Richard Haas’s fascination with the graceful, austere curves and swooping lines of classical architecture, particularly the skylines of New York City, has resulted in a wealth of masterful artwork, from trompe l’oeil murals 20 stories tall to soft, yet photorealistic paintings. However, long before the birth of his love for architecture, the young Haas harbored a passion for German and Abstract Expressionism, expressed in a collection of prints interestingly disparate from his later works of architectural art.
On Sunday, September 23, 3:00 – 5:00 pm, Bruce Museum members and visitors will have the opportunity to hear Haas speak about his career and the progression of his work from abstract prints to the architectural paintings and murals that define his reputation today. A celebratory wine and cheese reception with the artist will follow the talk. This special event is free for Bruce Museum members and students (with valid ID); $15 for non-members. Advance registration at brucemuseum.org is required.
A selection of Haas’s formative work is now on view with the Bruce Museum exhibition Expressionism in Print: The Early Works of Richard Haas, 1957 – 64. Included in the exhibition are woodcuts, watercolors, and etchings produced between 1957 and 1964—a seven-year period that, in many ways, encapsulates the artist’s graphic evolution.
As Elizabeth D. Smith, the Bruce Museum Zvi Grunberg Resident Fellow 2017-18 writes in the catalogue of the exhibition, Haas’s graphic works produced during this seven-year period of experimentation “are marked by what Haas defines as ‘style jumping’ – an attempt to probe the various movements, processes, and subject matter of artists he admired … the various etchings, aquatints, monotypes, and woodcuts represent a unique period of creative development.”
Haas’s life began not in the glittering iron and concrete streets of his beloved American cities, but in the sprawling farmlands of the Midwest. Born in 1936 to German immigrants who settled in Spring Green, WI, Haas studied art as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the late 1950s. Feeding his passion for expressionism were frequent visits to the Art Institute of Chicago, where he first encountered Edvard Munch’s evocative prints, and the works of German Expressionists such as Emil Nolde, Max Beckmann, and Erich Heckel, who used chisels or knives to carve harsh lines into thick blocks of wood to evoke abstract images. The Art Institute’s annual exhibitions featured artists like Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, and Hans Hoffman, whose work further broadened Haas’s artistic scope as he emerged from his undergraduate studies as a budding artist.
His 1962 work Pensive Figure echoes Edvard Munch’s Frieze of Life (1892-97) series, with its ghoulish rendition of a man’s face cut into wood. His instructor Robert Von Neumann encouraged Haas to take further liberties with his prints, which resulted in the highly imaginative Floating Parts (1962), an etching featuring layers of dark hatch marks over geometric patches of color. Later in that same year, Haas experimented further with color in Seated Figure, a woodcut depicting a figure overlooking patches of green and blue, indicating a green landscape under a vast sky.
Although Haas was never loyal to a single artistic movement, he always admired European art and culture. In his Famous Heads series (1962-64), Haas created large woodcut portraits of celebrated European figures and artists such as Henry VIII, Friedrich Nietzsche, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Auguste Rodin, Paul Gauguin, and Albert Einstein. These woodcuts exaggerate one key feature of each individual, resulting in Nietzsche’s enormous moustache and Einstein’s wild mass of hair.
Expressionism in Print: The Early Works of Richard Haas, 1957 – 64 is on view through Sunday, October 21, 2018. For more information about the exhibition and related programs, please visit brucemuseum.org or call 203-869-0376.