Constellation Series #3 (House/Window with Northern Cross and Milky Way)

Frances Hynes (American, b. 1945)
Currently on view
MediumCompressed charcoal and pastel on paper
Dimensions27 × 39 inches
CreditGift of the artist, 2019
© Frances Hynes
Accession Number2019.08.1

Frances Hynes (American, born 1945) merges artistic sensibilities with scientific curiosity in this series of charcoal and pastel skyscapes created in 1985 and 1986. As a girl, Hynes was impressed by the 1947 edition of Star Stories for Little Folks, a children’s guide to the constellations, written by Gertrude Chandler Warner and illustrated by Winifred Bromhall. Over the years her interest in astronomy grew, and during the late 1970s and early 1980s she spent many nights outdoors in Cooks Falls, Delaware County, using a flashlight to consult a star map as she watched the constellations cross the sky.

These unique drawings offer a combination of aesthetically driven composition and stellar cartography. The concept of constellations, with imaginary lines connecting select stars, appealed to Hynes, who studied painting during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the most predominant style for visual artists was abstraction. She overlays the actual configurations of constellations with linear outlines that merely suggest structures such as barns and wood frame houses. Of this unique fusion, Hynes says, “I saw a structural relationship in the geometries of both architecture and night sky constellations.” Beginning with a pencil sketch of star positions, she used charcoal to fill in the night sky, leaving white paper to shine through as the stars and their implied lines of connection. Hynes completed the drawings in her Long Island City studio, guided by her memories, sketches, and star maps.

The welter of shapes, lines, and streaks that fills this image is reminiscent of the sometimes confusing spectacle that happens on a dark, clear night when the sky is filled with so many stars that constellations can be difficult to discern. In this image, the Milky Way runs roughly from upper left to lower right across the drawing, with the Northern Cross stretching part-way along its length. The stars in the Northern Cross are within the constellation Cygnus (the swan). Also visible are shapes inspired by Cepheus (touching the upper left corner), Bootes (extending out of the upper right corner), and the semi-circle of Corona Borealis (intersected by the pink line, upper right). Hynes centers Hercules inside the house, with red lines that attempt to impose an emphatic, but clearly futile, order on the scene.

Exhibition History