‘The graphic symbol approaches ever more closely to the spiritual essence of man.’
– Hans Hartung
‘A single line, violent, passionate, broken or beautifully calm, regular, uniform conveys what we are feeling. It corresponds to what we are living through.’
– Hans Hartung
Glowing copper gives way to Prussian blue in Hans Hartung’s luminous T1965-R7, like a sunset’s burning reflection on water. Against this ombré background, spiked streaks of white cluster, bristling with electric energy. Each line is potent and dynamic, a vigorous, forceful scratch disturbing the otherwise smooth, tranquil surface. As a recurrent form within the artist’s oeuvre, the line embodied the distillation of raw energy that was transferred from painter to canvas. Hartung’s works anticipated many of the concerns that would occupy Art Informel’s emotive abstractions. Hartung saw mark making as a means of representing the ‘spiritual essence of man’ explaining that ‘visual expression deals with the intellectual, psychic and imaginative forms of energy' (H. Hartung quoted in ‘Painting in the Country of the Good Life’, Hans Hartung: A Vision into Abstraction 1923-1964, exh. cat., Fischer Fine Art, London, 1981, p. 2). Painting, as such, is both a register of the interaction between Hartung and his compositions, and an expression of the artist’s own psyche. Like language, painting is an individual form of communication, and T1965-R7, therefore, is not simply a document, but a record of the experience of painting itself.
Alongside artists such as Pierre Soulages and Jackson Pollock, Hartung was a leading proponent of Action Painting, or the smearing, spilling and splattering of paint on the canvas, but his works were also influenced by Eastern aesthetics. Hartung’s iconic marks developed out of his earlier experiments with ink on paper, and the white vibrations remain agile and calligraphic. In the aftermath of winning the Grand International Prize for painting at the 1960 Venice Biennale however, these gestures evolved, and Hartung’s subsequent work evinced a sense of controlled spontaneity: ‘The first marks lead to others. Colours lead to signs which in turn suggest marks whose role might be to support or to contradict what already exists as much as to stabilize the painting. In any case, I act at first with complete liberty’ (H. Hartung quoted in Hans Hartung: Paintings, 1971-1975, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975, n. p.). In T1965-R7, Hartung’s lines are both measured and feverish, and this tension governs the whole of the composition; both artist and painting vie from dominance. T1965-R7 is a balancing act, a striking image, pure and unbridled energy held together by swaths of brilliant, blazing colour.