Hans Hartung

Hans Hartung, the sign of another reality.


One of the marvels of visual artistic expression is the awareness of how culture refines precisely because it establishes comparisons and links between expressions that are also different and at times difficult to categorize.
In the case of Hartung’s art, the first reaction is that of the evaluation of the sign, that is, of an inner movement that becomes writing, language and therefore communication.
The parallel comes up when we can make important conceptual comparisons over the years, evaluate the sign from the point of view of the evidence of its content, and from there reflect on the way in which a language and a sequence, a mental structure, can be formed.
Interesting for example is for abstract and lyrical art a contemporary passage that gives us the cinematic observation and in particular we can mention a 2016 science fiction film by Denis Villeneuve, Arrival.

image taken from the film “Arrival”

The story shows us how to understand the communication of extraterrestrials that manifest themselves through a series of abstract signs for which a problem of interpretation and conception of life itself arises.
Here, therefore, there is a thought about the interpretation of the universe and how we represent it conceptually within our thinking, how we decode it according to our sensations.
What does Hartung have to do with all this? This is precisely the point, the confrontation over the years on the concept of inner expressiveness which, when it is made manifest in itself, brings, in its first act, a meaning to be scrutinized, to be brought out in order to understand the structure that then develops at a mental level.

The relationship between something apparently abstract to our eyes but objectively concrete to our consciousness is the element that makes us reflect on the categories that are the basis of humanity such as language and graphic manifestation as elements of primitive development.
This reflection leads us to invest our signs with a specific and very particular value which is related to the artistic dimension, that is, to an expression that develops the field of aesthetics and the codification of the sense of the beautiful or the sense of the ugly, of how Hartung uses means and instruments to give us through his technique an interpretation of humanity.


The parallel with extraterrestrials and science fiction allows us to place ourselves in a perspective in which we can interpret abstraction as a reason not only existential but also of truth with respect to the ability to explain to us, in the contemporary and in a modern and future temporal dimension, a condition in which knowledge is a long sequence of research of meanings and values.
One of the fundamental aspects of our artist’s work is the sense of freedom that pervades it, a freedom that sees him relate precisely to the concept of the universal, of the metaphysical, of the energy that oversees everything that is part of existence.
Hartung is one of those artists who, in order to be able to express his own reason for living and his own ideas, had to escape from the persecution that the Nazi regime in Germany was inflicting on so-called “degenerate art”. In fact, in 1938 he took part in the anti-Nazi Twentieth Century German Art exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries in London.
An exhibition that brought together a whole series of artists, different in their expressions and therefore far from a critical link, which gave a civil response to the denigration of the year before made in Monaco by the Nazi regime.

T1964-R9, 1964. Oil on canvas 73×60 cm – Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Bergamo. Photo: Claudio Bruni (artribune.com)

The intrinsic aspect of what is expressed and therefore of the poetry implied in the translated work is always linked to the cultural matrices, to the education, to the training of the man-artist. In Hartung, the principle of freedom inherent in his gesture/sign is fundamental, a freedom of victory over personal fears, a freedom sought for an oppressed society.
This artist is the greatest representative of abstract painting in relation to the creative moment, which is not caged by numbers or laws, by geometries, but flows directly from the emotion of man in front of nature and its mysteries.
Hartung’s lyricism has a transcendental physiognomy that stems from the discovery of a natural element and evolves into an existential cosmogonic quest and tendency. He recounted: “These infantile flashes have had, I am certain, an influence on my artistic development, on my way of painting. They gave me a sense of the rapidity of the stroke, the desire to capture instantaneousness with the pencil or brush, they made me understand the importance of spontaneity. So there are often, in my paintings, lines (…) that run and cross the canvas…”.

The beginning of a language is the energy, the spark that is released in the mind of the genius like the instantaneous lightning in the night, an emotional imprinting that shakes the existence and shakes the canvas, scratches it, marks it as if it were a plate of the soul.

Hartung’s memory of lightning and thunderbolts is familiar and affective because they bound him to a protective attitude towards his grandmother, who was afraid of them, and his very desire to quickly bridle them with drawing testifies to his propensity to confront nature, to give form to what does not have it.
Hartung’s abstraction is an example of artistic construction that sends thought to other existential dimensions where the search is not only for the tangible and where reality is not a foregone conclusion. In his Autoportrait of 1976 he stated: “”I feel physically and psychically an integral part of reality and it seems to me that I cannot do anything that is not in direct and close relationship with it.

Therefore, observing his works we have a representation of reality under a dynamic energy and sign, we have a voluptuousness of gesture, the form of the moment, the emotion of the stroke that affects the imagination.
Hartung gives us the strength to think about how life can and must win, he is a demiurge that unites the sensitive and the material giving us new signals to recharge us, his tongues of color, his strokes, his brushstrokes, his dark swords, his white thunderbolts, his tonal expanses, are acts of courage, warnings of memory, dizziness of love, pushes of passion to find solutions, not to abandon the fight and freedom, dream and truth.

His life is the testimony of a continuous revenge, nothing stopped him, Nazism, war, disability, illness, depression, so much so that he invented new ways, new equipment to continue his art.
The artist was born in Leipzig, Germany in 1904. After studying philosophy and art history at the University of Leipzig, he attended the academies of fine arts in Dresden, Leipzig and Munich and traveled (1926-35) throughout Europe.
Hartung was a consistent artist/man, in his continuous research in abstraction and in his emotional life which began at the age of 25 when he met Anna-Eva Bergman, also an artist, whom he married in less than a month and with whom he formed a lifelong bond.
Hans is a scholar of the forms of expression and approaches the great painters of the past as Rembrandt and Goya, he confronts them and remains in a meditation that puts him in the conflict between memory and the search for the new, a thought that sends him back to the principle of the figures, their first stage to manifest themselves.

Between 1921 and 1922, he is fascinated by some contemporary artistic expressions: he knows and appreciates the German expressionists, especially Nolde and Kokoschka, while a few years later he approaches Fauvisme and Cubism.
Hartung has in his life a series of very intense relationships with the “places of art”, he listened to Kandinsky in a conference to find in the Bauhaus also a dimension, but he didn’t find satisfaction in it so that he was alone first at home and then exiled to Paris where perhaps modernity still had a sense in the avant-garde groups Cercle et Carré and Abstraction Création but that he didn’t accept so much that he declared himself contrary to the “dehumanizing rules of abstract art dictated by the constructivists, suprematists and neo-plastics”.

But in the history of art, it was he who made the great leap forward by detaching himself from geometric abstractionism, entering the science fiction of the immeasurable inner motion, crossing the threshold of informal art and opening art to gesture, to the sign as the dominus of the creative process.

Rayonnement – Vatican Museums

He is the artist who gives Europe its most experimental and modern cultural matrix, he is the forerunner of what will become American art, which will have different presuppositions, so much so that Hartung himself will not recognize himself by declaring his distance, but there is no doubt that the action of making art is an essential point of contact and that certain intuitions have an important germ in his genius, syntaxes that are different from those of painting recognized as “institutionally” informal but certainly ideal for an analytical and critical comparison.
Hartung declared the pleasure he had in leaving a “trace” of his sign, as if he were pursuing the will to give a meaning to the act that produced it, and this matrix was his contemplation of nature, it was the footprint that then remains to those who become bloodhounds, to those who seek a path.
It covers a career of almost 70 years throughout the twentieth century, beginning at eighteen years with a series of watercolors and glorifying it in 1960 with the international recognition had winning the Grand Prize of painting at the Venice Biennale.

Hartung does not align himself with labels, he does not conform to currents, he is a unicum, an artist who scratches time, who carves matter, who aestheticizes energy, who urges us to review the rhythms of the soul, now turbulent, now linear, now sharp, now in balance over anxieties and uncertainties.
In his immense creative activity he had several phases with an evolution of his art, from 1922 to 1933, with watercolors that show his attempt to approach art in comparison with Cézanne or Matisse, from 1933 to 1939, where we will have signs, stains in practice painting that will deliver him to history.
During the thirties, therefore, the artist matures and finds his poetics of the absolute in the sign, his first solo exhibition is in a small Parisian gallery in 39′ next to the drawings of Roberta Gonzales who will become his second wife (meanwhile he had divorced from Anna-Eva Bergman, who in turn will remarry after the second divorce of his life with Roberta Gonzales).
In the post-war period his painting has new impulses and the sign is transformed, swirls, background light of colors that are expressed as a certain and defined space, here we find a fullness of the interiority of the artist who shows how the things of life transform us, as the motion of life is expressed according to the events that affect our emotions, it is not graphism that manifests psychic movements, but rather fervent spirituality.
With the ’50s opens the decade that will consecrate him in the history of art and bring him to the Grand Prix of Venice.

In 1950, in his studio in Arcueil, he was visited by another great informal painter of cosmic and deeply spiritual lyricism, Mark Rothko, who, finding large patches of color on the dried canvas, appreciated the fact that it was already in a perfectly vital state. Hartung had not yet made his marks, but in the future he declared that Mark was right at that time.
From here on there is a fundamental passage in the 60’s when he switches to acrylic colors and to a larger format of the canvases, from 1961 to 1965, he refines the technique of grattage, which consists in “scratching” with various tools the paint still fresh spread on the canvas painted with blown color. He will use new tools, experimenting with common tools and everyday objects, such as rollers, brushes, branches and garden rakes, but also the airbrush, sprays and compressors.
Form, space, color are all one in the desire to express a rationality not thought but lived in the condition of grasping external reality.

Inner movements united with cosmic sensorial experiences up to the primordial essences and the reference for a research with the expanded universe are part of Hurtung’s poetics and give us the cue to realize beyond as men, as part of something more immense.
In his post-1960s works, Hartung stated: “I was trying to capture interiority, to identify myself with atmospheric and cosmic tensions, with the energies and radiations that govern the universe.
His paintings are marked with a t (tableau), followed by the year of production and a serial number. H.
Defined as the greatest exponent of lyrical abstraction and the European informal movement Hartung was an absolute pioneer and essentially a free spirit.
Hartung loved the night and its sovereign silence wrapped in the mantle of the stars. He loved to work especially during those hours when all is peace and normal people are sleeping. The illuminated studio became like a cell, a bubble, a spaceship that isolated him and where thought became more intense. He almost always worked accompanied by great baroque music: Schütz, Bach, Corelli, Vivaldi, Rameau, Telemann, Händel, Purcell, listened to at very high volume.

To live Hartung is to live the dream of humanity, in its search for the immense, for the questions that keep us out, to believe and to seek, to be human and to be visionary, to see science and science fiction, contact and solitude.
An experimenter “The practice of lithography, in the same way, has brought a renewal to my painting. You have to let yourself be guided by the material when it suits you and, above all, know how to insistently search for it when it becomes necessary. In these last few years (we are in
1966) a new painting has developed which is, in a certain sense, the fruit of my long research in lithography. This inspired me to create compact constructions and freed me from the dependence of the line to which I had been tied almost all my life.
Hartung will bring his existential dream to build the last bastion, the last refuge that will give humanity the fullness of his vision and teaching, he will buy with his wife Anna-Eva Bergman in the sixties an olive grove in Antibes on the French Riviera. Here they built a house with their ateliers according to their own plans and moved there in 1973, the structure today is the seat of the Foundation that takes their name and contains more than 16,000 works, plus the artist’s graphics and photographic collection.


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