This catalogue has been published on the occasion of the exhibition Hassel Smith: The Measured Paintings at Heather James Fine Art, Palm Desert, February 12 – April 20, 2020. Heather James Fine Art is proud to represent the estate of Hassel Smith. We would like to acknowledge the gracious support of Donna Smith and Mark Harrington and the kind assistance of Kim and Chris Collet. Heather James Fine Art 45188 Portola Drive Palm Desert 92260 Palm Desert · New York · San Francisco · Jackson Hole · Montecito Essay “Hassel Smith: The Measured Paintings” by Bruce Nixon Designed by Timothy Tompkins Text set in Benton Sans type Credits for art reproductions and photographs appear at the end of the catalogue Front Cover: Untitled, 1974 (detail) Page 5: King Clone, 1978 (detail)
HASSEL SMITH: THE MEASURED PAINTINGS Bruce Nixon
In 1970, when Hassel Smith began work on the first canvases that he would soon call the measured paintings, he was in his mid-fifties, a mature artist, and by almost any standard, settled into a secure career. In the 1940s and early 1950s, he had emerged as one of the leading abstract painters in the San Francisco Bay Area — the only city outside New York to develop a significant abstract expressionist group in the postwar decade — and his work there reveals an idiomatic stylist whose energy, insouciance, and lively intelligence very nearly encapsulate the character of San Francisco painting during those years. In 1966, Smith had accepted a teaching position in England, where he found himself embraced as an eminent practitioner of the American style. He also began making figurative canvases in the mid-1960s, and while they are not really determined by an expressionist technique — as we might say of former colleagues in the Bay Area such as David Park or Elmer Bischoff — neither are they so far afield that they would readily suggest an artist’s revolt against his own history. The measured paintings, on the other hand, just a few years later, seem to declare the sudden, willful repudiation of a reliable past, and indeed, the earliest instances of this series, compositions based on quilt designs and gameboards, drawn in clean, intrepid color, must have seemed inexplicable. In the mid-1970s, when the measured paintings were first shown in the United States — in San Francisco, as it happened — they met with uncertainty or, at best, uneasy acceptance. In most critical efforts to account for them, they were associated, incorrectly, with concurrent developments in abstract painting in New York. Although Smith continued to show on the West Coast on an almost annual basis, clearly some of the air had gone out of his career there. Such is the background to the series as we encounter it now. The measured paintings are still not widely known, but after so many decades we can at last see them as they are, the largest, most sustained single body of work in Smith’s long career — some two hundred canvases — and arguably his most developed work. It is the work, too, in which, crucially, he breaks free from affiliations with any manner or movement that might have assisted in explaining his goals for it, the sources of secondary support that can be so helpful in an artist’s public life. With the measured paintings, Smith was on his own, out on a high wire, prepared to meet the risks ahead. Hassel Smith, Bay Area, circa 1986
From the perspective of the present, the measured paintings also tell us a good deal about
Smith’s ambitions as an artist and his thoroughness as a visual thinker. Even during the 1950s, he never really conformed to popular views of abstract expressionist studio practice, never depended on the intuitive heroics attached to that period in art. He was always thinking about painting, or more precisely, about how painting realized, in accord with its particular resources, the terms of our engagement with life in the world and how it could address such matters in depth. By the 1960s and 1970s, many painters were asking what, exactly, constituted painting — the painting itself — stripped to something like essence. Those were apt concerns, certainly, and Smith understood the kinds of visual reductions that had become central to the inquiry. But he wanted to travel further still, to interrogate painting as an order of making, an operative harmony of the reasoning mind, imagination, and mobile hand of the maker in which the full visual means of the canvas mingles easily among concerns we might more typically associate with other areas of the liberal arts.
Untitled, 1985-87 acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in. Estate of Hassel Smith
Untitled, 1974 acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in. Estate of Hassel Smith
Perhaps painters have always entertained thoughts of this kind as they labored behind the curtains of traditional pictorial narrative. And Smith was fortunate, as he undoubtedly realized, to be working in a historical period when painting was free at last of the demands and cultural obligations of representational description. Modern painting is always grappling with the subject of painting itself, but Smith did not want his own work to be about just that. By the time he neared the close of the measured series, in canvases such as Untitled (198587) or Without Hope They Live in Desire (1986), he seemed prepared to follow astronomy — or theology — into the heavens, and as he did so, to test the experiential effects of painting, this silent object on the wall before us, against our discursive encounters with music, dance, literature, life itself. If these are grand claims for art, Smith believed that painting was equal to the task. Maybe he had always thought so. If we look back from the measured paintings, we can easily locate their connections to the figurative canvases that preceded them, and if we look ahead to the 1990s, to the concluding phase of Smith’s work, we will encounter some of the most scrupulous expressionist canvases in American art, lovely unities of freedom and order, of personality and formal clarity, a drift of forms that seem almost to breathe. The measured paintings are distinguished by their variety and invention. Early in the series, ruthlessly flattened, schematic “gameboards” and “quilts” are common: Untitled (1-2-3-1 Series) (1975), From 1 to 9 (1975-76), or About 9 (1976) are among the former; Untitled (1974) and I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls (1975) among the latter. The compositional bases would open and evolve, but even as the series continued, the sustained elements — the square format, scaled to correspondence with the human body, the use of acrylic paints, and what we might call the inner life of the artist’s formal language as it flows from canvas to canvas
with mounting complexity — together assert the presence of an underlying constructive formula, a compositional order developed by the artist as a personal discipline, something that would keep the paintings from falling into pure subjectivity. Is system ultimately the content of the work, manifested in organization, form, gesture? The answers are by no means obvious, and we can begin to approach them by considering Smith’s activities during the several years prior to the start of the series. As it went, 1963 brought the end of the abstract expressionist canvas in oil paint, as Smith began to abandon the mode of working with which he had established his presence as an artist in San Francisco, and in its place, he turned to the figure. At that point, there were, of course, other painters in the Bay Area who had chosen a similar path during the preceding decade, and they suggested a precedent of sorts; indeed, Smith’s earliest work, until the mid1940s, was figurative, canvases that were already compressing pictorial space, squeezing forms together, and tipping perspective. As his figure reemerged in the 1960s, it differed from those canvases, however, and from the muscular, broadly delineated methodology of Bay Area figuration. While Smith bore the influence of his adventures with abstract painting, he had no interest in the brushy expressionism of Park or Bischoff. His figures display little of the characterful warmth we expect from narrative art; their role is chiefly formal. Smith then countered expectation even further, utilizing canted planes, exaggerated spatial proportions, asymmetrical compositions, abrupt shifts in tonal value, and non-descriptive colors, which force us to reassess the nature of our interest in the figure as a subject, and our relationship with figurative painting itself. We can feel the measured canvases on the near horizon. Let us take Leda and the Swan (1969) as a transitional episode. It is composed with compass and straight edge. The figures in the lower right have been assembled in sequences of circles, and they are enveloped in a conspicuously spacious atmosphere created by the wide planes of wall and ceiling around them. It is a formal arrangement relieved of undue complications, and secured by an idiomatic but stable compositional foundation.
Leda and the Swan, 1969 oil on canvas, 68 x 46 in. Private Collection
For Smith, the successful integration of pictorial content with a viable organizational system proposed a method for dealing with one issue of great interest to him, the image consciously ordered into networks of interval and event — a terminology he borrowed from music — what we could also call an order of fields and shapes. Composition yields a tightly woven lattice of internal relationships, or interrelationships, combined in such a way that no single form or element can, or should, claim true autonomy for itself. This is a way of thinking about “how” a painting works, its literal means as they built toward a totality of effect. Why does one painting
succeed more effectively, or more self-evidently, than another? Can we locate the empirical, measurable elements that could verify its ordering principle? They are the same kinds of questions that would have occupied the Ancients as they carved their tranquil figures, or the Renaissance painters who were applying mathematics to perspectival compositions, or to the constructivists searching for elementality, the minimal quantity of information capable of conveying maximal pictorial effect. We are now well into the territory of the measured paintings, and with those issues in mind, Leda and the Swan points directly at the next step: a reliable code, intrinsic to the artist, whose particulars are cloaked behind the visible image itself. In Leda, the depiction of the human subject is hardly empathetic — the painting might be described as figuresque — and in this respect Smith steps decisively away from a correspondent figure, “like” us. As a customary locus of visual gravity, it is off-kilter, having deserted its familiar relationship with the center of the compositional frame. At the same time, Smith’s handling of space also seems to have the measured paintings already in mind. In Leda, “wall” and “ceiling” fail to “fold” at an “accurate” angle. They open, rather, like a theater set, and the doorway, too, proposes a theatrical utility, peculiarities that nonetheless achieve visual logic apart from the concerns of realism. The view “through” such spaces can tilt our position before the canvas, and when we turn to the measured paintings, where an ordering sensibility is even more clearly inferred, we will be similarly disconcerted as we search for the reassurance of a visual “grid” as an explanation for the image. Indeed, the forthright modality of the square canvas seems to suggest it, but let us not cling to terminology. The measured paintings are not “grids” at all, not, that is, repeating, serial images. Smith’s system has plenty of flex. While many of the measured paintings suggest a frontal view — a distinct orientation of bottom and top — this is not always the case, nor is it required to be so, nor should we assume that it is an exclusive visual situation even in paintings that at first appear to align themselves to our upright posture.
Untitled, 1983 acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in. Estate of Hassel Smith
Simply put, Smith was contriving a formal system that is communicative as art. Yet the system never overwhelms the painting as a painting. Smith remains an artist to the end, and good paintings are always the goal. But as a structural foundation — a rationale, really — it allows him to exercise individuality of style without succumbing to style alone, or to the kinds of signature gestures that often take charge of the expressionist canvas. As a basis for making paintings, it enabled Smith to invent without the need to make every canvas “new,” and it could support a visual language resistant to the kinds of stylistic tics that can become a false
claim on originality. The full scope of this project was not evident in the very first measured paintings, of course, but Smith had enough to proceed with confidence.
Homage to the Headhunters, 1977 acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in. Estate of Hassel Smith
The measured paintings raise questions typical of their cultural period, questions that are still worthwhile: how do we identify a painting as “art”? How and when does it become art, and how, exactly, does this action separate it from gameboards, flags, or quilts? Can those visual systems also constitute art? A gameboard must be readily comprehensible. Quilts, on the other hand, are among the most intricate of vernacular designs. Both offer fruitful insights into how we read visual data. Art, we might say, has no function other than to be looked at, but if any two-dimensional visual system can suggest itself as art, how will we go about differentiating one from the other? On what basis does art make its unique claim upon our attention? And how does a painter transform utilitarian imagery into an unmistakably artistic event? In the 1970s, system-driven art forms of all kinds were among the voices that pressed such questions amid the increasingly pervasive visual landscape of advertising and mass media. Were such images just a prosaic mode of visuality, routine, ordinary? Or was an entirely different set of questions pertinent? Could they — should they — be approached — and remade — as a visual order capable of beauty? At that moment, those issues were by no means as settled as they are now, and Smith, for one, was extending his own inquiry, in his own way. In the measured paintings, he turned to an imagery of forms that represent only themselves, events on the canvas. He wanted to bring as little as possible from the objects of the world, which carried extraneous meanings into the painting like so much luggage. Here we find only a bounteous dispersion of refined shapes and fields rendered in the artist’s supple, often dazzling colorism. How should they be read? Our lives, individual and communal, are full of such patterns and systems. Nature as well, and art. Why regard them only as latent or embedded, beyond reach? They are intrinsic, absorbed into our consciousness, eminently human. Let us consider them squarely. Thus we find ourselves venturing into the seemingly closed system of an artist determined to develop a way of building paintings that is not “about” the familiar, identifiable objects of the world or their narrative freight. Smith is now looking at the internal, often unconscious systems by which we comprehend those objects, and in this context, the canvas represents a kind of notational setting or matrix inscribed in, granted texture, presence, and visual excitement, through the means of painting. Such work has the character of a community, one whose inhabitants, in all their diversity, have been created by the artist and turned loose within the boundaries of the frame to act as they will. Smith had recognized a trap of the abstract expressionist canvas, its potential to devolve from
spontaneity into repetition, from authentic creativity into reliability, from individuality into signature, and so the measured paintings can be seen, if in part, as a route of escape from those suffocating hazards. With that said, his system is not mechanistic, but might be more appropriately described as a means of navigation. Smith was establishing coordinates across the canvas surface as he advanced toward a way of “doing” painting that would ultimately verify the virtues of a dependable architectonic logic, one that could provide a consistently satisfying aesthetic container for his thoughts and ideas, manifested in the dissemination of imagery. After settling on a fixed field, the square, as a constant, he reduced his formal vocabulary to variations on the circle, triangle, and rectangle, which are modified in turn by position, sub-division, relative proportion, size, color, and brushstroke — the most basic compositional substances. Their “fit” is not always perfect. A certain tolerance can occur, often as a “space” along one or more of the edges, a narrow band that is not out of place but, at the same time, does not quite account for itself compositionally. The appearance of the canvas — the paint surface in all its exacting literality — would necessarily be critical. Smith worked in acrylic, but he made his own paints, mixing pigment into a liquid polymer that he acquired from a small company in London. This practice gave him complete control over his colors. He could obtain purity of hue or mix at will, which enabled him to produce an idiomatic palette, the tempered blues, greens, and yellows that he adjusted to the requirements of any given image; he could also modulate the concentration of his pigments, producing paint films of great density as well as nearly transparent glazes. Witness, as examples, the creamy grays of Untitled (1980) or Untitled (1983), the brash pink of For Clyfford (1982-83), or the inky, nocturnal blacks of Day of the Dead (1985) and Untitled (1985). Color and understated gesture give coherence to even the most extensive fields, and indeed the sweep of Smith’s colorism is among the hallmarks of the series, and one of its great achievements.
Untitled, 1985 acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in. Estate of Hassel Smith
The liquidity of the base permitted uniform, flat-looking surfaces that naturally emphasize the spatial effects of color, tone, the nuanced mark, while at the same time acrylic turns from the common tropes of oil paint, the glistening, tactile surface textures that draw the haptic eye and prompt meanings of their own apart from the imagery. Although he wants to deflect some of the obvious affiliations entailed in borrowing from the art-historical past, Smith’s attitude toward his materials had always been fairly heterodox — he used house paint on canvases of the 1950s, for example. Here, as he extricates himself from the august rituals of oil painting, he does so in order to concentrate every aspect of his constructive means on the unity of image and system.
Once Smith established his materials, passed through the straightforward early designs, and began to relax his use of space, the series advanced very quickly. Small spaces can feel immense to us, like windows that open suddenly onto landscapes, or galaxies, while other forms seem to separate themselves from the canvas surface and hover or float, advancing toward us in graceful spatial effects. Of course, Smith realized that our encounter with a painting is, among other things, an act or sequence of acts that could itself be contemplated within a systemic context. The viewer quickly begins to search for a painting’s informing “system,” its intention, and to go another step, to locate the self in relation to clues provided by the art object. For the artist, this may or may not be a problem, a condition largely dependent on the aspirations of the artwork, and Smith was ambitious. He had set for himself the task of developing a pictorial language hospitable with the general course of Western painting, one that would be discernibly “modern,” and yet could bring viewers to an awareness of their own processes of interpretation: it would, in other words, be good painting and, at the same time, “show” how we look at art without being illustrational or explanatory. Images that might be referential — In Berkeley (1979), for example — finally loosen themselves from any kind of specificity, withdrawing into deceptively simple formal arrangements and nondescriptive colors, challenging us to step back from routine procedures of reading and so enter a fresh climate of encounter with the work itself, just as it is.
In Berkeley, 1979 acrylic on canvas, 70 x 49 in. Estate of Hassel Smith
As the series progressed, Smith does indeed seem to offer us a view of his own universe, a place where shapes drift across mysterious, animate spaces governed by their own laws of gravity and attraction, whether biological or cosmic. The dynamism of the traditional relationship between center and edge is all but dissolved in this field of play, as the formal elements mobilize in the direction of final form. The artist’s process directs the internal rhythm of the canvases from one to the next, simultaneously arranging and liberating the work, reaching for what we might describe as the freedom of obedience demonstrated as painting — observe the leap from The Portuguese Navigator (1978) to the otherworldly illumination of Untitled (1985), separated from one another by almost a decade. This is not the only way to paint, but for the artist who approaches the blank canvas with such concerns in mind, it is a path that may produce very interesting answers to some of the nagging problems of modern art. The measured paintings, as a group, would fit comfortably into almost any moment in the past century in art, from the first forays of modernist formalism until yesterday, and this itself is a compelling affirmation of Smith’s program — the impartial harmonies so satisfying to the deep, unvoiced strata of eye and mind that it eludes strict historical temporalities. We can
now admit frankly that Smith is an artist well-disposed toward the painting tradition in which he works: here, however, tradition must refer to issues and concerns continuous in the history of art, not to a material gathering of techniques or images from the past. In 1987, then, after some seventeen years and having brought the series an immense distance, the measured paintings fragment before our eyes, blasted away, or disintegrated, by an urgent gesturalism that washes over them. First, we see the brush agitating particular forms in paintings such as Untitled (1983) or Untitled (1985). The artist grows more aggressive in Untitled (1985-87), and finally tosses aside all restraint in Without Hope They Live in Desire (1986).
In the Valley of the Kings, 1983 acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in. Estate of Hassel Smith
Without Hope They Live in Desire, 1986 acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in. Private Collection
In a practical sense, Smith was always acquiring studio information, and the measured series had been generous in this respect. He was ready to shift his means again, to address his various interests from another direction, and in the “expressionist” canvases that followed, the spaces feel nearly sentient — vast, geological, even cosmic. And yet, how can we look at the grand fields and clambering forms of some of the untitled canvases of the 1990s and not recall Untitled (1980) or In the Valley of the King (1983), their comfortable, sympathetic proximity of large and small, their mutual caress of the billowing and jagged? Smith never entirely disclosed the secrets of his measurements, his proportional means, the rules of endless play. At some point in the future, perhaps, an enterprising art historian may send a selection from the series to some vaunted intelligence agency, and the master code-breakers will at last extract Smith’s system from among them. Or not. Although the outcome of such an investigation might be intriguing, the originality of the series would remain unchanged, the enduring mark of its creator.
Hassel Smith, San Mateo, late 1930s
Untitled, 1970, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
Untitled, 1971, oil on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
Eyeball to Eyeball, 1972, oil on canvas, 46 x 46 in.
Circles Etc. #2, 1971, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 48 in.
Untitled, 1973, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
Untitled, 1974, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
Quilt Pattern, 1974, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
Untitled, 1974, acrylic on canvas, 67 3/4 x 67 5/8 in.
From A - B, 1976, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
More and More Cosmic Funk, 1976, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
Untitled, 1975, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 67 3/4 in.
Untitled, 1976, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls (1-2-3-4-1 series), 1975, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
From 1 to 9, 1976, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
Untitled, 1976-1977, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
Homage to the Headhunters, 1977, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
Military 2-Step, 1977, wood construct, 48 x 68 in.
Untitled, 1977, wood construct, 68 x 68 in.
Untitled, 1978, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
Untitled, 1978, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
King Clone, 1978, acrylic on canvas, 67 3/4 x 67 1/2 in.
In Berkeley, 1979, acrylic on canvas, 70 x 49 in.
About 9, 1979-1980, acrylic on canvas, 90 x 68 in.
316 Revisited, 1980, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
Untitled, 1980, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
Untitled, 1980, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
More and More about 9, 1980, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
About 99, 1980, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
Untitled, 1980, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
9000 and 9 Nights, 1981, acrylic and graphite on canvas, 68 x 68 1/8 in.
Arezzo Revisited, 1982, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
Flies Expect to be Swatted - #9 Painting, 1982, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
Untitled, 1982, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
In the Valley of the Kings, 1983, acrylic on canvas, 67 1/2 x 68 in.
Untitled, 1983, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
Untitled, 1983, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
Superwallah, 1983, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
Alone with the Killer #2, 1983, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
Untitled, 1983-1984, acrylic on canvas, 67 7/8 x 68 in.
Untitled, 1983-84, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
Untitled, 1983-1984, acrylic on canvas, 68 1/4 x 68 in.
Untitled, 1984, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
Untitled, 1984, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 48 in.
Untitled, 1985, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
The Kiss of Deaf, 1985, acrylic on canvas, 68 1/8 x 68 1/8 in.
Untitled, 1983, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
Chambord Revisited, 1976, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 68 in.
Untitled, 109-84, 1991, acrylic on canvas, 67 5/8 x 68 in.
Hassel Smith, Rode Studio, Somerset, England, circa 1985
1915 Born Hassel Wendell Smith, Jr. to Hassel and Helen Adams Smith in Sturgis, Michigan, a small factory town between Detroit and Chicago. Family also adopts a boy, Lewis, who is of the same age.
Fine Art (CSFA) taught by Maurice Stern. Stern’s approach to teaching and drawing from the model is a revelation that inspires Hassel to decline a full scholarship to Princeton University. Instead, he enrolls in the two-year program offered by the California School of Fine Art. Begins to paint outdoors.
1918-23 Mother’s tuberculosis prompts a move to dryer climes, and the family settles for periods in Denver, Los Angeles, San Mateo, and Mill Valley. There is a subsequent move back to Sturgis when his father accepts a job at the Kirsch-Rod Company.
1939 Leaves the California School of Fine Art in the summer, moves into a studio previously occupied by Maynard Dixon and draws at night classes under the aegis of the WPA.
1929-32 Family returns to San Mateo as Hassel enters San Mateo Union High School as a sophomore and graduates from the school.
1939-40 Tasked with supervising a caseload of men on San Francisco’s skid row, Hassel paints during off hours and weekends while employed by the California State Relief Administration.
1933-37 Attends Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, intent upon becoming a chemist. A brilliant student of the sciences, he becomes fascinated with art and painting and instead switches to dual majors in art history and English literature. These are hugely formative years built upon his profound response to the masterworks of modern art he sees at the Chicago World’s Fair, the performances of Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, famously choreographed by Léonide Massine, and the jazz clubs, dance halls, and vaudeville shows he frequents. His responsive nature to these opposing cultural extremes will serve to imbue his work with an unparalleled electric vitality and a signature blend of hipness and intellectual acuity. 1937-39 Graduates cum laude from Northwestern University. Returns to the Bay Area and enrolls in a summer class at the California School of
1941 Receives Abraham Rosenberg Foundation Traveling Fellowship for independent study. Moves to Angeles Camp in the Sierra foothills and fully commits to painting landscapes en plein air. 1942-44 Works for the Farm Security Administration of the US Department of Agriculture. Marries June Myers. 1944 Transfers to the United States Forest Service and spends the rest of the war as a timber scaler on the McKenzie River, Oregon. 1945 Teaches lithography with Ray Bertrand at the California School of Fine Arts.
1945-51 Accepts teaching position at CSFA joining a distinguished staff that includes Clyfford Still, David Park, Elmer Bischoff, Jean Varda, Clay Spohn, James Budd Dixon, Dorr Bothwell, Edward Corbett, Claire Falkenstein, Ansel Adams, and Richard Diebenkorn, among others. Summer staff includes Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt, and Stanley William Hayter. Students during this period include Frank Lobdell, Deborah Remington, James Kelly, Sonia Gechtoff, Adelie Landis (Bischoff), Lilly Fenichel, Roy De Forest, Ernest Briggs, John Hultberg, Julius Wasserstein, Jack Jefferson, and Madeleine Dimond (Martin). 1947 Clyfford Stillâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s solo exhibition at the California Palace Legion of Honor has a galvanizing effect on his work. Hassel has his own solo exhibition at the California Palace Legion of Honor. Accepts teaching position at University of Oregon, Eugene. Birth of son Joseph. 1948 Returns to the Bay Area and continues teaching at the California School of Fine Arts. 1952 Hassel Smith is among the teachers forced out of the CSFA by new director Ernest Mundt. Teaches at Presidio High School, childrenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s classes at Mission Community Center, weekly seminars at Potrero Hill home. 1953 Exhibits at the East-West Gallery, San Francisco, founded by Ethel Gechtoff. Acquires an apple orchard in Sebastopol, Sonoma
County, and builds a studio. 1955 Paintings by Hassel Smith are included in the ground-breaking Action I exhibition organized by Walter Hopps and others and held at the Merry-Go-Round Building on the Santa Monica Pier. 1958 Paintings by Hassel are included in the first of several exhibitions at the Ferus Gallery founded by Walter Hopps and Edward Kienholz in Los Angeles. He meets Peter Voulkos, John Altoon, Billy Al Bengston, Edward Moses, and others and begins to exhibit at Dilexi Gallery, San Francisco. His wife, June Myers Smith passes away. 1959-60 Hassel marries Donna Raffety Harrington who has two sons from a previous marriage, Mark and Stephan. Later, another son, Bruce, is born. 1962 Hassel and the family move to England for one year and live along the Cornish Coast at Mousehole. 1963-65 Returns to California as a lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley. 1965-66 Assumes position as an associate professor at the University of California at Los Angeles. 1966 Offered a position at the Royal West of England College of Art in
Bristol, England, where he is senior lecturer until 1978. 1970 Hassel creates the first measured paintings in Bristol, England. Directed by his usual wit and intellectual prowess and using a compass, ruler, protractor and tape measure, he embarks upon the experimental journey that would engage him for the next sixteen years. 1972 By this year, Hassel has largely codified a unique system and manner of working to create formal arrangements informed by the arts of music and dance as well as references not normally associated with the fine arts â&#x20AC;&#x201D; game boards, flags, maps, quilts, and ethnographic patterns. The paintings resist rigorous precision and seek to transcend the usual hard-edge, reductive absolutes and formal characteristics of Euclidian geometry. 1973-75 Visiting professor at the University of California. Continues to lecture at the Royal West of England College of Art in Bristol, England. 1977-80 Instructor at the San Francisco Institute of Art and by 1978 principal lecturer, faculty of art, Bristol Polytechnic, England, and the Cardiff College of Art, Wales. 1980 Moves from Bristol to Somerset, England. 1981 Guest artist at the San Francisco Art Institute. Given award for
â&#x20AC;&#x153;Outstanding Achievement in Paintingâ&#x20AC;? from the Art Commission of the City and County of San Francisco. 1986-87 Hassel paints his last measured works and in a complete turnabout, begins to paint in a spirited manner full of gestural fireworks. He also turns his attention to print making and produces several lithographs and monotypes at Magnolia Press, Oakland. 1988 Awarded the Cunningham Endowed Chair at the College of Notre Dame. 1991 Awarded an honorary doctorate by the San Francisco Art Institute. 1997 Forced to stop working due to ill heath in December. 2007 Hassel Smith dies on January 2 at Sutton Veny Nursing Home near Warminster in Wilshire.
Hassel Smith, North Beach studio, San Francisco, circa 1945
EXHIBITIONS 1941 Paintings by Lloyd Wolf and Hassel Smith, San Francisco Museum of Art 1947 California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco University of Oregon, Eugene 1948 Paintings by Elmer Bischoff, David Park, and Hassel Smith, San Francisco Museum of Art 1950 Hassel Smith and Richard Diebenkorn, The Lucian Labaudt Gallery, San Francisco 1951 Hassel Smith and Edward Corbett, California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco 1953 California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco Five Years of Painting and Sculpture, King Ubu Gallery, San Francisco East & West Gallery, San Francisco 1955 East & West Gallery, San Francisco 1956 Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles 1957 California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco 1958 Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles The New Arts, Houston Dilexi Gallery, San Francisco 1959 Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco The New Arts, Houston 1960 Gimpel Fils, London, England 1961 Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles Hassel Smith: A Selection of Paintings — 1948-1961, Pasadena Art Museum, California 1962 Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles Dilexi Gallery, San Francisco
André Emmerich Gallery, New York, New York Galleria del Ariete, Milan, Italy University Gallery, Northrup Memorial Auditorium, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis 1963 Gimpel Fils, London, England André Emmerich Gallery, New York, New York
Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco 1981 Hassel Smith: Selected Works, 1945-1981, Oakland Museum, California 1982 Hassel Smith and Jay DeFeo, Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco
1964 Dilexi Gallery, San Francisco Hassel Smith: Twenty Years, Gallery Lounge, San Francisco State University Worth Ryder Gallery, University of California, Berkeley David Stuart Gallery, Los Angeles
1983 San Jose Museum of Art, California
1965 Dilexi Gallery, San Francisco David Stuart Gallery, Los Angeles
1985 John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco
1966 David Stuart Gallery, Los Angeles 1968 David Stuart Gallery, Los Angeles Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California 1969 David Stuart Gallery, Los Angeles 1972 Bristol Art Gallery, England 1973 David Stuart Gallery, Los Angeles Suzanne Saxe Gallery, San Francisco
1984 Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco Theatre of the Primitive Future, London, England
1987 Hassel Smith – Charles Strong: Monotypes, Smith-Anderson Gallery, Palo Alto Blume Helman Gallery, Santa Monica, California Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco 1988 Hassel Smith Recent Paintings, 1986-1987, Gallery 44, Oakland, California Hassel Smith Selected Works, 1948-1963, Wiegand Art Gallery, College of Notre Dame, Belmont, California Hassel Smith Measured and Figurative Paintings, 1964-1985, Monterey Museum of Art, California Cleveland Bridge Gallery, Bath, England Iannetti Lanzone Gallery, San Francisco 1989 Natsoulas-Novelozo Gallery, Davis, California
1974 Hassel Smith in Houston, Sarah Campbell Blaffer Gallery, University of Houston
1991 John Natsoulas Gallery, Davis, California
1975 Hassel Smith Paintings: 1954-1975, San Francisco Museum of Art
1995 Harcourts Modern and Contemporary Art, San Francisco
1977 Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco
1996 The Bevan-Thornton Arts, London, England
1978 Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco
1997 John Natsoulas Gallery, Davis, California Mendenhall Gallery, Pasadena, California
1979 Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco 1980 Tortue Gallery, Los Angeles
2001 The Art of the Gift, Hassel Smith and Tony Berlant, John Natsoulas Gallery, Davis, California
2002 Hassel Smith: 55 Years of Painting, Sonoma County Museum, Santa Rosa, California
Selected Group Exhibitions:
2003 Hassel Smith: 55 Years of Painting, Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, California
1937 Fifty-Seventh Annual Exhibition of the San Francisco Art Association, San Francisco Museum of Art
2004 Hassel Smith: Jazz of Color, Lenbach Paleis, Credit Suisse, Munich, Germany
1941 Sixty-First Annual Exhibition of the San Francisco Art Association, San Francisco Museum of Art
2005 Hassel Smith: Tiptoe Down to Art, Hassel Smith and Mark Harrington, Camera Artis, Schauplatz für moderne Kunst, Munich, Germany
1944 Annual Exhibition of Drawings and Prints, San Francisco Art Association, San Francisco Museum of Art
2008 Paintings and Drawings by Hassel Smith (retrospective), San Jose Museum of Art, California 2011 Hassel Smith, Silk Mill Studios, Frome, England 2012 Galerie Biedermann, Munich, Germany Weinstein Gallery, San Francisco 2020 Hassel Smith: The Measured Paintings, Heather James Fine Art, Palm Desert, California
1945 Contemporary American Painting, California Legion of Honor, San Francisco 1946 Faculty of the California School of Fine Arts, California Legion of Honor, San Francisco 1950 Large Scale Drawings by Modern Artists, California Legion of Honor, San Francisco Fifteen Paintings by Nine Artists in San Francisco, Henry Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle 1951 Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Painting in the United States, Los Angeles County Museum of Art 1953 Four Contemporary Artists, California Legion of Honor, San Francisco 1954 Fourth Annual Exhibition, Oil and Sculpture, Richmond Art Center, California From San Francisco: A New Language in Painting, Kaufmann Art Gallery, Young Men’s and Young Women’s Hebrew Association, New York, New York East & West Gallery, San Francisco 1956 The Ferus Group Exhibition scheduled for Barnsdall Park and moved to the Merry-Go-Round Building Santa Monica pier. The New Arts, Houston, Texas 1957 Pacemakers, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston Dilexi Gallery, San Francisco Los Angeles County Museum of Art Annual Exhibition
1958 Art: USA 58, Madison Square Garden, New York, New York 1960 A Look at Recent Bay Area Art, San Francisco Museum of Art Winter Invitational Exhibition, Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco 1961 Group Exhibition, Hanover Gallery, Zurich, Switzerland Sixty-Fourth American Exhibition, The Art Institute of Chicago Painting from the Pacific, Japan, America, Australia, New Zealand, Auckland City Art Gallery, New Zealand The 1961 Pittsburgh International Exhibition of Contemporary Painting and Sculpture, Carnegie Institute, Pennsylvania Critic’s Choice: Recent Trends in Art of the Bay Area, Lang Gallery, Scripps College, Claremont, California The Twenty-Seventh Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. 1962 The Artist’s Environment: West Coast, The Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, Fort Worth, organized in collaboration with the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Oakland Art Museum, traveling exhibition Fifty California Artists, Whitney Museum of Art, New York, New York, organized by the San Francisco Museum of Art, traveling exhibition Some Points of View – ’62, Stanford University Art Gallery, Stanford, California 1963 Directions: American Painting, San Francisco Museum of Art Eighty-Second Annual of the San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco Museum of Art John Moore’s Liverpool Exhibition, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, England 4th Selection: Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art, San Francisco Museum of Art 1964 Selections from the L. M. Asher Family Collection, The Art Gallery, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque 1965 Selections from the Works of California Artists, Witte Memorial Museum, San Antonio, Texas 1966 The Current Moment in Art, San Francisco Art Institute 1967 American Art of the Sixties: Selections from the Collections of Mr. and Mrs. Robert A. Rowan, San Francisco Museum of Art California Art Festival, Lytton Center of the Visual Arts, Los Angeles
1968 On Looking Back, Bay Area 1945-1969, San Francisco Museum of Art Late Fifties at the Ferus, Los Angeles County Museum of Art 1969 West Coast 1945-1969, Pasadena Art Museum, traveling exhibition Kompas 4 West Coast U.S.A., Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands
The Beat Generation and Beyond, John Natsoulas Gallery, Davis, California 2005 West Cost Painting, Hassel Smith, Lawrence Carroll, Marcia Hafif, Mark Harrington, and Lucas Reiner, Galerie Biedermann, Munich 2006 Bay Area Figuration, Then and Now, John Natsoulas Gallery, Davis, California
1973 A Period of Exploration, San Francisco 1945-1950, The Oakland Museum, California
2007 A Culture in the Making: New York and San Francisco in the 1950s and 60s, Hackett-Friedman Gallery, San Francisco
1976 American Painters Living in England, Museums at Leeds, Hull, et. al., England, traveling exhibition Painting and Sculpture in California, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
2010 Galerie Biedermann, Munich
1978 Atlantic Richfield Center for the Visual Arts, Los Angeles 1979 Hassel Smith, Jay DeFeo and Manuel Neri (group show), Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco 1988 Lost and Found in California, Four Decades of Assemblage Art, James Cocoran Gallery, Santa Monica, California 1989 King Ubu Retrospective, Natsoulas-Novelozo Gallery, Davis, California 1991 The Bristol Group, Bristol Art Gallery, England The Breakfast Group, Holy Names College, Oakland, California Six Gallery Lyrical Vision, John Natsoulas Gallery, Davis, California 1994 Eighty-Ninth Annual Exhibition, Bath Society of Artists, Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, England 1995 Studio Gallery, London 1996 The San Francisco School of Abstract Expressionism, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art 2002 Ferus, Gagosian Gallery, New York, New York
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York Berkeley Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley Civic Art Collection, San Francisco International Airport Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, California Dallas Museum of Art Federal Reserve Bank, San Francisco, California Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Art Institution, Washington, D.C. Ira and B. Cantor Center for the Visual Arts, Stanford University, California Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California The Menil Collection, Houston, Texas Midwest Museum of American Art, Elkhart, Indiana Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas New Mexico Museum of Fine Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, Utah State University, Logan, Utah Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California Oakland Museum of California Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs, California Peter J. Shields Library, University of California, Davis Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, Arizona The Poetry Collection, State University of New York, Buffalo Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon Saint Louis Museum of Art, Saint Louis, Missouri San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California San Jose Museum of Art, California Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana Sonoma County Museum, Santa Rosa, California Tate Modern, London University of New Mexico Art Museum, Albuquerque, New Mexico Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York Institute and Museum of California Art, University of California at Irvine
IMAGE CREDITS PHOTOGRAPHY REPRODUCTIONS Hassel Smith, Bay Area, circa 1986 (page 6) Archives of American Art, The Smithsonian, Washington D.C. Hassel Smith, San Mateo, 1930s (page 15) Archives of American Art, The Smithsonian, Washington D.C. Hassel Smith, Rode Studio, Somerset, England, circa 1985 (page 76) Archives of American Art, The Smithsonian, Washington D.C. Hassel Smith, North Beach studio, San Francisco, circa 1945 (page 81) Archives of American Art, The Smithsonian, Washington D.C. Hassel Smith, Bristol Studio, circa 1979 (page 87) Estate of Hassel Smith
PAINTING REPRODUCTIONS The estate of Hassel Smith wish to express their appreciation for the fine work of Michael Amsler, Ben Blackwell, and Christoph Knock in photographing the artworks. Eyeball to Eyeball (page 20), Untitled (page 40), Untitled (page 41), 9000 and 9 Nights (page 54), Untitled (page 67), Untitled (page 69) and The Kiss of Deaf (page 72) are courtesy of Heather James Fine Art All other photographs are from the Estate of the Hassel Smith Collection.
Hassel Smith, Bristol Studio, circa 1979