Hans Hartung and Art Informel at Mazzoleni London (1 October 2019-18 January 2020) presents key works by the French-German painter while highlighting his connection with artists active in Paris during the 50s and 60s. In this video, writer and historian Alan Montgomery discusses Hartung's practice and its legacy.
Born in Leipzig in 1904, Hans Hartung migrated to Paris after encountering works by artists such as Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Rouault, and Rousseau at the International Art Exhibition in Dresden in 1926. In 1935, after a few years spent travelling through Europe, the artist settled in the city permanently, receiving French citizenship in 1946. In Paris, Hartung embarked on a gestural approach to painting, early examples of which are included in the exhibition at Mazzoleni London, including seven small 'Untitled' works from 1956 that contain lively dashes of India ink on paper.
Later compositions incorporated processes of scratching and scraping, with Hartung stating that to act is to 'invade the canvas'. This is visible in a selection of works in the exhibition from the 1960s, namely T1962-H19 (1962)—a dynamic composition, as Montgomery describes in this video, made up of layers of sprayed vinylic interrupted by scores of dancing lines. Hartung continued to experiment with these canvas 'invasions' throughout his life, employing olive tree branches from his home in Antibes, for example, to apply gestural storms of dark paint onto colourful, gradated backgrounds, as seen in T1980-E46 (1980).
Hartung was an active member of the Paris scene of the immediate post-war period, which saw a cultural renaissance from which Art Informel—a movement of gestural abstraction—originated. Artists active in this movement engaged with it in their own unique ways, with some arriving from as far as Canada (Jean-Paul Riopelle), Russia (Serge Poliakoff), China (Zao Wou-Ki), and Japan (Toshimitsu Imai). French members of Hartung's circle included Pierre Soulages, Henri Michaux, and Georges Matthieu. Much of the work by these artists possesses a sculptural quality, with paint layered across the canvas using a palette knife in the case of Couleur (1955) by Jean-Paul Riopelle, or applied directly to the canvas from the tube, as in the case of Georges Matthieu's Formule de Dirac (1955).
Beyond these artists, Montgomery notes Hartung's gestural and lyrical approach to art was admired by Picasso, along with Mark Rothko in the United States, with echoes of his abstraction present in canvases by Sam Francis and Helen Frankenthaler. —[O]