Hans Hess (museologist)

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Hans Hess (1907–1975) was a museologist and curator of York Art Gallery.

He was born in Erfurt, the son of a successful shoe manufacturer and patron of the arts. The artists Kandinsky, Klee, Feininger and Pechstein were family friends.

After fleeing Germany, Hess worked under Trevor Thomas at the then Leicester Museum, now New Walk Museum and Art Gallery.[1]

Hans Hess introduction to Luigi Pericle :

Writing about modern painting is very much like writing about the unknown with the added difficulty that the painting is there for all to see. Modern painting does not present either the visible world nor does it truly present itself. It presents a metaphor for reality and in its experience even a metaphor for itself. This definition places the work of art in a strange place, but it is the place where it alone lives and acts. It is one man’s work materialized in a moment of time and it summarises his knowledge and vision. But the vision of what ? As I have said of the unknown. The question now arises, does the unknown exist and can it be known ? In which process it would cease to be the unknown. It is just the assumption of this essay that the artist takes hold of and gives form to the hitherto unknown and in the constellation he creates, wrests something from the sum total of possibilities inherent in reality. A work of art is a creation and at the same time a metaphor, that is, a picture of something not itself. This new creation has been assembled from elements from two sources which may well be one; the mind of the creator and the un-explored possibilities of the universe, the totality of events, which abound around us and which have no forms until we give them forms. But these forms we give are our forms, our interpretations, our metaphors. Events by themselves have no form, or if they have their forms, these remain theirs and are unrecognisable to us because we do not think in the categories of events, but in the categories of our existence. A work of art, and here we come to the work of Luigi Pericle, is then an image, a figuration, a constellation of a per-ceived event somewhere else in time and space, and given its pictorial reality as a symbol of that personal and actual event.

The puzzled reader may now ask is such a picture true ? does it give a true account of some real situation to which we answer is that truth is exactly and only that which can be formed; by its definition it has become true, there is the absolute totality from which perception can gain and the mind form forms of truth. Does it then mean that we have to accept every manifestation of the human mind as true ? The answer is yes, if by truth we understand actuality. But a work of art lives in still another sphere, that of the spectator’s aesthetic responses. A picture is intended not only to convey information of a known or unknown reality, it is also intended to satisfy aesthetic sensibilities, it is intended to please, to heighten awareness and to approach the beautiful. Here, too, the answer to the question what is beautiful is the same we gave to the question of truth. Both are not eternal but temporal concepts. A work of art creates its own beauty in the same way as it has created its own truth. They are actually identical because the created work is of one piece and there is no line or shape or colour without either truth or beauty, they cannot be separated, a creation which works in conformity with its own laws and neither needs nor can fulfil other laws.

Pericle is not the first to have explored other spheres of reality. Paul Klee and similar artists of formal imagination have taught us to see behind everyday reality. The question of course arises are they ail, as for instance, scientists, working in the same fields pointing in the same direction, and are they collectively approaching a sphere of new objectivity (objective reality), or are they exploring a new subjectivity in which process they discover (create) new subjective reality, which by being materialised becomes objective reality ? The answer, I suggest, lies already in the question. Both artists and scien-tists discover our world, the world of forces and create their forms. They both create a style of interpretation and they have come very close together in the process, in that neither is anymore surprised by what he finds; all he has to do is to arrange it in a pattern which makes sense to the human senses. It is, then, the contention that a space probe which reaches the moon is of the same order of actuality as a space probe which reaches the world of the picture. In both cases we have to understand what we find.

What appears different is the category of communication. One follows mathematical laws which are communicable in a near absolute sense, the other follows non-mathematical laws which do not lend themselves to direct transmission (com-munication). It does not make them less valid, only less universally applicable. It is here that the difference between creative interpretation and interpretative creation erects its own dividing line between science and art.

As a painter, Pericle is concerned with a state of affairs beyond the visible, which he aims tg penetrate with his senses, not so much with his mind. The visions he puts down are not of his invention, but of his discovery. He himself says that he is concerned with light shining through darkness. It is this light which finds forms and colours in his paintings.

In his work there is one theme, but this theme is treated in varying forms; the pictures can be divided into groups in which one formal element predominates; when its possibilities are exhausted a new formal motif is developed until its history too is explored in the process of creating its history and a new line of approach is attempted.

In Pericle’s work his drawings in pure black and white of which many thousands exist play a great part. Here the artist clarifies formal relations to which eventually paintings relate themselves. We have omitted from this exhibition any drawings as they can only be judged historically, in their own history, that is, and their number is such that only a very large exhibition could do them justice.

We have been content with a selection of about fifty paintings and here a word might be said about Pericle’s method of painting. Pericle’s pictures differ from most modern paintings in the aims which are expressed in technique; thov are not spontaneous outbursts of a is work i personality s though Painted H carefully painted with speed and intensity. with layers of pigment, often as many as forty; the process of completion and growth takes many weeks. In techniquel Pericle is a master equal to the old Flemish painters whose jewel-like enamelled glazes he has studied and applied. There is a great richness in the very texture and matiere of his pictures, but this, laudable as it is, would not matter if the sum totai of harmonies, in fact, the picture as a unity, would not speak to us through its quality All this may help one to understand the creative process at work in a work of art, but one factor defies definition and that is that of the artist’s personality. The personal handwriting, the feeling for form and colour, the whole assembly and the way in which it is handled, felt and placed is that of the painter’s history and sensibility. Each work of art is at one and the same time unique and a link in the chain of the artist’s expression. But in Pericle’s work self-expression does not dominate; it is the objective statement which matters, expressed necessarily in a subjective form. No artist can help but express the world in his lines, but it is not the seif that matters in our artists’ case, but the facts he establishes. Personal handwriting dis-tinguishes the man-made. It is a necessity as much as a virtue. Here I think words should cease, it is not the duty of a writer to tell a spectator what to see; a writer can state what he has seen, what he knows and what he thinks, beyond that his words becomes pointless. The present writer, therefore, wishes to leave the spectator alone face to face with his reality, they will have to come to terms, in terms which are their’s alone.

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