‘Always, always I looked for a law, the golden rule, an alchemy of rhythm, movement and colour. Transmutation of an apparent disorder, the only goal of which was to organise a perfect movement, to create order in disorder, to create order through disorder’
An ethereal glow hovers at the base of Hans Hartung’s abstract painting T1964 – H50, 1964, before dissipating into a deep, black void which fills the remainder of the pictorial plane. Like a distantly brewing electrical storm, the radiant luminosity is heightened by the vast blackness that all but engulfs it. Hartung was captivated by thunderstorms as a child – ‘I filled whole notebooks [with them]’, he recalls – and indeed Henry Geldzahler attests to their lingering influence on his work: ‘Lightning fascinated and thunder terrified Hartung. Thus the paintings have at their root an element of primitive magic; when they capture these violent natural phenomena, they also domesticate them. This helps to account for the disparity between what has been described as the violence of Hartung’s subject matter and the essential tranquillity of the paintings themselves’ (H. Hartung and H. Geldzahler, quoted in Hans Hartung: Paintings 1971 – 1975, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1976, unpaged). In T1964 – H50, Hartung captures something of this ‘primitive magic’ which moves beyond tangible form and into the realms of the purely emotive: its dark, mysterious surface has been viscerally marked with a series of scratches, carved directly into its painted façade. One of the greatest proponents of Lyrical Abstraction, Hartung saw his works as driven not by rational thought but by a kind of primal instinct. ‘It is an emotional state which drives me to draw, to create certain shapes in order to try to transmit and provoke a similar emotion in the spectator,’ he explains; ‘It is this desire which drives me: the desire to leave a trace of my movement on the canvas or on the paper. It is the act of painting, drawing, scratching, scraping’ (H. Hartung, quoted in Hans Hartung - Autoportrait, Paris 1976, p. 180).