Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Hans Hartung, La Fabrique du Geste @ Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

Hans Hartung, Untitled, 1955
Like many artists, Hans Hartung spent his first decades with the paint brush copying and emulating the work of other great painters. Visitors to this exhibition will note the influence of the Cubists—both painters and filmmakers—they will see Kandinsky in the lines, the modernist move away from all depth. Only in the 1930s did Hartung find his own rhythms and language of painting.
Hans Hartung, Untitled, 1935
The evidence of his interest in line is present from the beginning. The early work witnesses Hartung’s search through calligraphic forms. He can be seen on the canvas looking for expression in the black line, organization in the chaos, and control of the disorder in all that is going on around him during the years of World War Two. For me, these works made during World War Two when he was a soldier are among his best. The paintings come at the moment when we see him reject all form in preference for creating his signature style of paintings without depth. His fascination with repetition and reproduction, seen from the beginning, also blossoms in this period. Hartung also begins his move away the surface of painting, consciously introducing precision and a sense of flatness to the image. Even though they look to be spontaneously executed, these paintings are fastidiously designed.
Hans Hartung, Untitled, 1947
During the war years, Hartung begins to experiment with lines without beginning and end, entangled, creating a drama on the canvas. A film by Alain Resnais in the exhibition claims that the paintings are about the disorder of our time, the dislocated world in which Hartung was living, from which he was exiled to France. Resnais demonstrates that Hartung’s works are about the anxiety of all men, the pessimism of humankind in this moment, the most difficult of all in the twentieth century. To be clear, Hartung’s paintings are not about the individual, about Hartung, but the “current tragedy of humanity.”
Hans Hartung, T1966-K40, 1966
After the war, Hartung reaches his most exciting and interesting period of production. He paints lines that look like palm trees, works that are his most well-known, particularly for the luminosity of the background that makes them mysterious. There is a quietness in the way that the painting approaches the object on the canvas. These works have a beauty that emerges from the interaction between figure and ground. The shapes in the background, they never touch the sides of the frame, but are left floating in the center. And even when the shape is odd, it is suspended and centered.

There is something very photographic about these paintings. Extremes, opposites of light and dark, black and white, circular and straight lines, adding and subtracting paint, a constantly churning energy continuing on the canvas. In the 1970s, Hartung goes all out, still exploring, reminding me of Yves Klein's work, though what’s striking is the visualization of energy in the work of a man with no leg. A broken body creates these enormous paintings that are striving for a view of the universe from another galaxy, as a unified whole. 
Hans Hartung, 1986-E16, 1986
Towards the end of his life, Hartung starts using different techniques. Grattage, aerosol, different media, searching for the ultimate gesture to achieve the removal of depth. He becomes spiritual, the paintings becoming bigger, and he claims to be exploring the tensions of the  universe and cosmic forces. I wanted so much to see the mastery in these later works, but they were a baroque version of his previous paintings. It’s as though the spray gun allowed him to overcome his physical disability of a missing leg, enabling him to move beyond the gestural use of paint that is so dependent on the body. But this striving took over from the avid modernist adventure that characterizes the earlier work.