Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ralph Hulett

Ever since I was a teenager, my dad has had a carpet cleaning franchise in San Diego. I worked nearly every weekend with him from the time I was 14 years old, and sometimes I would get to see some interesting homes when doing the carpets. One such occasion, we were doing some work for a lady whose downstairs had flooded from a plumbing accident... she had the most wonderful collection of California watercolors. We rescued her paintings from any damage, and repaired her downstairs flood. My dad and I obtained a few paintings in exchange for some of the work we did there, Dad got a Whitaker and a nice painting of the San Diego Mission. I got to keep this particular Ralph Hulett watercolor pictured above. It's signed in the lower left corner, but no other information can be seen without removing the frame to examine the backing. I just call my Hulett watercolor "Desert Scene With Camels and Figures", 22 x 30 inches.


Several years passed and as you know, I went on to become an artist myself. Recently, I was flipping through the June 2009 issue of American Art Review with Eric Merrill and saw this amazing freeway painting (pictured above). I said to Eric, "Look at this painting, it's unbelievable! And I've never even heard of the guy!" Then I looked at the caption, it's called "Under the Overpass" 20 x 30 inches, oil on canvas, and was paintied by Ralph Hulett... the painting was to be on exhibit at the California Heritage Museum in Santa Monica until August 23, 2009 (yes, it closes this weekend). The exhibition is titled "California Regionalism, Oils on Canvas"... http://web.mac.com/calmuseum/iWeb/Site/Home.html

It took me a little bit to realize that the freeway (executed in thick oil) was painted by the same guy who executed my desert scene in watercolor. When I connected the dots, I made sure to check out the show. It was curated by Gordon McClelland and the show was quite impressive.
Before I even got to see the show, I started doing some research on Ralph Hulett. Turns out that he had been a student at Chouinard, the school that later ended up being dispursed to other LA area art schools like Art Center (where I went to college). He studied there under Millard Sheets and Phil Dike. Then in 1937, he became a background painter and animator at Walt Disney Studios, working on several films including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Alice in Wonderland, and others.
Living in Los Angeles, he painted personal work with the same subject matter that I have found to be interesting in my own work... freeways, city streets, downtown LA, old neighborhoods, etc. Here's Hulett at his easel (pictured above). I find his technique to be quite exciting, his oil method used a lot of slashing palette knife action, lost and found edges, and thick buttery paint. His work has a genuine mid-century modern feel to it. This painting below is of an old house on Bunker Hill, an area of downtown LA that is now covered in high-rise office buildings...
Ralph Hulett's watercolor method is also quite impressive. I find his color choices to be quite pleasing. The watercolors always have a strong design and personal touch to them, they don't look like anybody else could have painted them. Hulett certainly maintained his own voice within his work.

This watercolor pictured above is called "The Open Gate", 22 x 30 inches. Courtesy of the Bodega Bay Heritage Gallery... http://www.bbhgallery.com/Hulett_Ralph.htm

15 comments:

william wray said...

A nice rundown on Ralph Tony. I had heard of him over the years in the context of his Disney work, but had no real conception of the rough depth of quality of his fine art. I'd seen a few things here and there, but not enough of a body of work to "get him on my radar." You got me intrigued and Gordon's show "Sealed the deal" Now I'm a fan at last.

tonypetersart said...

That Santa Monica show really impressed me, before that I'd only seen a handful of Hulett's paintings on the web. Very nice surface, gratifying to see the work in person... and I knew his work would win you over :-)

Eric Merrell said...

Hey Tony,
Great story, love the pieces that show L.A. back then too. Guess I'm a sucker for history. Wish I could get out there to see the exhibition before it closes...

(Not to nitpick, but I believe Chouinard became CalArts.)

tonypetersart said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tonypetersart said...

Hey Eric,

You're right, I just edited my post. I've been told that Chouinard dispursed into CalArts and Otis... not just Art Center. Disney had ties to Chouinard and their animation department crossed over to become CalArts (from what I understand). But honestly, my history on the subject might be a little hazy. It could just have been some of the instructors who were dispursed to the various LA area art schools. Not sure.

Get out there to see the California Regionalism show if you can!

Gary Keimig said...

very interesting story, Peter. It is a small world. As you have shown here he certainly had an interesting array of work and technique.

Alan said...

This is so great!I love learning about artists I hadn't heard about, thanks for passing the info along.

Ralph Hulett said...

Hello Tony, This is the son of Ralph Hulett, Ralph E. Hulett. I live in Costa Mesa. My brother Steve Hulett lives in Burbank. My mom lives in Newport Beach. Great story regarding the painting you got. My mother knows more history on these painting.
You can google me as I have a website and am a photographer www.rockretrospect.com. Email me and I can give you more info on my mom.

tonypetersart said...

Hey Gary,

Cool stuff, huh? Glad you liked my post.

tonypetersart said...

Thanks Alan,

I love to share inspiration!

tonypetersart said...

Ralph,

It's a privelege having you here on my blog, glad you found me! I shot you an email, but I haven't heard back from you yet. You can contact me directly at tonypetersart@sbcglobal.net

Thanks!

Eric Merrell said...

Hey Tony - good to see you. Just found this Ralph Hulett on Redfern's website: http://www.redferngallery.com/artistart.php?at=RalphHulett&cat=8

Chris said...

Tony, enjoyed your blog on Ralph Hulett. I knew his son when I was a kid growing up in San Diego - a talented photographer in his own right. Good to seeRalph Sr's. work being appreciated

dandee said...

hello im in the philippines, i have here painting on my wall since 2001, oil painting titled'The Last Spring', i was amazed about the painting when i look at it deeply. it was signed by ralph hullet.

Mikki Sears said...

I enjoyed your blog on Hulett I have an original oil by Hulett that is signed in the lower center I sure could use some help identify it and you seem to be really knowledgeable about his work