Professor Deb Todd Wheeler
Critical Theory 3
August and September 2010
When I proposed to my advisor, Deb Todd Wheeler that I write a paper on Eva Hesse, Richard Tuttle and Jessica Stockholder, I knew I wanted to focus on these three artists because I come back to them again and again. I thought they attracted me because of their unorthodox structures, perhaps the movement from two to three dimensional work. What I came to realize after pursuing that line of research was that it was not the FORM of the work that was compelling to me, but rather, how they sourced their work.
In his essay, “Hesse’s Endgame: Facing the Diagram”. Benjamin Buchloh writes, “Hesse … makes drawing the mere grain of the hand.” (De Zegher150)
Marcia Tucker’s description of Tuttle in the 1975 Whitney catalogue (177 – Tuttle) reads:
Tuttle readies himself as a dancer…That so much of Tuttle’s work is a result of body activity is partly caused by the fact that physical activity is the most direct and common means of translating interior states into external expression. This is Marcia Tucker’s description of Tuttle in the 1975 Whitney catalogue (Grynsztejn - 177)
Jessica Stockholder in conversation with Nancy Doll and Terry Sultan says: “I
value pleasure and appetite in art, and I find that the body is fully engaged. (Kissing the Wall -19)
The hand, movement, the body- these are key to the work of each of these artists. I hypothesize that these artists are creating art coming from a body source that is similar to the way certain dancers use a form of movement known as “authentic movement”. Within the art form of dance, which is completely based on the body, authentic movement is a field that some dancers use as a tool to source material for their art. Authentic movement came out of an exploration by a dancer and Jungian therapist, Mary Starks Whitehouse, in the 1950’s. It was her conviction that any person who was given the opportunity to allow his/her body to move with eyes closed and from a place of listening to the body would create expression equal any dance done by a trained dancer: that the “authentic” birth of the movement gave it power, made it compelling. Authentic movement involves getting quiet enough to “listen” to the body; the movement arises out of that space – rather than the mind or a preconceived idea. The experience of authentic movement is one of feeling, of feeling moved to move. Often, the movement arises from a place in the body that has stored feelings, and consequently the same movement may recur and evolve over time. It is this understanding of the body as the origin of material for art that I see in the works of the three artists I mentioned.
The early years of each artist, Hesse, Tuttle, and Stockholder, reveal the evolution of the body based intuitive style of each artist. By examining each of them in turn, I will investigate how their approaches were formative to their art. Hesse and Tuttle became known in the 1960’s, while Stockholder came to prominence at the end of the century.
Eva Hesse graduated from graduate school at Yale at the end of the 1950s. In Catherine de Zeghner’s essay in her book, Eva Hesse Drawing, she reports that in 1960 Hesse took employment as a designer at a textile factory creating designs for tapestry and drapery (65). Fabric, the woof and weft, the grid were an inherent part of her first work in design. Zegher mentions the suggestion made by Joan Simon in 1992 that perhaps Hesse’s later explorations using string and the grid could be better understood as offshoots of this early background in textiles rather than as a product of Minimalism (69). Simon proposes it was Hesse’s hands on experience that was most influential to her art.
Hesse’s first works were figurative, but, according to Renate Pezinger in her essay “Thoughts on Hesse’s Early works: 1959-1965” in Eva Hesse, even in the early Hesse, “ … we can see that the artist was beginning to anticipate the haptic-tactile quality of her later (art). Matters of color and surface, of form and composition – to which to American Abstract Impressionists had devoted so much of their energy in the 1950’s – were of secondary importance to her.”
In 1964, Hesse travelled with her husband, Tom Doyle, to Germany to the small town of Kettwig an der Weig at the invitation of a textile manufacturer, Arnhard Scheidt. There they took up residency above an abandoned textile factory. According to de Zegher, “Hesse’s breakthrough in finding her own language was bound to happen in her motherland.” (72) It was in Germany that Hesse began to employ signature aspects of her art.
During Hesse’s stay Germany, there was available ample material for experimentation: cords, string, old machine parts, as well as textile remnants left in the dismantled building. Hesse did many drawings of machines and with string, playing with what was at hand. She was able to …”not only trace the past but also trace the present in a way that was her own, with ‘tactile textile’…materials that were hers…” (Zegher, 74)
In her essay,“Child Drawing” in Eva Hesse Drawing, Mignon Nixon addresses another influence on Hesse at this time: the experience of drawing with the Scheidt children. Hesse and the children spent time together and created drawings that included art from the children and Hesse. Nixon points out that Hesse’s interest in children’s art even preceded this experience: “long before her arrival at Kettwig Hesse was accustomed to ‘child drawing’ as an extension of her artistic practice” (48). That she continued drawing with children indicates the value she placed on the art that children make and that play produced. The drawings that Hesse did with the children are included in drawings that she kept and brought back to the United States. In these drawings appear letters and numbers as well as seriality.
Seriality is a feature of child play: Nixon refers to Juliet Mitchell’s research: a child uses seriality to understand his/her place in the world, how someone fits in and is part of something larger. It has to do with the emerging sense of self, and is understood through play; “Through play…the subject of seriality learns to turn another’s existence into something useful to itself.” (Zegher 56)
But Hesse herself may have been looking for something else, something free of the prescribed art world. Hesse wrote in he diary: “Making art. ‘painting a painting.’ The art, the history, the tradition is too much there. I want to be surprised, to find something new. I don’t want to know the answer before(hand)…” (Zegher 90).
Among the works Hesse brought back to this country were drawings of machines and low reliefs using string. In Germany, her work had developed a strong signature style, unmistakably Hesse; the artist Dorothee von Windheim described Hesse as an artist who could “feel through the eye.” (Pezinger 54) However, it was that very personal attribute of Hesse’s work that would handicap it in the art world of New York when she returned in the mid 1960s. Minimalism was in full power and any sign of authorship was considered undesirable. Hesse’s work always “had a hand”, as Tom Doyle put it (Pezinger 54).
It was a few years later when Lucy Lippard curated her show “ Eccentric Abstraction” that she recognized the value of Hesse’s offerings. In his essay, “The Work of Salvage, Eva Hesse’s Latex Works”, Briony Fer describes the exhibition:
Lippard welcomed the bodily, the sensual, the tactile like a kind of triumphant return of the repressed- the doubly repressed in actuality by both the Minimalist rhetoric (industrial registers and hard, shiny materials) and the modernist optical paradigm of disembodied and disinterested aesthetic experience…(Sussman 87)
By then, Hesse’s direction was set: she felt her way to her art which was deeply imprinted with her personal touch: in her layering, in her puncturing, in her grids, all of it showed her bodily sensitivity.
What I see in Hesse’s formative years is an artist who finds her material through movement: her hands on the material. It was her sensitivity to what she was working with and how her body responded that became the key to the formation of her work. In her tactile response to textiles, in her child art, in her serial pieces, her hand and her touch were leading her. At a time when her approach was not popular, she produced the work that would later be recognized for the very reason it was rejected.
Richard Tuttle was entering the art scene during the 1960’s at a similar time as Eva Hesse. According to Madeleine Grynsztejn in her essay, “ A Universe of Small Truths”, she describes the beginning of Richard Tuttle’s career. While he was a student at Trinity College (1959-1963), he made frequent trips to New York City where he witnessed the beginning of what would become known as Minimalism: works by Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, and Sol LeWitt. What these artists were seeking, in reaction to Abstract Expressionism, was reality as material rather than in interpretation. According to Grynsztejn, “(t)he emerging avant-garde asserted the actual, the immediate, and the firsthand as extensions of the desire for a concrete and irreducible experience freed from history, through which one could access a bedrock of identity and certainty”(22). Although Tuttle would take his own path, that search for “the immediate” became his search. His unique way of pursuing it set him apart.
Ideas from the current art scene combined with ideas that seemed to arise from his background. Tuttle’s family was religious. Grynsztejn credits his Protestant upbringing for the reason Tuttle deeply valued all materials, including what is usually discarded. Furthermore, his Protestant and later, Eastern philosophy, were cited as reason for Tuttle’s stated desire to “get out of the way of his work (20)”, to not let his ego interfere.
With that stance, among Tuttle’s first artworks were a group of perforated boxes, small enough to hold in one’s hand. Right away, Tuttle produced art that favored touch. According to Grynsztejn, “While the paper cubes actually exercise touch, Tuttle’s work would henceforth also actively recall touch – primarily by employing tactically familiar materials drawn from everyday life. This is the prime motivating factor driving his use of fabric and textiles… as a material that speaks directly to our bodies, allowing us to grasp the materials in terms of touch…(24)”
However, it was Richard Tuttle’s drawings that were perhaps most indicative of Tuttle’s approach. In his essay, “Sum in Parts” in the Poetry of Form, a catalogue for Tuttle’s 1992 Amsterdam ICA exhibition, John Cowart discusses how Tuttle elevated the art form of drawing by treating it as an art form in itself. For the 1968 Betty Parsons Gallery show, he contributed octagonal pieces that were made of dyed cloth mounted on eight sided frames and called them paintings, even though they were dyed. Later he took octagonal shapes, cut them and pasted them on the wall; these were identified as drawings. As Holliday T. Day points out in his essay, “Drawing a New Role for Drawing”, Tuttle ignores time honored assumptions of art form definition; for him, paint was not necessary for a painting and marks were not needed in a drawing (Grynsztejn 34). Instead it was his actions: applying dye like paint made it a painting, or drawing the edges with scissors made a work a drawing.
Action is the focus of Cornelia Butler’s essay, “Kinesthetic Drawing”. She observes that Tuttle’s hands are always in motion during conversations (176). She witnesses him during his installation of his wire pieces:
One of the more intriguing aspects of the Wire Pieces is the way in which the artist incorporates his body into their making…This is only worth bringing up to suggest the critical involvement of the artist as a physical, integral, active participant in his work…When he installs the Wire Pieces, by his own account, he conjures a meditative sate, planting his feet firmly on the floor and turning to face the wall before beginning to move his arm to initiate the first mark. He describes the creation of these deceptively simple works as emerging from the memory in his muscles (Grynsztejn 176-7).
Not only does Tuttle aptly describe the experience of authentic movement in those words, but also he lives that experience in his continued involvement with drawing. In Richard Schiff’s essay, “It Shows”, he remarks on his willingness to let his drawing lead him, and admits that his understanding of his own artwork comes later (258-259). Schiff equates Tuttle’s process to dreaming, where it happens from an unknown place in a way that is coherent as it happens, but may not be understood to the conscious mind until later. Tuttle is willing to trust and to follow. This leads to remarkable places, according to Tuttle: “‘Suddenly you get into a whole new world, which is like when you fall in love with someone and even love what you don’t like. ‘ Unreserved, love is beyond prediction and projection” (Grynsztejn 259).
According to Tuttle, his work is ahead of him; he is constantly catching up to what he has created. Like the dancer who is moved to move and then can later assess the dance, Tuttle is moved to create works. The creation of the work is the beginning of the understanding. “Having been created, a work of art just begins.”(Schiff 263)
Even when Tuttle hangs his work to show it, he describes the experience as if the work leads him: “’One remarkable phenomenon of my work is its love of being hung at a height of fifty-four inches from the floor.’” This height, that is lower than the height art is normally hung, activates the body and makes the work more accessible to the hand. The experience of viewing the work changes and engages the viewer more fully, which seems to somehow “…expand a person’s contact with the totality of human existence.” (Schiff 271)
Richard Tuttle’s work started small scale; much of his work continues to be
intimate. By comparison, Jessica Stockholder began large. Her first noteworthy piece was mounted on the side of her father’s garage in Vancouver in 1983 and consisted of a queen size mattress and paint that coated areas of the building and it’s roof as well as the adjacent grass.
Growing up in the landscape of Vancouver was formative to Stockholder; she felt small next to the largeness of the land – the high mountains and vast ocean. Her sense of scale, of being surrounded by a landscape that went wider than one could see, bigger than could be defined is important to her work, as she mentions in her dialogue with Lynne Tillman in Phaidon’s Jessica Stockholder: “…landscape changes us… it is the experience of things too close or too large…” (41)
Furthermore, the way the water met the land; how lines of fog might obscure the horizon line so that the usual way of understanding earth and sky was unclear manifests in her work as well. The colors move beyond borders and flow past boundaries of the objects to which they might have been attached. (Phaidon 40)
But how did Jessica Stockholder get started? At 14 years old, she studied with the sculptor Mowry Baden; she later attended university in Canada and moved to NYC in the 1980s. But I suggest that she got started with a key decision. She had just moved to New York and was living in a small apartment with no storage space and did not want to do installations in her living room. In her conversation with Gerhard Mack for the Kuntsmuseum St. Gallen, she talks about that moment:
After a year I decided not to be an artist because it was too painful having a shitty job and trying to figure out how to earn money for this art that who knew what would happen with. As soon as I decided not to be an artist I was able to work again. (31)
Stockholder had freed herself from the outside definition of “artist”. Released from expectations, she could follow her impulses. Stockholder began to use furniture and light and paint to make art that related to the room as well as the wall. Her pieces read as painting and sculpture. At first relatively small, her work soon grew to include large-scale installation, sourced from her childhood response to the landscape of Vancouver.
Stockholder begins her work from the physical: “ I begin in a very physical place, without a lot of words…When I’m asked what my plans are…I look inside and find a mute feeling.”(Tillman 14) Her work is about her experience in the world and her subjective response to materials and objects. She sees the act of placing objects as equivalent to a stroke of paint.
Stockholder claims not to be concerned about the specific materials she uses when she is working as long as she “…make(s) sure that in the end the experience is right.” (Tillman 28) In fact, she feels strongly about her work not being heightened, but rather open to the viewer - no shades on the windows or special effects - and constructed in a manner that looks as if anyone could do it, according to her in her interview with Klaus Ottman for the Phaidon book (133). She is looking for immediacy. In fact, one of the reasons that she claims to be attracted to painting is because paint can cover the material like a skin and make whatever it covers insignificant: “I like there to be places where the material is forgotten…colour is very good at this, always ready to assert itself as independent of material.”(Tillman 14)
Perhaps Stockholder pinpoints her artmaking process most exactly in this description: “If you can actually be aware of a moment and aware of yourself existing immediately…then there’s room for choice…it’s an ancient struggle, actually to be present …and what that means. “(Tillman 29) Stockholder does not say that creating art is easy – she says she can be in a lousy mood when constructing her work- but that is part of the process that “keeps her moving”. (Ottman 139)
Whereas Hesse and Tuttle were working during the time of the Minimalist movement, Stockholder claims its influence by pointing out that Minimalism introduced the participation of the viewer in the art. With Minimalism, the viewer was aware of himself looking at the work as well as the space around the work as well as the work – all of these. Minimalism included the viewer. Like Hesse and Tuttle, Stockholder leaves her work inconclusive, promoting active participation of the viewer. (Ottman114)
In Stockholder’s description of her process, I resonate with the way in which she sources her art – from a physical relationship to her materials without an attachment to a preconceived outcome. I see the same ingredients in the Eva Hesse’s process and Richard Tuttle. These three artists have produced what I consider to be profound works of art; for those accomplishments, I cite the commitment to their personal process of listening to their intuitive, tactile responses to their materials. I find their process similar to authentic movement, where the willingness to be present without knowing the outcome can lead to some of the most compelling material. I’d like to end with a quote from Jessica Stockholder:
I have faith that all actions have significance. It is impossible to act without reason. Consequently, it is always possible to discover something of interest through action, through making…It is not possible for our conscious minds to be in control of all the meanings generated by what we make. Having faith that that is the case, artmaking is an opportunity to explore the nature of the mind. If you come at it from the other direction, insisting that it all makes sense, you miss an opportunity to really take advantage of the bigness of what we are. (Doll and Sultan 20)
Brockhaus, Christoph. et al, Jessica Stockholder, Dusseldorf :Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum.2002. Print.
De Zegher, Katherine, ed. Eva Hesse Drawing. New York: The Drawing Center. 2006. Print.
Doll, Nancy and Terrie Sultan. Jessica Stockholder Kissing the Wall: Works, 1988-2003. Houston: Blaffer Gallery. 2004. Print.
Editors of Phaidon Press. Jessica Stockholder. New York: Abrams. 1995. Print.
Grynsztejn, Madeleine, ed. The Art of Richard Tuttle, San Francisco: San Fransisco Museum of Art, 2005. Print.
Johnson, Ellen H. Eva Hesse: A Retrospective of the Drawings. Oberlin, Ohio: Oberlin College. 1982. Print.
Sussman, Elisabeth, ed. Eva Hesse. San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Art. 2002
Tuttle, Richard. The Poetry of Form. Amsterdam: Institute of Contemporary Art. 1992. Print.
Waspe, Roland, Gerhard Mack and Konrad Bitterli. Jessica Stockholder. St. Gallen: St. Gallen Kunstmuseum. 2005. Print.