eight Americans, which traveled throughout the United States as well as to the Spoleto Festival in Spoleto, Italy.
Red Grooms was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1937 and given the name Charles Rogers Grooms. He studied painting for one year, in 1955, at the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1956 he briefly attended Nashville’s Peabody College and the New School for Social Research in New York City. Then, in 1957, Grooms traveled to Provincetown to study at the Hans Hoffman School of Fine Arts. During this time, Grooms worked as a dishwasher at a restaurant called Moors, where he became close friends with another employee, Dominic Falcone (1928-2009), who happened to be one of the founders of the Sun Gallery. When Falcone found out that Grooms was an artist, he introduced Grooms to his partner, Yvonne Anderson, who then invited Grooms to show at the Sun. It was during his first exhibition at the Sun Gallery, when Grooms was signing his name on the front window of the gallery’s storefront, that Falcone gave him the nickname “Red.”
Grooms showed his work consistently at the Sun Gallery while he was in Provincetown. Although he is more often noted for his pop-art paintings and vibrant mixed media installations, Grooms’ early canvases combined lively figurative imagery with gestural painting technique. However, Hofmann discouraged this figurative style, criticizing the subjects as representing “little dolls.” Grooms’ intent was to isolate his figures in deep space, a trait clearly seen in one of his first Figurative Expressionist paintings, Walking Man (1957).
Grooms also became interested in incorporating painting and sculpture into performance. His first “happening,” called Walking Man, was staged at the Sun Gallery in 1959 using live actors, who included Anderson, Falcone, Mimi Gross, and Bill Barrell. Grooms’ friendships with Milder, Passuntino, Barrell, Lane, Thompson, and Benny Andrews, and his collaborations with other seminal members of Rhino Horn, provided the catalyst in forging a “alternative space” movement in which the young artists could show their work as they wished, independent of gallery influence.
When the original Sun Gallery closed its doors in 1959, it left the Figurative Expressionists with the experience to create other successful and innovative environments to suit their work. Indeed, the Sun Gallery was also a vital connection between the emerging figurative artists and a group of influential collectors, including Walter P. Chrysler, Nat Halper, Joseph H. Hirshhorn, and Horace Richter, as well as the influential American Modernist critic Irving Sandler and the poet, curator, and critic Frank O’Hara.
Rhino Horn Is Formed
Along with Milder and Passuntino, Benny Andrews, Peter Dean, Nicholas Sperakis, Ken Bowman, and Michael Fauerbach made up Rhino Horn’s inaugural seven-member line up in 1969. The group was created by Andrews, Dean, Passuntino, Milder, and Sperakis as an outgrowth of their informal discussions regarding the state of the art world, and it expanded by bringing in new members at the invitation of existing ones. Fauerbach was invited to become a member by Sperakis, who was working in the same building on the corner of Houston and Bowery Streets in New York City, and Bowman was asked by Fauerbach to join Rhino Horn.
At the age of 40, Benny Andrews was the oldest founding member of the Rhino Horn group. He was born in Plainview, Georgia in 1930, the second of ten children born to African American sharecroppers George and Viola Andrews. His father was a self-taught folk artist, and his mother was a writer. His parents’ passion for the arts encouraged Benny, who showed an early aptitude for drawing and painting.
Andrews was the first member of his family to graduate from high school, and after college he moved to Atlanta to look for jobs and for the means to advance his interests in the arts. He earned a $400 scholarship from the 4-H agricultural program, and the stipend enabled him to attend Fort Valley State College, a local institution for African American students, starting in 1948. The Art Department at Fort Valley State was so small that Andrews took the survey course in art history, one of its few offerings, six times.
Andrews could not afford to complete college, and he enlisted in the United States Air Force in the early 1950s. He served during the Korean War, earning the rank of staff sergeant. Upon his honorable discharge in 1954, Andrews moved to Chicago and enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. It was during his time at the Art Institute that Andrews defined his signature style of figurative art making. He was attracted to, the work of the social realists such as Raphael Soyer (1899-1987), Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975), and Grant Wood (1891-1942), as it reflected his rural upbringing more than the urban lifestyles of the Abstract Expressionists. While his early paintings were indicative of the Figurative Expressionist mode, it was the art of collage that came to appeal to Andrews the most.
In 1958 Andrews moved to Suffolk Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where he met and became friends with Grooms and Milder, as well as with Lester Johnson and Bob Thompson. Andrews also spent summers in Provincetown, where he associated with the group of artists who had been showing at the Sun Gallery. Andrews had his first solo show at the Paul Kessler Gallery in Provincetown in 1960 and he would continue to show there until 1969. His first New York solo show was in 1962 at the Forum Gallery.
Andrews was a chairman and founder of the Black Emergency Culture Coalition (BECC), an organization of artists who were also activists for social change in the institutionalized art world. They formed on January 12, 1969 in protest over the controversial “Harlem on My Mind” (January 18th through April 6th, 1969) exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which had been almost devoid of actual paintings and objects made by African American artists. Instead, the director had chosen to use projected photographs of artwork, an approach that many felt detached viewers from the subject. As the critic Grace Glueck wrote at the time, “[The exhibition] panders to our penchant for instant photojournalistic experience that puts us at a distance from the experience itself.” Andrews and other members of a small group of artists organized a protest outside the Museum on January 12th, 1969 to raise public awareness regarding the exhibition’s faults—such as the lack of African American curators and scholars involved in the show’s direction as well as a gross misrepresentation of the artwork created by African American artists. Over time, the BECC would become a strong advocate for African American artists and would act as their liaison with many established art institutions.
Peter Dean, another core member of Rhino Horn, came of age as a seminal East Coast Figurative Expressionist of the Second Generation. Dean was born in 1934 to Jewish parents in Berlin, Germany, when the growing Nazi movement was victimizing German Jews. Dean and his family immigrated to the United States in 1938, and he grew up in the Bronx. Dean later attended the University of Wisconsin, graduating in 1956 with a degree in Geology. He worked at the Anaconda Copper Company in Brazil, Montana while pursuing his passion for painting during his free time. Dean would continue to balance these two interests until he could afford to devote himself full-time to his art. He returned to New York City in 1962 and had his first solo show the following
year at Aspects Gallery on East 10th Street. In 1965, Dean became a co-founder of the short-lived “Torque” group, which included sculptor Joseph Kurhajec and painters Peter Saul (b. 1934) and Leon Golub. The group attracted the attention of certain critics, including Lawrence Alloway, and they tried to put together shows in various venues around the country, but it soon disbanded. As Dean stated, “We were maniacs in the midst of Minimalism.”
Michael Fauerbach was born in Yonkers, New York in 1942 and was also brought up in the Bronx. He attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City from 1960 to 1964, concentrating in illustration and fine art. Upon graduation, he painted during the day and loaded tractor-trailers for United Parcel Service at night until he was drafted into the United States Army. He served from 1964 through 1966 as a radio operator in Bamburg, Germany and, unofficially, as his unit’s sign painter. Upon discharge, he moved to a loft on the Bowery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, resumed painting, and became proficient as a sculptor. In 1967, Fauerbach was included in an Anti-War group show at the Terrain Gallery at 39 Grove Street in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. In 1968 he was part of a two man show with Sperakis at Mari Gallery in Woodstock, New York. Fauerbach had his first solo exhibition at the Mari Gallery in Woodstock, New York in the same year.
Ken Bowman was born in Denver, Colorado in 1937, and he began painting in 1957. His early work includes oils that he painted in Greece, where he spent three months as a guest of the Greek government. From 1958 to 1959, Bowman traveled throughout Europe and in parts of Africa, after which he attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts in 1963. After graduation, he returned to Denver, where he briefly taught history of art in a commercial school before settling in New York City in 1964. Bowman had his first one-man show at the prominent Tibor de Nagy gallery on Manhattan’s East 57th Street in 1970, the same year that Rhino Horn was formed. He continued to show his work with that gallery for the remainder of the 1970s.
Nicholas Sperakis, the youngest of the original Rhino Horn artists, was born in New York City in 1943. He decided to become an artist when he was nine, upon his first visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he saw a portrait of a soldier holding his helmet by Rembrandt. Sperakis studied on scholarships at the Art Students League from 1961 to 1963, at the Pratt Graphics Art Center from 1960 to 1963, and at the National Academy of Design from 1960 to 1961. In 1963, Sperakis exhibited in the Annual Print Exhibition of Mercy Hurst College in Pennsylvania and won the First Prize Purchase Award. He also had his first one-man exhibition at the Paul Kessler Gallery in Provincetown. In 1964 he was elected into the Society of American Graphic Artists and his work was exhibited in the Brooklyn Museum Print Biennial as well as among the New Acquisitions at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Provincetown.
The first Rhino Horn artist Nicholas met was Michael Fauerbach at a printmaking Studio at 498 Broome Street at the Soho district of Manhattan, operated by a printmaker by the name of Chaim Koppleman. The second Rhino Horn artist he met was Benny Andrews, whose powerful mixed media figurative expressionist paintings he saw at the Paul Kessler Gallery in Provincetown, Cape Cod, Mass, where they both exhibited.
In 1969, Sperakis traveled extensively throughout Mexico. In the Zona Rosa district of Mexico City he met Columbian born artist Leonel Góngora, who would later join the Rhino Horn group, as well as other artists who were participating members of the urban movement known as the Salon Independencia, or the Interioristas. In Mexico, Sperakis also met Passuntino, who also was traveling through the country. In 1970, Sperakis traveled throughout Europe on a Guggenheim Fellowship; upon returning to New York City, he reunited with Passuntino, whereupon he and the rest of the original seven members founded the Rhino Horn group.
Beginning in the early 1970s Rhino Horn included Barrell as a principal member of the group. Another painter who was soon asked to join and who became an important core member was Leonel Góngora. Góngora was born in Cartago, Velle del Cauca, Colombia in 1932 and studied art at the Escuela de Bellas Artes (National School of Fine Arts) in Bogota, Colombia, graduating in 1951. He also studied with renowned Columbian muralist Santiago Martinez Delgado (1906-1954) and with Max Beckmann (1884-1950) at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.
Góngora lived in Mexico City from 1960 to 1963, where he was a member of the important Mexican political art group known as Nueva Presencia (literally, “new presence”) and of the Salon Independiente. He moved to New York City in 1963, after which he divided time between working on his art and teaching at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts. A member of two important Latin American countercultural movements, both Góngora’s expressive and emotive imagery and his artist-as-activist attitude were well suited to membership in Rhino Horn.
In addition to its core members, Rhino Horn invited a revolving coterie of artists to show with the group. These participants included seminal Figurative Expressionist Lester Johnson and Red Grooms, both of whom exhibited as “friends of Rhino Horn” at the Ankrum Gallery in Los Angeles, California in 1974. In addition, there were several changes in Rhino Horn’s core membership over the course of the group’s nine-year existence (1969-1978). Andrews, Fauerbach, and Bowman would leave the group to pursue solo careers after the first few exhibitions. Christopher Lane was included in the roster for a 1970 exhibition at the North Shore Community Art Center in Great Neck, New York. Joseph Kurhajec, who was a close friend of the group, showed with Rhino Horn in 1970 at the Sonraed Gallery at 542 La Guardia Place in Manhattan. June Leaf was included in an exhibition at Rabinovitch and Guerra Gallery at 63 Crosby Street in New York City in 1973, as well as at the Ankrum Gallery in Los Angeles in 1974. Isser Aronovici, who had previously founded a Tenth Street Gallery called the Phoenix Gallery and who was an original member of the No! Art movement, showed with Rhino Horn at the Odyssey House at 115 East 57th street in 1971 and in 1973 at the Herbert Benevy Gallery at 542 La Guardia Place in New York City. Several of his paintings appeared at numerous other New York galleries, such as the Bowery Gallery, as well as on the walls of Peter Dean’s studio and apartment.