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Eva Hesse

On January 8, I visited the Walker Art Museum on one of its FREE Thursdays and toured Eva Hesse’s show room of paintings and sculptures. While admiring her art I was able to learn a little about her life through the ‘tour guide’s? lecture.
Eva Hesse was born in 1936, in Hamburg Germany. Because her family was Jewish her parents sent her to Amsterdam on the “kinder train? to flee Nazi control in 1938. By 1939, she was living in New York City with her parents who divorced in 1945, and in 1946, her mother committed suicide by jumping off of a roof.
It could have been the fact that I was analyzing her art work while hearing about her life, but her work really seemed to evolve through the years. This stage of her life seemed to come out in her early work through mostly black and white (pen/paint) imprecise brush strokes. The art had extremely distraught figures in uncomfortable positions, or at least that’s what they felt like to me.
After studying at Yale, Hesse married Tom Doyle, a fellow sculptor in 1961, a time where the field was very male dominated. This is a phase in her work where she began to use more color; this is what she was widely known for. I could see abstract landscapes with brides, rivers, and a feeling of cycles and flow. They were much more peaceful than her former work. Also around this same time, she began doing “child-like? art which included many arrows, squares, and lines. Each one seemed to tell a story, but as she often stressed herself, they could be a completely different story for every different person. In this art I saw a depiction of the mess of child-rearing, diaper changing, nursing, the chaos, but it was not negative, just scrambled. Another looked like a city from a birds eye view so that one could only see the roofs of life.
In 1964, Hesse and her husband Doyle moved back to Germany for a year, working in a textile mill. She refers to her work at this time and slightly after as “nothings?. They were very repetitive patterns of squares and lines. They made me recall monotonous work that I have been unfortunate to have experienced. There were slight changes in color which brought the work to life, but it did not make it any less dull.
In 1966, Hesse and Doyle divorced, and her father died. There was another transition in her work. My personal favorite piece was at this time period. It is a sculpture of what looks like an extremely long, jet black, blown-up balloon hung on a string that has a slightly detached head at the bottom which looked extremely phallic like especially when in front of the dangling punching bag below it. The depiction of the penis being so long didn’t seem sexual, it seemed to symbolize a cold emotional distance one could portray, experience, or witness in a sexual way. Next to this piece was another sculpture. Once again, I can only describe what I saw which may not be what anyone else would have seen or felt. It was a black box with a hole in it and a coiled rope spilling out, which seemed awfully vagina-like to me. These sculptures felt tormenting, extremely emotional, and thought provoking.
In 1970, Eva Hesse died of a brain tumor that she was aware of for at least a year before her actual death. Her last pieces of work almost combined her first few stages of art. Apparently, she was such a well known artist at this time that she had multiple aids to assist in her art, doing the actual labor end of it, as she was the master mind. Her work reminded me of windows. Her blues were a combination of sadness and acceptance and tranquility at the same time.

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