This drawing is a masterwork of abstract grisaille. A rare example of a finished work by Hesse on paper, Untitled captures the intimate engagement of the artist with her materials and subject matter. Hesse developed an astonishingly rich body of work in her tragically short career, in which sculptural and two-dimensional works mutually influenced one another.
Untitled is composed in tones of gray, with both a rigorous structure and subtlety of form that are central to Hesse's style. A grid is created with a delicate graphite line, which segments the paper into eleven units both horizontally and vertically. This seemingly strict order is mitigated by slight variations in the intensity of the line that fades out toward the edges of the paper. The squares of the grid are filled with compass-drawn circles, whose curved forms graze the borders of each rectilinear frame, and overlap just slightly at certain moments. The circles are carefully colored with a wash of medium gray, rimmed with a lighter gray, while the ground of the paper is bathed in an even lighter shade. Within this careful order, there is a subtle gradation from darker to lighter grays among the circular forms, which both mitigates their conformity and infuses the drawing with quiet tension.
Hesse's interests in drawing and sculpture were closely intertwined. Indeed, it was her "machine drawings" that prompted her to make the jump to sculpture in 1965. During the year in which she drew Untitled, she made a number of sculptures using round steel washers placed on rectangular grids. Later, in 1967-68, she executed a sculpture in latex titled Schema (Philadelphia Museum of Art) that follows the compositional template of Untitled, trading its delicate lines for more aggressively organic protruding spheres. The importance of touch permeates all of Hesse's work, whether in two or three dimensions. Indeed, there is a beautifully tactile quality to Untitled that Hesse emphasized in its nuanced orchestration of textured paper, graphite and ink wash.