68" x 68.5"
Painting, Acrylic on canvas
68" x 68.5"
Painting, Acrylic on canvas
Signed, titled, and dated lower left
About the Artist
(1915 - 2007)
Hassel Smith was born in 1915 in Sturgis, Michigan. During childhood and adolescence his family alternated between homes in Michigan and the West Coast, due to the health of his mother. He became an Eagle Scout at 15 and was an active outdoorsman for much of his adult life.
Smith attended Northwestern University (Chicago) 1932-36. Initially a chemistry major, he graduated BSc cum laude with majors in History of Art and English Literature.
In the Chicago of the early thirties, Smith witnessed Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo under Massine and was exposed to painting at the Worlds Fair: turning points in his development. He won a scholarship to Princeton for graduate studies in History of Art, but chose to spend two years at California School of Fine Art (now San Francisco Art Institute) in the painting and drawing class of his mentor, Maurice Sterne. "I have no hesitation in saying that to whatever extent my intellect has been engaged in the joys and mysteries of transferring visual observations in three dimensions into meaningful two-dimensional marks and shapes, I owe to Sterne."
Smith worked with derelict and alcoholic individuals on skid row in San Francisco during the late thirties, becoming active in leftwing politics. He received a Rosenberg Traveling Fellowship in 1941 for independent study, moving to the Motherlode region of northern California. His work until the end of 1942 was made plein-air with a focus on town and landscape.
During the war years Smith was engaged in alternative service as a timber scaler in Oregon and as a camp supervisor in the Central Valley, near Arvin, southern California. He met and subsequently married June Meyers in circa 1943-44 (their son Joseph was born in 1947). From 1945 to 1951 Smith was a celebrated teacher at CSFA working under Douglas MacAgy and Clyfford Still, alongside Ed Corbett, David Park, Elmer Bischoff, Richard Diebenkorn and Frank Lobdell, among many other significant artists, filmmakers and designers. He was influenced deeply by Still's 1947 exhibition at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, forming a friendship with the artist that lasted until Still's death in 1980.
From 1953 until late 1965 Smith lived in an apple orchard outside Sebastopol, Sonoma County, painting in a self-built redwood-sided studio. His work from these years, referred to by critic Allan Temko as the "Thunderbolt period", had significant impact on artists along the entire West Coast. Smith was the only painter then based in northern California to be exhibited in Los Angeles by Irving Blum and Walter Hopps at the Ferus Gallery, during the late fifties and early sixties, which ensured Smith's singular influence on southern California painters. His paintings were shown also in New York, London and Milan, and were acquired widely in both private and public collections.
Having returned to representational painting in 1964, Smith began the series of hard-edged "measured paintings" in 1970, which continued into the late eighties. He returned as guest professor to the West Coast periodically during the seventies, at UC Davis and SFAI. Major retrospectives followed at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1975, and at Oakland Museum in 1981.
The presence of an underlying but only partially visible grid, a modular schemata, identified the paintings of the 1970s to late 1980s as the "measured paintings." Made on recurring square and rectangular formats having the same vertical dimension, the measured paintings consist of high-density synthetic acrylic paints fabricated from separate components. There is evident use of compass and straight-edge without taped lines, yet vigorous brushwork within the boundaries of drawn elements. By the mid-70s the supporting grid was undetectable beneath an interplay of squares, rectangles, triangles, circles of varying dimensions embraced within tonal fields.
Smith retired from teaching in 1980 and moved to an eighteenth-century rectory at Rode, north Somerset. The following seventeen years were a prolific period with output in painting, drawing and printmaking. The final decade of work saw two significant stylistic shifts characterized by aspects of gestural abstraction. Illness forced suspension of work in late 1997. Hassel Smith died nine years later.
Hassel Smith exhibited extensively on both coasts of the US, and in western Europe, from the late 1930s onwards. His first noted solo exhibition was curated by Jermayne McAgy at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, in 1947.
Group exhibitions with Elmer Bischoff, David Park, Richard Diebenkorn and Ed Corbett followed swiftly, during the late 40’s and early 50’s. Smith was included in the significant 1955 exhibition, ‘Action Painting’, at the Merry-Go-Round Building in Santa Monica, curated by Walter Hopps. Five years later, Smith’s first retrospective was curated by Walter Hopps at Pasadena Art Museum (1961).
Smith joined the LA-based Ferus Gallery in 1958 and received four solo exhibitions over a five-year period. His work was featured in the Ferus retrospective at Gagosian (NYC) in 2002. From the mid-50’s to the mid-60’s Smith exhibited at The New Arts in Houston, and at galleries in New York, London and Milan. In 1964 Smith was invited to participate in the Whitney Biannual and received a second retrospective at San Francisco State University. Major retrospectives followed at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1975) and Oakland Museum (1981). Smith’s work was included in the pivotal 1996 exhibition, ‘The San Francisco School of Abstract-Expressionism’, curated by Susan Landauer, at SFMOMA.
Selected public collections
Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, New York
Atlantic Richfield Company, Los Angeles
Berkeley Art Museum, California
Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento
Dallas Museum of Contemporary Art
Federal Reserve Bank, San Francisco
Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Houston Museum of Art
Los Angeles County Art Museum
The Menil Collection, Houston
New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe
Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California
Oakland Museum of California
Palm Springs Desert Museum, California
Phoenix Museum of Art
Portland Art Museum, Oregon
Saint Louis Museum of Art
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
San Francisco Airport
San Jose Museum of Art, California
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California
Santa Monica Museum of Art, California
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Snite Museum of Art, Logan, Utah
Sonoma County Art Museum, Santa Rosa, California
Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Arts Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University, California
Tate Gallery, London
University Art Museum, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque
Washington University, St. Louis
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York