Progression of Art
Untitled (from VVV portfolio)
This photograph is an example of David Hare's early experimentation with photography and notably with the technique of heatage, or brulage, developed by Surrealist Raoul Ubac. It consists of heating up or melting parts of the photographic negative during the development process, which causes the negative to ripple and distort. The result is a random deformation of the image. The chance-like nature of the technique appealed to the Surrealists and was comparable to other favored techniques like automatic drawing.
In this photograph, only the contour of a naked female body remains. The anatomical details have been replaced with alternating black and white masses. While the pattern is abstract and devised by chance manipulation, the effect conjures burnt flesh. The lack of facial features further accentuates the strangeness of this woman.
For his photographs, Hare usually chose female nudes and transformed them, playing with ideas of eroticism and censorship. The suggestive pose of the figure contrasts sharply with the metamorphosed body, creating a feeling of uneasiness and discomfort in the viewer. Art historian Phil Taylor explains that Ubac and Hare both use heatage in order to negate "the capacity of the photographic matrix to reproduce its original referents." Instead of reproducing an objective, or realistic, scene, Hare disrupts photography's illustrative powers to create something new.
In the context of the second World War, this technique takes on a subversive and political cast. The disintegrating figure is associated with a body mutilated by the violence of war. Gilbert states, "Hare's images opposed the aim of government censorship to control and sanitize the visual experience of war." He adds, "Hare's technical assault on the medium is itself significant and reflects a radical effort to subvert the documentary status and truth value of the official media's photographic reportage." In embracing Surrealist techniques, Hare did not shy away from the radical and, at times, revolutionary underpinnings of the avant-garde group.
Gelatin silver print - Ubu Gallery
Hare created this artwork in response to the gallerist Julien Levy who decided to curate a show about chess, a board game that he and many of his artist friends like Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst loved playing. Levy had designed his own set and asked 32 artists to contribute to his show that opened in the winter of 1944. Hare exhibited the plaster original of Magician's Game that he would cast in bronze in 1946.
The sculpture is a combination of shapes that resemble both animate and inanimate objects and suggests a slightly reclined figure sitting at a desk or game table. An egg-shaped object dangles in one of the desk's compartments, and from the other a stick emerges and from which comb-shaped form hangs. The reclining shape pierces the surface of the desk, suspended in the void by wires and, when pushed, quivers slightly and counterbalances the composition. This figure extends and connects itself under the desk with what appears to be a pointed tail.
Art Historian Mona Hadler describes this sculpture as epitomizing the Surrealist process of "free association of disparate ideas." Indeed, Hare combines many objects and shapes and creates a strange figure that seems to float in space. The figure is a hybrid entity, somewhere between a living creature and an inanimate object. It has no human attributes, except maybe the chest, but at the same time, it is clearly seated at a desk surrounded by human objects. Further the unrecognizable nature of the "game" adds another layer of mystery that draws in the viewer. The viewer is led to create the game in their own mind. Hadler points out that Hare has always wanted the viewer to actively participate, even in the act of literally moving the work. She explains, "The complexity and multiplicity of imagery of Hare's sculpture force an active process of viewing." The tensions that Hare's sculpture creates - animate/inanimate, stabile/mobile, seen/unseen, reality/fantasy - keep the viewers engaged.
Bronze - Museum of Modern Art, New York
This sculpture is part of a series that Hare created in the 1950s and that integrated elements of the natural landscape. The artist believed that art should have some relation to the physical world and not be entirely abstract. This work consists of a sun-like form at the top held by steel rods over a rock. There are also two other round forms between the sun and the rock that could represent a moon and a star. The vertical straight fragments of steel evoke lines of falling rain.
When asked in the 1960s by the Albright Knox Museum "Why would you sculpt a sunrise?" the artist answered that the main point "was first to make a sculpture from a subject which seemed highly unlikely as a sculptural material, the interest being in this being the difficulty of the problem and also its newness." Like his colleague David Smith, Hare appropriated a traditional subject of painting, but by welding the picture, he was able to make "drawings in space" and to create open and airy sculpture. Hare further explained about this work, "I wanted to take a picture of [the planet] before it disappeared." However, the artist also wanted to create a piece "that could be seen as abstract or as figurative," making this very tension the work of art itself.
Steel, rock, gilt bronze solder - The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY
The Swan's Dream of Leda
Hare used thin, irregularly sized sheets of bronze to compose The Swan's Dream of Leda. From a rock, a central, vertical shape emerges and bends back as if looking up. Another curved figure hovers over, enveloping and seemingly piercing the central figure. This sculpture refers to the Greek myth of Leda in which the god Zeus transformed himself into a swan to seduce the woman he so desired, eventually impregnating her. The gentle and slender curves along with the empty spaces of the composition gives an impression of lightness in spite of the use of bronze. The fragile and delicate forms contrasts with the strong rock base as well. The arched form seems to replicate the flapping of a swan's wing.
Hare started his series on the myth of Leda as early as the 1950s and would explore it until the end of his life. For many Surrealists, mythology is significant because of its relation to the psyche and for its aim for universality. The story of Leda has been explored many times in the history of art, but Hare, as many specialists have pointed out, is the only artist who shows how the swan sees Leda. This unconventional point of view allows him to give more depth to the character of the bird and to introduce the theme of the dream. Hare could have treated the myth in a more explicit and representational way, but by abstracting the subject and only loosely suggesting the identities of the figures, Hare captures the dream-like nature of the story.
Bronze with stone base - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
This painting is part of the series that Hare started in the 1950s exploring the Greek myth of Cronus, who upon castrating and deposing his father Uranus, separated heaven and earth and became ruler of the cosmos. In fear of a prophecy that he would in turn be overthrown by his own son, Cronus swallowed each of his sons as they were born. His wife Rhea managed to save Zeus who would eventually murder his father and defeat the Titans. The Romans adopted Cronus as the god Saturn.
In a composition that recalls optical illusions, it is difficult to know what one is looking at in this painting. Hare manipulates shadow and light, foreground and background to create a sense of disorientation. A peachy, flesh colored form protrudes from the center of the canvas, and one wonders if this is the legs and crotch of a splayed body or two giant fingers reaching out from a hand as it clutches an amorphous brown form in the foreground. Above the body/hand a dark blue shape seems to swirl, forming tendrils at its edge that are evocative of fingers and even a small silhouette of a person. Behind, shades of brown, grey and cream create a sort of non-space that could be the sky or an interior of a room. The abstract scene evokes a sinister and, even, horrific sense of doom or danger.
Hare came late to painting and was primarily known as a photographer and sculptor, but his technique was still grounded in Surrealism, and his uses of collage and automatic drawing creates a dream-like space that draws the viewer in and confounds them. In an interview with Mimi Poser in 1972, Hare declared that his images of Cronus are portraits of the human will. The series exemplifies the contradictions of love/hate and life/death that are inherent to human kind. Like Cronus, humans continually destroy what they love. This painting captures the most violent and symbolic moment of the myth without monstrosity.
Acrylic, collaged paper, and oil stick on linen - The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
A contorted body fills the center of the composition. The head of a bull sits atop a male torso. One follows the line of the back down to the buttocks and up to the bent knees, and along the way, the body twists unhumanly in space to reveal female genitalia. To the left, one expects the figure to be resting on its arms but instead one finds a shape that is reminiscent of male genitalia. The mysterious creature also has across its torso, two spoked circles, almost like tattoos, and an array of small dots where one expects there to be nipples. These cryptic motifs further add mystery and magic to the hybrid creature.
Portraying Cronus with both male and female genitalia underscores the duality that so intrigued Hare about this mythological figure. Although Cronus does not often call for a sexual interpretation, Hare adds it to his exploration to create an even more universal figure. He declared, "Cronus is part man, part earth, part time." Based on a 1970 painting of the same name, Hare executed this print at the Tamarind Institute. Hare was interested in the lines and forms of lithography and created several prints based on paintings of the Cronus series, in which he further explored his Surrealist inclinations to portray the human psyche.