Line on the Loose: A Hassel Smith Memorial Exhibition
Hassel Smith (1915-2007) was one of the most influential Abstract
Expressionist painters in San Francisco during the seminal years of the
late 1940s and 1950s. Teaching at the California School of Fine Arts
(CSFA; now the San Francisco Art Institute) alongside Clyfford Still
and Mark Rothko, Smith developed a spontaneous, jazz-inspired style of
gestural abstraction. Smith's approach differed from the solemn
sensibility of his peers with an exuberant, lightening-fast
draftsmanship that led San Francisco Chronicle critic Allan Temko to describe his canvases as "Thunderbolt Paintings."
In 1948, Smith was included in an exhibition of abstractions at the San Francisco Museum of Art (now Modern Art), the first documented group exhibition of Abstract Expressionism in America, spawning (at least in unsympathetic quarters) the term "drip and drool school." Four years later, Smith was forced to resign from the CSFA for his iconoclastic views and established his own atelier in his Mission Street studio.
Partly due to his political views, Smith moved permanently to England in 1966, where he taught at the West England College of Art. He went through figurative and geometric phases before returning to his whiplash calligraphic abstractions in the late 1980s and 1990s. These later works, particularly his almost musical graphite drawings--among the last he produced before he died--demonstrate the taut certainty of Smith's unfaltering hand.