Monday, October 12, 2009

Building blocks of space and time

Terry Haass (1923- ) is to my mind one of the outstanding printmakers of the twentieth century. She is rightly regarded as a technical virtuoso, who mixes etching, engraving and aquatint. Her etchings are at the same time deeply bitten in blocks and lines, and spattered, or swept across the surface with a starched muslin tarlatan. The result is a combination of formal and restrained composition with a gestural impulsiveness of expression. In his contribution to Terry Haass: The Graphic Work, edited by Peter Spielmann on the occasion of a major retrospective at the Bochum Museum in 1997, Ole Henrik Moe writes, “One may say that she orchestrates her etchings like a musician, letting them “sound”—the sweeping brushstrokes like strings over the sombre and blocklike depths of the winds.”

Inanna VII, 1961
(110 copies and 30 suites)

This brilliant description by Moe draws attention to the resonating depths of Terry Haass’s work. As an artist she is drawn to the mysteries of the cosmos and of the psyche, regarding the play of light over matter as a kind of sacred equation which will solve the riddles of space and time. This can be seen especially in her two most important livres d’artiste, Inanna, which ventures into the darkest recesses of the female psyche to explore the ancient Sumerian myth of the descent of the goddess into the underworld, and Mein Weltbild, a kind of hymn to Einstein’s intellectual curiosity, and to the forces that shape the universe.

Albert Einstein: Mein Weitbild I, 1975
(120 copies and 30 suites)

Terry Haass was born Tereza Haass into a Jewish family in Český Tĕšín in what is now the Czech Republic. She studied art and art history in Paris for two years, escaping to New York in 1941, where she became a scholarship student at the Art Students’ League. There, she made her first etchings and wood engravings, in a representational style. In 1947 she attended classes at Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17 in New York, and under Hayter’s influence her prints veered towards abstraction, adding engraving with a burin into her heady mix of techniques. In 1950 Hayter returned to Paris, leaving the Atelier in the hands of Terry Haass, Karl Schrag, and Harry Hoehn.

Floréal III, 1960
(140 copies and 10 suites; this from one of the 10 signed suites, from the collection of Madeleine Lacourière)

In 1951 Terry Haass won the Fullbright Grant and Woolley Scholarship to study with the master printer Roger Lacourière in Paris. It was in the Atelier Lacourière in Montmartre that she made the bulk of her etchings, first with Roger Lacourière, then with his wife Madeleine, then with Jacques Frélaut, who took over the studio. Also in 1951 Haass made her first trip to Norway, where she met her lifelong friend Anna-Eva Bergman; Bergman and her husband Hans Hartung became Terry Haass’s closest artistic allies.

Floréal IV, 1960

At the same period, Terry Haass began to study Mesopotamian archaeology, receiving her diploma and subsequently engaging in important digs across the Near East from 1954-1971. It was no doubt this which led her to make her extraordinary series of etchings for Inanna. From 1971, Haass returned to art fulltime.

Inanna II, 1961

Her 1975 exhibition Homage to Albert Einstein, which travelled around Europe for four years, and the associated artist’s book Mein Weltbild, marked the end of her work in the graphic arts, and since that time she has devoted herself to sculpture in plexiglass and stainless steel.

Albert Einstein: Mein Weltbild V, 1975

In The Artist and the Book in France, W. J. Strachan writes of the etchings of Terry Haass: “her designs—abstract but always possessing some link with reality—are controlled but full of verve; the colour, subdued when necessary, is often rich and glowing… the sheer technical accomplishment is overwhelming and one is not surprised at the success of her exhibitions of these works and separate prints.”

Albert Einstein: Mein Weltbild VII, 1975
(Terry Haass’s last etching, evoking the flight of a bird)

Terry Haass has referred to the copper plate as “a mirror of the soul,” and her art is infused with spirituality. Her prints based on organic forms, such as the etchings for Floréal, are luminous, and somehow mystical. And whether one is faced with the psyche stripped bare in Inanna, or the secrets of the physical universe unlocked in Mein Weltbild, there is always the sense in her work of a creative mind playing intently with the building blocks of space and time.


Jay Dee said...

WOW Neil! - Of all the artists you have mentioned on this site, Terry's work has really reached out and 'grabbed' my attention! Can you recomend any other printmakers with a similar style? Thanks for blogging this artist!!

Neil said...

Thanks, Jay Dee. I'm so pleased that the power of these etchings came across. It's hard to think of anyone truly similar to Terry Haass, though there are cross-currents between her work and that of Anna Eva Bergman and Hans Hartung. Geneviève Asse is another very interesting abstract printmaker of a similar date. And I think there are some points of comparison with Zao Wou-ki.

peacay said...

Thanks Neil. I'm with Jay Dee: "WOW". I also feel a strong architectural trope within these works. That last one looks like a Jetsons sunset hurricane.

Will said...

Neil, I would like to second Jay Dee's "WOW." I will definitely be seeking out publications of her work.

Neil said...

Thanks Peacay and Will -it looks like this post has struck a chord.

Jay Dee said...

Thanks Neil for the names of the further artists you mentioned. I just googled them quickly and love the imagery that came up!

Jane Librizzi said...

Especially in the Albert Einstein works, they seem to move before your eyes, in a pleasing, almost magical way. It reminds me of 'ebru' a kind of Turkish 'cloud painting' where the canvas or silk is stretched taut horizontally and, as a thin stream of water washes over it, the artist draws with a fine ink pen, the strokes are carried then by the flow of the water. Haass achieves that effect without the moving water. Lovely.

Neil said...

What a beautiful comparison, Jane - though I have to admit to never having seen (or even heard of) ebru till now. Yes, the Einstein etchings are special because of their sense of movement - a sort of essential oscillation in the universe.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Stunning. Like peacay, I noticed the architectural element in some of these prints. Architecture and movement together: a dangerous combination but it works.

Neil said...

I don't think that without you two, Peacay and Phil, I would have thought of an architectural aspect to these etchings - but it is there. I think there is a strong sense of the arrangement of space in her work. And probably what makes it so special is that she can suggest both solidity and movement (or endurance and change) at the same time.

Jane said...

Ebru looks similar - at least superficially - to the marbling that you used to see on the ends of book pages.

Roxana said...

i love her. colours and shapes and movement. all of it.

Neil said...

Colours, shapes, movement - that just about sums it up, Roxana, By the way, I just found out that Terry Haass knew Einstein; she met him at New York City College in 1950. So her Einstein etchings (the last she made) were the result of a long brooding on his theories.