An artist whose short career was troubled by both psychological and physical trauma, Eva Hesse (1936–70) left journals and other written records of her tragic life and her intense commitment to her work. A documentary on the postwar sculptor, directed by Marcie Begleiter, is screening at Film Forum in New York this week. Below, some excerpts from these documents originally published in our Summer 1983 issue. —Eds.
All of the following passages, unless otherwise indicated, are excerpted from the diaries, notebooks, sketches, student essays, letters and other papers in the Eva Hesse Archives at the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, donated by the artist’s sister, Helen Hesse Charash, and by Donald and Philip Droll. Selections are taken from the diaries if no other source is given; entries from Oct. 28, 1960 through April 21, 1964 are from a diary still in the possession of Mrs. Charash.
Eva Hesse was born in Nazi Germany in 1936. She was not quite three years old when, together with her sister Helen, she was put on a children’s train to Amsterdam, where she was later rejoined with her parents and brought to New York in 1939. During the early ’40s, Eva’s beloved mother became mentally ill, was hospitalized, and then divorced from Eva’s father. Her equally loved father remarried soon after, and in 1946, when Eva was 10, her mother took her own life. Besides this loss and “abandonment,” Eva carried the fear that she might have inherited her mother’s instability and would follow the same course. In 1961, Eva met and married Tom Doyle, The Eva Hesse revealed in her diaries is as psychologically disturbed as one might expect from such a biography. But she is also stubbornly persistent, courageous, faithful, cognizant of her own shortcomings, ambitious and, though tormented by self-doubt, convinced of her significance as an artist. but by 1964-65, when they spent a year in Germany, their marriage had already begun to break up. Eva’s father died in 1966, soon after she and Doyle had separated. Eva finally accepted the fact that her husband would not return to her (although she never divorced him), and she began to learn to control—or at least to live with—her persistent feelings of anxiety, rejection and desertion. She was working full force and becoming increasingly recognized when cancer struck in the spring of 1969. She underwent surgery for a tumor of the brain three times; yet during this last year of her life she produced some of her greatest works. She was only 34 when she died on May 29, 1970.
The Eva Hesse revealed in her diaries is as psychologically disturbed as one might expect from such a biography. But she is also stubbornly persistent, courageous, faithful, cognizant of her own shortcomings, ambitious and, though tormented by self-doubt, convinced of her significance as an artist. The passages I have culled from Hesse’s diaries (my primary source) include just about all she recorded there on art; otherwise, the diaries deal almost totally and painfully with her personal life. Significantly, there are fewer entries from the time of her meeting and marrying Tom Doyle until the happiness of their life together began to be threatened in 1964. Then she turned again to her diary as an outlet for her anxious emotions, recurrent dreams and nightmares, and her feeling of being lost and abandoned. From 1967 on, however, as she grew more secure in her work, the diaries change in tone and become simply engagement books, listing appointments and chores to be done; but there are also many loose sheets with ideas and sketches for sculpture accompanied by brief notations, such as: “Square patches rubber over canvas/rubber strands from centers/or over mesh (folded on hooks to hang over wire).”
It was after Hesse’s return to New York in 1965 from her year in Germany that she began to produce the distinctive sculptures and drawings upon which her reputation is based. She was one of the first, most significant and influential artists to reject the strictures of the Minimalist mode, the style with which her friends LeWitt, Bochner and Smithson were commonly, if not always accurately, associated. Since she extolled the personal, organic, unexpected, irrational and “absurd” (her word), Hesse had little use for the rationally ordered, geometric forms of extreme Minimalism, nor for its unbroken edges and deliberately machine-made look. Although she was especially indebted to Sol LeWitt; her first major freestanding sculpture, the Laocoön of 1966, in which she used his trademark of the open cube, may also be seen as a symbolic stepping away from her mentor and from the type of work he represented. The cubes in Laocoön arise from structural necessity at least as Since she extolled the personal, organic, unexpected, irrational and “absurd” (her word), Hesse had little use for the rationally ordered, geometric forms of extreme Minimalism, nor for its unbroken edges and deliberately machine-made look. much, and probably more, than from esthetic choice. The sculpture’s gray, obsessively wrapped, tall, thin form reaches up toward the sky, but is hopelessly weighted down by the tangled coils that hang and droop around it.
Though we may read more emotional content into Hesse’s art than we should if we did not know her tragic history, Hesse was nevertheless a born expressionist whose work inevitably manifested her personal feelings. Like all expressionists (from Rodin and van Gogh to contemporaries such as Borofsky, Pfaff and Schnabel), Hesse marked her work with her personal presence, with the traces of her path through it. This is as true of her drawings on graph paper, where the repeated minuscule circles or x’s vary slightly, but tellingly, in their shape, width of line and density of ink, as it is of the fiberglass and latex sculptures, which bear imprints of Hesse’s hand on their irregular surfaces.
The expressionist style is as evident in Hesse’s words as in her work, and those words tell us a good deal about her art: how important drawing always was for her; how the freeing of line in her German drawings led to her first sculptures Like all expressionists, Hesse marked her work with her personal presence, with the traces of her path through it. (reliefs with cords and wires suspended or shooting out from them); how the lines and planes of her translucent latex and fiberglass pieces are built up in layers like glazes of oil or watercolor to create masterpieces in which painting, drawing and sculpture become one. –E.H.J.
March 21, 1955 | The more I see of life, day to day experiences, the more dissatisfied I am with conditions and with myself. I know so little how can I really paint or just paint? What do I have to say that’s worthwhile, and if I spend all my time saying and feeling when will I learn more which in turn will be told? It’s like writing memoirs, without a previous life.
March 19, 1959 | Art is controlled and disciplined perception, creatively and imaginatively ex-pressed. [From a paper on Clive Bell’s On Significant Form for a Philosophy of Art course at Yale University.]
May 7, 1959 | The Abstract Expressionist attempts to define a deeply-rooted bond between himself and nature and to evoke this kind of union between himself and his painting. He does this by suggesting the forces that shape things, equating an objective experience of nature into a subjective expression of his feeling toward nature. Although he, too, can work directly from nature, he, nevertheless, expresses a personal attitude that radically alters objective reality. [From a paper, “An Abstract and Concrete Consideration of Form in Painting,” for a Philosophy of Art course at Yale University.]
Undated, ca. 1960 | The painting that is of importance is never the one where the esthetic stands alone and is both the form and content. The esthetic is a means to an end. It should not be viewed in and by itself, it is the by product of an idea—which is content. My form comes from the figure whether it is the figure or not so why not do it for a while?
October 28, 1960 | If I’m O.K., I will abandon restrictions and curbs imposed on myself. Not physical ones, but those restrictive tabs on my inner being, on solely myself. I will strip me of superficial dishonesties. I will paint against every rule I or others have invisibly placed . . . . I should like to achieve free, spontaneous painting delineating a powerful, strong structured image. One must be possible with the other. A difficult problem in itself, but one which I shall achieve.
Undated, ca. November 16, 1960 | I must be totally engrossed in my own work, it is the only thing that is permanent, matures and is lasting.
Undated, November 1960 | One thing has changed of late, or developed—I want to and feel I can and should sell paintings. What I am doing now might not be a peak of matured painting; but they are good, follow an idea, and they are works of a young active developing painter.
Undated, November 1960 | Only painting can now see me through and I must see it through. It is totally interdependent with my entire being. It is source of my goals, ambitions, satisfactions and frustrations. It is what I have found through which I can express myself, my growth—and channel my development. It affords the problems which I can think through, form ideas which I can work with and arrive at a statement. Within its scope I can develop strength and conviction.
Undated, December 1960 | Dubuffet is really good. I enjoy his drawings mainly for his humour—his esthetic is there and is there with ease. He makes no obvious contention with that aspect alone.
January 27, 1961 | I am beginning to sell and show my work in that order. One gave me the confidence to proceed to the other.
August 3, 1962 | I am working; even though I so often contest the fact, when I work all else seems to hold together much better. [On a separate sheet in the diary.]
August 8, 1962 | To sustain the feeling of that last week is still not possible for me. My feelings of inadequacy persist and I am constantly torn in a million directions. I cannot believe enough in myself to make any statement mine. [Same as preceding.]
April 21, 1964 | It is as difficult as it is said to be to be an artist’s wife and an artist also.
On the early 1960s | That struggle between student and finding oneself . . . I don’t think . . . can be avoided, and mine was very difficult and very frustrating . . . but I worked. I never had the trouble of not being able to work . . . I think there was a time when I met the man that I married [Tom Doyle, 1961], I shouldn’t say I went backwards but I did because he was a more mature artist . . . and I would unconsciously be somewhat influenced and he would push me in his direction and of course when I met him I already had a drawing show [1961, John Helier Gallery, New York, “Drawings: Three Young Americans”] which was much, much more me. [From a 1970 interview with Cindy Nemser. This and other passages cited from the interview are taken from the original transcript in the Hesse Archives at Oberlin rather than from the published version in Nemser, Art Talk: Conversations with 12 Women Artists, New York, 1975.]
June 13, 1964 | Our studio [Kettwig, Germany], top floor with skylight and windows every two feet, is very hot. I sit and hope I will work some. I might just have to believe in me more before working will mean something.
June 19, 1964 | Started work in oil paint today. That is new since last 1½ years I used magna paints. Did two tiny very expressionistic paintings. Feel rather enthused since I enjoyed them and they seemed real to me. Somehow I think that counts. What counts most is involvement and for that to happen one must be able to give lots. Just like with a person. The giving must be very constant and thorough . . . It just seems to me that the “personal” in art if really pushed is the most valued quality and what I want so much to find in and for myself.
July 1, 1964 | I have to do what I have to do. I should by now believe that that is not only what I am, but that what I am shouldn’t be fought because it is good. It is good to be what one is. In fact, the more I’m me, the better I would paint as then it can only be mine as no one else is me. . . . I still am agonized about my painting but at least now the agony is in and about work. And if I work that will most probably change into another kind of feeling. And if it remains it is better placed there than back into myself.
July 14, 1964 | Am wondering if not my reasons for working are all wrong. The need for recognition, praise, acceptance is so excessive a need it causes an impossible pressure to live with. My feelings of inadequacy are so great that I oppose them with equally extreme need for outside recognition to establish some equilibrium. I think it is so in everything but greatest in art. Tom can achieve both in the right way, that is he can find himself in his work and then and therefore achieve recognition. With this I then compete and find no success.
November 8, 1964 | Tom and I went to Folkwang Museum in Essen. Photograph show and Arshile Gorky drawings—great.
November 19, 1964 | I refuse to fear any longer. . . . When a problem, just do it then and there, say it, write it and get rid of it. Face all that I fear, to fear it no longer. . . In my work too. If crazy forms, do them outright. Strong, clear. No more haze; . . . Risk nothing—nothing gained.
November 21, 1964 | One must take pride in what one is and achieves. I still doubt myself in both myself and my work. In competing with Tom I must unconsciously be competing with my alter ego. In his achievements I see my failures.
December 4, 1964 | Started sculpture, lead wire though a huge screen. Shortage of wire forced change to plaster.
December 5, 1964 | Went to Köln. Opening of Zwirner’s Gallery. Stayed at Hans Haacke’s house, saw his new work.
December 6, 1964 | Had worst dream-nightmare, bloody cut-up scene involving self. [Throughout her diaries are lengthy recordings and descriptions of her dreams and nightmares.]
December 10, 1964 | Plaster! I have always loved the material. It is flexible, pliable, easy to handle in that it is light, fast working. Its whiteness is right. I will take those screens. Finish one I began in lead. Then get cloth cut in strips and dip in plaster and bring through screen. I needed a structure that is perfect. . . . For me painting has become that [anti-climactic]. “Making Art”—”painting a painting.” The Art, the history, the tradition, is too much there. I want to be surprised. To find something new.
December 14, 1964 | I want to explain what I have been doing. And although I already question validity, worth, meaning, antecedent etc., I have been enjoying the newness and the work. In the abandoned factory where we work there is lots of junk around. Tom has used much steel and odds and ends for his sculpture. I have all these months looked over and at much of the junk. I finally took a screen. heavy mesh which is stretched on a frame like so and taken cord which I cut into smaller pieces. I soak them in plaster and knot each piece through a hole and around wire. It is compulsive work which I enjoy. If it were really a new idea it would be terrific. But it is not. However I have plans with other structures and working more with plaster. It might work its way to something special. I will try to draw what it looks like. On other side it’s the knots that are seen. It is all white. [From a letter to Rosie Goldman, quoted in Lucy Lippard, Eva Hesse, New York, 1976, pp. 28-29, illustrated p. 36.]
February 5, 1965 | If painting is too much for you now, fuck it—quit—if drawing gives some plea-sure—some satisfaction do it—go ahead. It also might lead to a way other than painting, or at least painting in oil. First feel sure of idea then the execution will be easier.
Undated, February 1965 | I am ultimately convinced that people must first be told that so and so is great and then after a period of given time they come to believe it for themselves.
Undated, February-March, 1965 | Do I have a right . . . to womanliness? Can I achieve an artistic endeavour and can they coincide?
Undated, between March 30-April 4, 1965 |
It is to you I want to talk about what is in my mind. It is because I respect and trust you and also in this case you are one who understands somewhat me personally and my art existent or non-existent. . .
I don’t want sympathy but I don’t want you to laugh at me. I would only like to be able to show you what I have done here and ask you what you think. That is impossible so I am talking with you.
What drives us to work? It seems to me some kind of recognition which maybe we cannot give ourselves. Mine seems to be disproportionate like I respect myself too little so too much must come from the outside. . . .
I mean to tell you of what sits in front of me. Work.
I have done drawings. Seems like hundreds although much less in numbers. There have been a few stages. First kind of like what was in past—free, crazy forms—well done and so on. They had wild space, not constant, fluctuating and variety of forms etc. Paintings were enlarged versions, attempt at similar space, etc.
2nd Stage—contained forms somewhat harder often in boxes and forms become machine like, real like, and as if to tell a story in that they are contained. Paintings follow similarly.
3rd Stage—Drawings—clean, clear, but crazy like machines, forms larger, bolder, articulately described so it is weird—they become real nonsense.
So I sit now after two days of working on a dumb thing which is 3-dimensional, supposed to be continuity with last drawings. . . . The 3-d. one now actually looks like breast and penis—but that’s O.K. and I should go on with it, maybe it or they would make it in another way, but I don’t know where I belong and so I give up again. All the time it is like that. . . .
Have really been discovering my weird humor and make-sick or maybe cool but I can only see things that way—experience them also but I can’t feel cool. That is my hopelessness . . . . Everything for me personally is glossed with anxiety. . .
I rewrote this letter to Sol. [From a letter to Sol LeWitt entered into her diary, a practice she often followed, either as a trial or record.]
April 14, 1965 | I am working steadily, I will give much effort now, as I might well soon fare on my own.
May 4, 1965 | I am working like crazy. . . Have one completed. I will describe. Am working on masonite which is pressed wood fibers. On this I build forms (glue and paper), on some forms I have glued cord. On one I have a heavy twisted cord which can be moved. [From a letter to Rosie Goldman, Lippard, p. 35, illustrated p. 36.]
May 11, 1965 | I have been working harder than ever in my life, and under a lot of pressure.
May 15, 1965 | Show. [Her reliefs and drawings and Doyle’s sculpture, Kettwig, Scheidt estate.] Went well. I sold two. Tom also maybe two. I will also show Aug. 6 in graphics room in Kunsthalle Düsseldorf.
July 31, 1965 | Have 14 objects plus 14 new terrific drawings.
August 2, 1965 | Moved all work to Düsseldorf.
August 3, 1965 | Hung show.
August 4, 1965 | Worked like crazy, did five more groovy drawings.
August 6, 1965 | Our opening.
September 30, 1965 | Almost one [work] complete in US!
December 12, 1965 | I feel I have no where to turn. All my stakes are in my work. I have given up in all else. Like my whole reality is there—I am all there. When then I am rejected it is an entire loss,—like all of me. . . . I do feel I am an artist—and one of the best. I do deeply. . . I have one person here and one there, artists who know me and think I am good, most others don’t know me as an artist and give me no credit at all and I can’t take this.
Undated, December 1965 | Incredible! Spent evening with Giles and Lee Bontecou. Dinner, they here—we there. I am amazed at what that woman can do. Actually the work involved is what impressed me so. The artistic result I have seen. This was the unveiling to me of what can be done, what I must learn, what there is to do. The complexity of her structures, what is involved absolutely floored me.
On 1965-66 | It [Hang-Up] was early when I first came back from Europe . . . like the fifth piece I did. And I think the most important early statement made . . . close to what I feel now I achieve in the best pieces. It was the first time where my absurdity or extreme feeling came through. . . . It has a kind of depth that I don’t always achieve. And that is the kind of depth or soul or absurdity or life or meaning or feeling or intellect that I want to get. . . . It is a frame . . . on the wall . . . all tied like a hospital bandage—as if someone broke an arm . . . out of that structure, this little thing comes out about ten or eleven feet. . . It is the most ridiculous structure I have ever made and that is why it is really good. . . . This ridiculous form is coming out of nothing. . . . It is very surreal, very strange. It is weird . . . like those things that I did in Europe. . . . There was nobody doing anything like this. [It] was totally absurd to everybody at that time . . . the height of minimal and pop. . .
I started working in sculpture when we lived for ½ years in . . . Europe. . . I had a great deal of difficulty with painting and never with drawings. . . . They ranged from linear to complicated washes or collages and the translation or transference on a large scale and in painting was always tedious; it was not natural and I thought to translate it in some other way so I started working in relief and the lines . . . . The ropes that are now so commonly used started by the drawings becoming so linear and I really translated the lines. They weren’t ropes because they were done on a small scale, they were cords . . and I kept the scale in Europe fairly small and when I came back to America, I varied the materials even further and didn’t keep the rectangles . . . and then they just grew. They came from the floor, the ceiling, the walls, then it just became whatever it became. [From 1970 Nemser interview transcript, Hesse Archives, Oberlin.]
Undated, spring 1966 | I went to help Sol wrap his work. . . . Helping Sol also was Ethlyn [Honig]. Even in wrapping I am competitive, saw this so clearly . . . the extent I have this awful trait in competing with “male” artists, which is to say almost everyone. Then that’s not bad enough, I compete then as a “woman” with women in “Female” area.
Undated, spring 1966 | Marisol does all [the] work herself. She will try anything. Experiment with any media, incorporating all things. What she does do though is leave too much on the surface. Design, decoration. Mystery is lost. She cannot any longer just attach dime store paraphernalia all over, over everywhere. It sits there and is no longer even humour. Because one can expect it and there it is. A ring, a necklace, a shoe, a glass, a mirror, a piece of lace. When she hides from this, when her pieces hide something from the viewer, we look at it differently. . . .
Undated, spring 1966 | Finished my last two pieces, one today and one the other day: Laocoön and titleless so far. Cords everywhere. Will do one that does not come from a form, that is endless, totally encroaching and irrational. With its own rationale, even if it looks chaotic.
Undated, spring 1966 | I then met Sol at Whitney. Saw recent acquisitions (Held, Johns, Kelly). And Lipman collection. Lot of mediocrity, along with a few fine pieces. One beautiful Samaras (two inferior ones), a fine Morris, and Judd. The Samaras I loved was a box covered with pins, cover slightly ajar with bird’s head forcing its way out from under cover. Old cords and rope dropping out from front. The piece sits in a plexiglas case. Sol went to Dwan. I on to Modern. . . . Saw Kahn architecture, beautiful forms, very related to “primary structures.” Turner was crowded and boring after Kahn. Although interesting to note how much abstract expressionism is indebted to 1830 Turners. . . Also slide talk on Kahn by Vincent Scully (Yale). Met Diana McKown who still lives with Louise Nevelson. We went to Pace to see show. Then to Dwan with Smithson and Mel Bochner. Mel and I went for cokes and then to my studio.
Undated, May 1966 | It’s wild, I have many critics (writers) believing in me and my work before I have really shown. Lucy, Mel, Gene [Swenson], Smithson, all want to write about it. Wild. Mel said he has heard much talk about my work.
May 25, 1966 | Lucy wants me to do a big piece for show [“Eccentric Abstraction,” Fischbach Gallery, September, 1966]. It scares me to have it put that way. A finality, also like an examination.
Undated, June 1966 | We [with Mel Bochner] went to Fischbach, looked at space. Bad for all art, my big piece Laocoön will not be right with all the gadgetry above.
July 5, 1966 | Thursday will go (against desire) for job interview which I know I will get. Teaching children in Riverdale. Spent morning shopping on Canal St. Sol joined me. Must have spent approximately 25 to 30 dollars. I think I reconsidered job because of that total spent on relatively little supplies. . . If I get more private students I can quit in January. . . I bought a lot of small extras for small work. I really should do them as in between main work. Sol will help build sub-armatures (structures). Am still thinking about main summer piece [Metronomic Irregularity].
Undated, August 1966 | I realize how hung up I am about always feeling what I do is wrong, not good enough. In art, my work. Always that it will break, wear badly, not last, that technically I have failed. It does parallel my life for certain.
Undated, August 1966 | I have grown so this year, last August 28 we came back to America. Since then in fact I have lost my husband (through separation) and my father through death.
Undated, September 1966 | Some of my work is falling apart. 2 pieces. 2 other pieces are discolored from the varnish. if and when I can repair. If not, so what. They are not wasted. I went further in the work that followed. I take more care technically, I plan and figure out more wisely.
Undated, September 9, 1966 | Sol’s birthday [September 9]. Doctor. Dan Graham, Sol and Mel met me at 91 St and Park. . . Went to Avant Garde festival. There we met N.Y. Art Scene 66-67. Smithson and Steiner and Virginia. Smithson hardly knew us. He is solo in Dwan. My whole world is in Dwan. She does not even accept me as an artist. . . . Tonight again, same crew. Dinner at Smithsons. I am again non-artist, amongst Virginia. . . . Dan Graham fine, bright.
October 28, 1966 | He [Donald Droll] asked to buy Several. Earlier this week Florette Lynn asked to buy Ishtar. Still earlier this week or late last week I promised Metronomic Irregularity I to Smithson as a trade.
Undated, December 1966 | Tonight Visual Arts show opened. Working drawings. I have five drawings, along with Sol, Mel, Smithson, Judd, Andre.
Undated, December 1966 | Started to work. Difficult, but I know how important it is for me now, and that it almost alone can again make me stand tall. . . That in 1967 I will be in Jewish Museum and probably have first one-man sculpture show. “Things Show,” “objects.” I would call them “objects.” What’s the difference? Makes none at all. Little [do I] like “Eccentric Art,” little like “Abstract inflationism,” nor “stuffed expressionism.”
Undated, December 1966 | Took off wedding ring. My progress. I did not want to. Left no longer any alternative. I have been alone one year.
December 24, 1966 | Sol gave me this book December 23, 1966. Lots of books. . . . It is a fitting ending for another strange, bewildering, sad and yet strangely productive year. A final abandonment. And daddy’s death. And now on to work, and other changes, changes for another start.
January 1, 1967 | I am working well and eager to go on. Might even be ready for first one-man by next fall. . . . Tonight we meet at Smithson’s; midnight it will be his 28th birthday.
January 2, 1967 | Highlight of evening, Nancy [Holt Smithson] read a suburban official Xeroxed Christmas letter; read a Smithson parody of letter. . . . Nancy gave me a drawing she made for me. . . Went to Whitney annual. As crowded as Macys two weeks before Christmas. Pieces themselves without people hardly had the room they needed. It was depressing, people knowing nothing, just there as a place to go, or the right thing to have seen.
Undated, ca. 1968-69 | Solipsism: the theory of belief that only knowledge of the self is possible and that for each individual the self itself is the only thing really existent and that therefore reality is subjective . . . . [From a loose sheet.]
November 11, 1969 | Titles vivify all to me. Right After, Tori, Contingent.
Hanging./Rubberized, loose, open cloth./Fiberglass—reinforced plastic./ Began somewhere in November–December, 1969./Worked./Collapsed April 6, 1969. I have been very ill. . . .
Piece is in many parts./Each in itself is a complete statement,/together am not certain how it will be. . . .
irregular, edges, six to seven feet long./textures coarse, rough, changing,/ see through, non see through, consistent, inconsistent. . . .
they are tight and formal but very ethereal, sensitive, fragile, see through mostly./not painting, not sculpture, it’s there though. . . .
today, another step, on two sheets we put on the glass./did the two differently./one was cast—poured over hard, irregular, thick plastic;/one with screening, crumpled, they will all be different./both the rubber sheets and the fiberglass. . . . [From a statement about Contingent in catalogue for Art in Process IV exhibition, Finch College, New York, Dec. 11, 1969–Jan. 26, 1970. In the Hesse Archives, Oberlin, is a tape recording of Hesse reading it.]
Undated, ca. December 1969 | Try to sit up. . . . Build up some energy. Try to stay up. Have a lot of work waiting for me to get done. Other people. Waiting. Exhibitions. I don’t mean I feel pressured. I don’t. It’s kind of nice. Waiting for each thing I do. It is better than doing and no one waiting to see at all.
Undated, ca. December 1969 | You must begin making small things so that starts cycle going. Doing begins things and it continues. It is always that way, as one piece leads into the next. As it was I never remember working on one thing; it always is in at least pairs and further ahead . . . doing perpetuates doing,—and thinking. It works for me. . . . I have to begin to learn to work and or plan, and supervise others making my pieces. [From a loose sheet.]
Undated, 1969-70 | Intentionally two pieces of great contrast in form but similar in their thought and extreme position. [Doubtless refers to Expanded Expansion and Untitled, 62 feet by 1 inch, both 1969.] Both are endless, if ceiling were higher or space on floor larger it could as well be continued and exaggerate its position more. The rubberized cheese cloth also could continue. Both take a stand on absurdity. Both by means of form as well. One is endless and yet a thin longish substance that is linked together and one feels the infinity to which it could extend. The other is opposite in form, large, looming, powerful yet precarious. Its positioning as a unit or sectional units could take many stands. The flexible and also inflexible quality is there and in contrast. [From a loose sheet.]
1970 | Everything for me has always been opposites, nothing has ever been in the middle. . . . My life never had anything normal or in the center. It was always extremes; and in the forms that I use in my work is contradiction . . . even when I was younger or a less mature artist I would take order vs. chaos, huge vs. small, stringy vs. mass. I would try to find the most absurd opposites or extreme opposites and I was always aware of their absurdity and their contradiction formally. . . . The total absurdity of life is where I relate, if I do, to certain artists I feel very close to not so much from having studied their writings or works, but for me there is that total absurdity in their work. I don’t know if they intended it, but I read that Duchamp, Yvonne Rainer, Jasper Johns, Sartre, Ionesco . . . (everyone else might disagree)—Carl Andre . . . . [When asked if she had been influenced by Oldenburg’s soft materials]: I like Oldenburg very, very much. I respect him, his writings, his person, his energy, his humor, his art, the whole thing. But I don’t think I’ve studied it or taken or used those materials in any way. . . . Andy Warhol too is high up on my favorite list. . . . He is the most artist that you could be. . . . what I want to be is the most Eva can be as an artist or a person.
Process—that is the mold that I felt I was going to be put in. I don’t really understand it. Everything is process and the making of my work is very interesting but I never thought of it as now I am throwing—now I am scraping—now I am putting on the rubber—for any reason other than the process was necessary to get to what I was going to get to. . . .
I never did any traditional sculpture. I don’t think I ever did any traditional painting except what you call abstract expressionism. I didn’t even do much sculpture in school and once I started on my own, there wasn’t anything traditional about any of the pieces. . . .
The drawings could be called painting legitimately and a lot of my sculpture could be called painting. I don’t know if that piece I had at Finch [Contingent] can be called painting or sculpture. It is really hung paintings . . . hung from the ceiling and hung against the wall . . . more than it is sculpture.
Color is whatever comes out of the material and keeps it what it is. Light I’m not too concerned with because if you use fiberglass clear and thin, light does beautiful things to it . . . it is there—part of its anatomy. [From a transcript of Nemser interview, Hesse Archives, Oberlin.]
1970 | This piece [Untitled, “the knot piece” 1970, Victor Ganz collection] is very ordered. Maybe I’ll make it more structured, maybe I’ll leave it changeable. When it’s completed its order could be chaos. Chaos can be structured as non-chaos. That we know from Jackson Pollock. [From “Fling, Dribble and Drip,” Life, February 1970, p. 66.]
1970 | The way to beat discrimination in art is by art. Excellence has no sex. [Inscribed by Hesse on a letter to her from Cindy Nemser asking her views on discrimination against female artists. Hesse Archives, Oberlin.]
“Eva Hesse: A Retrospective of the Drawings,” organized by the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, was also shown at the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago; the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston; the Grey Art Gallery, New York University; and the Baltimore Museum of Art. “Eva Hesse: Paintings and Reliefs from 1963 to 1966” was exhibited at Metro Pictures in January 1983.