On Wednesday, February 8, I attended a film about the artist Eva Hesse at Alfred University.
Eva Hesse grew up in Hamburg, Germany with her Jewish parents, and sister during the reign of the Nazi regime. Although her immediate family survived and escaped the area, Eva lost her grandparents, other family members, eventually her depressed mother, and her happiness. She attended therapy, but her real saving grace was her passion for art. Eva and her family moved to America in 1939. When Eva turned 16, she attended Pratt Institute and dropped out after a semester, because she did not like it. She got a job at Seventeen magazine in which her art was featured and later went to Cooper Union. She loved it from the start. She had always felt different and apart from others, but as long as she was doing her art she was content.
After studying painting at Yale, Eva began to show and sell her work. As she experimented with her style and met different artists, she fell in love with Tom Doyle, a sculptor. They married. When Tom was offered a salary making sculptures in Germany, Eva was hesitant to follow him. Because of her past in Germany, she was frightened of returning to the country. She did decide to accompany Tom, but had nightmares once they arrived. Eva and Tom shared a very large studio, but they found working difficult. Tom was obnoxious and drank too much and he kissed other women at parties. Eva was unhappy with her private life, but she attended museums and kept up with the progression of the art world. She took what she saw and worked on the themes in her own way. Although she was heartbroken, her work flourished. She started using junk from her and Tom’s studio to sculpt and create. Her ideas fluctuated and she was anxious. Eva and her good friend, Sol, exchanged letters in which he encouraged her to “do, do, do” and “relax”. She continued to work her way through her art and tried to ignore whether or not her art was of worth. Risky, radical art came from her exploration. Werner Nekes produced a film about Eva and Tom’s work; it was a big event.
When Eva and Tom returned to the U.S. Eva dabbled in minimalism, but was still outputting erotic work. While her work grew, her relationship with Tom slowly died. They spent less time together; Tom went everywhere without her. Eva eventually kicked Tom out of their apartment to which his response was a request for divorce. Eva was heartbroken. She poured herself into her art.
Eva’s work started being shown in exhibitions (many in the Fishback Gallery of New York City). Her work “Hang Up” was especially audacious and became popular. Her father came to one of her exhibitions, but seemed stern and withdrawn–he did not understand her work. Soon after, he got sick and died in Europe, leaving Eva devastated. She started to work again to find happiness and purpose and shared a close relationship with Sol. She opened the exhibition “Eccentric Abstraction” in New York City. She began to find that women were unfairly recognized in art; galleries were male dominated. She hated to be referred to as a “woman” artist as she thought good art was neither feminine nor masculine.
As Eva delved into sculpting, she started to find interest in odd materials. She went to rubber and plastic shops and metal factories to collect odds and ends for her projects. She enjoyed using industrial materials. In her “Matter Matters” show in 1968, she said she thought some of her pieces looked like machines.
In light of her new independence, Eva cut the majority of her long hair off. Her life was about her now. She attended lectures on the use of polymers and in her famous piece “Repetition 19” she coated deformed cylindrical buckets with fiberglass. Her work “Accretion” made Time Magazine’s art section.
Eva started to get dizzy and have migraines and she experienced excruciating pain. She was brought to the hospital where a large tumor that was infringing on her brain was found. After it was removed, Eva felt great and changed her outlook on life. In her exhibition “A Kind of Choreography”, Eva’s work Untitled rope piece got a lot of attention. It evoked different emotions from different people. This made it versatile and amusing.
Not much later than her first visit to the hospital, Eva was rushed in again for another tumor. Eva’s sister, Helen, decided not to tell Eva that she was sick and going to die, but she knew. Eva was not afraid. She continued to create the piece “Untitled (7 poles)” that her students eventually finished for her while she was sick. When her work “Contingence” was featured on the cover of Art Forum, her sister and friends hung the cover in her room for her to look at.
Eva died on May 29 of 1970 at age 34. Sol was notified via telegram.
40 years after her death, Eva’s work was shown in Hamburg, Germany. An Eva Hesse Memorial Exhibition was created at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Many people were amazed and inspired by the vast amount of works and achievements she made in a five year period.
“Life doesn’t last, art doesn’t last. It doesn’t matter.”
Many of the lessons Eva Hesse learned while she was growing as an artist are relevant to the Graphic and Media Design program. She took advantage of the emotions she was feeling to improve upon and develop her art. Therefore, we as students should be able to make more passionate and personal work by using both our positive and negative emotions and experiences as fuel. She tried new things and took risks when she created, like we should while we find our style. She used an array of materials and dabbled in many different styles of painting and sculpting from expressionism to minimalism.
Eva knew and worked with many different artists. They showed each other their work and bounced ideas off of each other. This is a technique I find especially helpful. I ask both my friends in the design program and outside of the art field altogether what they think of my work. I usually get a good amount of feedback. This prepares me for critiques and allows me to tweak things that the majority of the people I ask find problematic. On top of collaborating with her friends, Eva visited museums and galleries and kept up on the ever-changing trends of the art world. She put her own spin on them and continued to make bizarre and ridiculous pieces.Why follow the crowd when there are so many things that have not been created yet?
Eva Hesse was concerned with the now. She didn’t care if her art would last or if her materials would deteriorate if she could achieve the affect that she wanted right then. The affect in itself could create a lasting impression. This is a lesson concerned with both art and life itself; something Digital Media students should consider when they generate ideas for their art.