Debra Force Fine Art is pleased to present Hayward Oubre: Difficult to Impossible, an exhibition featuring a selection sculptures and paintings by Hayward Oubre (1916-2006). As with many African American artists working in the South during the Jim Crow era, Oubre's uncompromising art has been largely unrecognized until now. The exhibition was previously presented at the Greenville County Museum of Art, and this marks the first time Oubre's work has ever been comprehensively presented in New York.
“The difficult we do immediately, the impossible takes a little longer.” This is how Hayward Oubre described his World War II service, working to build the 1500-mile Alcan Highway, a military supply route that traversed Canada from Alaska to the continental United States. It also describes Oubre’s art practice, especially his creation of wire sculptures, a process he began in the late 1950s and continued for four decades. He did not care that the work was agonizingly slow, physically painful and structurally challenging. He created nearly fifty wire sculptures, most during the 1960s, and they stand apart in his artistic output and are his greatest achievement. They are made from ordinary clothes hangers; Oubre used only simple pliers and his tremendous hand strength to shape them. He planned each step of construction far in advance and made works that are resilient, strong, and balanced, an engineering feat.
Oubre was born in 1916 in New Orleans and later attended Dillard University, graduating as the university’s first art major in 1939. He then continued his studies at Atlanta University with Harlem Renaissance painter Hale Woodruff and sculptor Nancy Elizabeth Prophet as his mentors. In 1941, he was drafted into military service.
After the war, Oubre used the G.I. Bill to enroll at the University of Iowa, where he earned an M.F.A., the third such degree bestowed upon an African American, following Elizabeth Catlett and Houston E. Chandler. In addition to sculpture, he painted and made etchings, many depicting African-American life inspired by his New Orleans boyhood.
After graduation, he commenced his teaching career at Florida A & M University, followed by Alabama State College and finally Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina, retiring in 1981. During this time, he developed a concise study of color mixing and color relationships that he published and distributed to his students. He continued working until his death in 2006 in Winston-Salem.
Oubre’s work was regularly exhibited throughout his career. It was included in the annual exhibitions at Atlanta University between 1946 and 1969 and was featured in solo exhibitions at several black colleges. Although local reviews of his exhibitions were lavish with praise, Oubre’s art has not been widely recognized until now.