Frances Hynes: Constellations

January 17, 2020–January 10, 2021

Frances Hynes (American, born 1945) merges artistic sensibilities with scientific curiosity in Constellation Series, a collection of charcoal and pastel skyscapes created in 1985 and 1986.

Frances Hynes’ fascination with the night sky can be traced back to her childhood, when she read the 1947 edition of Star Stories for Little Folks, a children’s guide to constellations written by Gertrude Chandler Warner and illustrated by Winifred Bromhall. Over the years her interest in astronomy grew, and during the early 1980s she spent many nights outdoors in upstate New York, using a flashlight to consult a star map as she watched the constellations cross the sky. During the same period, she also gazed at the stars while staying at Monhegan Island, a renowned artists’ enclave in Maine, where the lack of light pollution dazzled her senses with the bright Milky Way and the sheer number of visible celestial objects.

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. In these drawings, Hynes combines faithfully rendered constellations, such as the Big Dipper, the Northern Cross, Orion, Hercules, and Cassiopeia, with linear outlines that merely suggest the New York barns and New England wood frame houses. Of this unique fusion, Hynes says, “I saw a structural relationship in the geometries of both architecture and night sky constellations.” She enjoys the ambiguity of reading these superimposed forms of land and sky and invites the viewer to wonder, “Am I inside, looking out a window at the night sky, or am I outside? Is the constellation behind the building, part of the building, is the building transparent, is the building part of the night sky, part of the universe?”

During her long career, Hynes has been featured in numerous exhibitions, including one-person shows at MoMA PS1, New York, and the Ogunquit Museum of American Art, Maine. Her work is represented in numerous museum collections, including the Hudson River Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, New York, Albany Institute of History and Art, New York, and the Farnsworth Art Museum, Maine, among others.

Frances Hynes. Constellation Series #3 (House/Window with Northern Cross and Milky Way), 1986. Compressed charcoal and pastel on paper. Collection of the Hudson River Museum. Gift of the artist, 2019.