Hassel Smith

Hassel Smith . Monograph

Hassel Smith . Paintings 1937-1997

The Estate of Hassel Smith wishes to announce the publication of a monograph on the life work of the artist spanning seven decades, from the late 1930s to the end of the twentieth century.

No previous publication has attempted to represent the true scope of Hassel Smith’s achievement, or to locate the full range of Smith’s work within the broad historical context through which he lived. This book confirms the stature of the artist and fills a significant void in the history of innovative art in the far west of the United States.

A legendary influence within both the northern and southern West Coast milieux of the forties and fifties, Hassel Smith today is a figure paradoxically distanced by history. The monograph retrieves Hassel Smith’s unique significance and continuing relevance - reassessing the paintings, drawings, collages and assemblages of the post-war decades - proposing new interpretations of the artist’s sources and motivations, while revealing the shrouded work of more than three decades, a West Coast painter’s reclusive European journey of outstanding profundity and depth.

The publisher is Prestel Publishing (Munich London New York). The book is distributed in Europe, Britain and USA.

Petra Giloy-Hirtz is the editor of the book, Paul Karlstrom and Susan Landauer co-authors, with supporting essays by Petra Giloy-Hirtz, Robert C. Morgan, Peter Selz and Allan Temko (1975).

Graphic Design, Christian Schmid, büro schmid, Munich

„...there are the West Coast legends Jay DeFeo and Hassel Smith, whose reputations have been as unstable as the Pollock drips and splatters that changed the world. (...) Hassel Smith (1915-2007) presents a bracing lesson for young artists already caught in the snares of an art world that at times has all the depth and subtlety of the red carpet on Oscars night. He was once mentioned along with abstract masters like de Kooning, Kline and Motherwell, then devolved to “West Coast underground legend,” then (kind of) vanished. But he kept working, and it’s the work that endures, as we’re reminded in this book, which examines Smith’s life and art and tries to re-establish his place in American painting. And in works like “A Rose” (1959) and “The Giant Salamander” (1961), Smith surely fits seamlessly.

Finding Beauty in Decay and Math, Art Books from Jay DeFeo, Per Kirkeby and Hassel Smith by Diana Jennings, in: THE NEW YORK TIMES, March 21, 2013, Review of Hassel Smith Paintings 1937-1997, edited by Petra Giloy-Hirtz (with two illustrations)

From the mid-1940s to the early 1950s, Hassel Smith was one of the most influential teachers at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute), the “center of experimental abstraction,” together with, among others, Clyfford Still and Richard Diebenkorn, and visiting professors such as Mark Rothko and Ad Reinhardt. The decade after 1945 was the decade of Abstract Expressionism in the Bay Area. In the 1960s, Hassel Smith returned with his family to England, though he would return occasionally to California, as a visiting lecturer at the University of California campuses in Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Davis and at the San Francisco Art Institute. He also had his most important solo exhibitions in California. He is represented in numerous renowned collections, such as those of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum in New York, and Tate Gallery in London.

Thus Hassel Smith is known, and yet strangely unknown. His work was never shown in Europe, apart from a few exhibitions in England, where he died in 2007. Art critics considered him a “West Coast underground legend,” In 1964, the famous photographer John Coplans, in his essay “Re-discovering Hassel Smith” in the May issue of Artforum, lamented the neglect of this oeuvre, which he attributed to the cultural milieu of the West Coast, as opposed to New York. He wrote enthusiastically of “Hassel Smith’s early, unique and important contributions; the extreme manner, for example, in which he develops the tension at the edge of the canvas ... none of the Eastern Painters, and that goes for Gorky, de Kooning and even Kline, developed it to quite the same extent.” And, on the occasion of the Hassel Smith retrospective: Fifty-five Years of Painting, at the Sonoma County Museum in 2002, Art in America was moved to ask: “Where is the major survey this fascinating artist deserves?”

Hassel Smith’s painting is a painting of movement, full of dynamics and extraordinary energy, a painting of exuberant colors, gestural, all-over brushwork, explosive, dazzlingly vital, evoking rhythm, music, dance. It is astonishing to consider that this is an artist’s “late work,” produced in the late 1980s and early 1990s. There are also paintings with serene, more cohesive color fields, biomorphic forms, light, transparent, sometimes poetic, even mysterious, enticing from the viewer a wide variety of associations. The organic configurations seem to penetrate the painting from outside and to extend over its edge from inside into the surrounding space.

Hassel Smith had a long, creative life as an artist. He has explored the possibilities of painting: following a period figuration and geometric abstraction in the 1970s, in the mid-1980s he took up the thread of early Abstract Expressionism with great virtuosity.

Petra Giloy-Hirtz
Translation: Steven Lindberg


Born in 1915 in Sturgis, Michigan / USA, died January 2, 2007 in England

1932-1935Studium der Kunstgeschichte und Englischen Literatur an der Northwestern Universitiy in Evanston, Illinois
1936-38Studium an der California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco (heute San Francisco Art Institute), Meisterschüler von Maurice Sterne
1945-1952Lehrt an der California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco (mit Richard Diebenkorn, Clifford Still; Gastprofessoren: Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhartd u.a.)
1963-1965University of California, Berkeley
1965-1966Art Departement University of California, Los Angeles
1966Geht nach England
1966-1981West England College of Art, Bristol/England
1973,1976University of California, Davis
1977-1978University of California, Berkeley
1979-1980University of California, Berkeley
1978-1981San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco


1947University of Oregon Gallery, Eugene
California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco (1953)
1949The Lucian Labaudt Gallery, San Francisco (mit Richard Diebenkorn)
1950The Lucian Labaudt Gallery, San Francisco
1955East and West Gallery, San Francisco
King Ubu Gallery, San Francisco
1956East and West Gallery, San Francisco
New Arts, Houston/Texas ( 1958, 1959, 1961)
Dilexi Gallery, San Francisco (1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1965)
1957California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco (1958, 1959)
1958Ferrus Gallery, Los Angeles (1959, 1961, 1962)
1959Reed College, Oregon
1960Gimpel Fils, London (1963)
1961Pasadena Art Museum, CA
André Emmerich Gallery, New York (1962, 1963)
1962Galleria dell' Ariete, Mailand
1964Gallery Lounge, San Francisco State College, CA
University of Minnesota Art Gallery, Minneapolis
Worth Ryder Gallery, University of California, Berkley, CA
David Stuart Galleries, Los Angeles (1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1973)
1968Santa Barbara Museum of Art, CA
1970Suzanne Saxe Gallery, San Francisco (1973)
1972Bristol Art Gallery, Bristol, England
1975San Francisco Museum of Art (H. S. Paintings 1954-1975)
1977Gallery Paule Anglim, San Fransisco (1978, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1987)
1978Atlantic-Richfield Center for Visual Arts, Los Angeles
1981Oakland Museum (H.S. Selected Works 1945-1981), Oakland, CA
1983San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA
1985John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco
1987Blum Helman Gallery, Santa Monica, CA
1988Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art, Monterey, CA
Wiegand Gallery, College of Notre Dame, Belmont/CA
Iannetti-Lanzoni Gallery, San Francisco (1989)
1989Natsoulas/Novelozo Gallery, Davis/CA
1995Hartcourts Gallery, San Francisco
1996Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach/CA.
2002Sonoma County Museum, Santa Rosa (H.S. 55 Years of Painting)
Fergus Gallery at Gagosian Gallery, New York
2005Credit Suisse, Palais am Lenbachplatz, München
Galerie Biedermann, München
2011Bella Pacifica. Bay Area Abstraction, 1946-1963
Nyehaus, David Nolan Gallery, Franklin Parrasch Gallery and Leslie Feely Fine Art, New York City
2012Galerie Biedermann, München
Weinstein Gallery, San Francisco
2013333 Montezuma Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico


  • Berkeley Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley, CA
  • Dallas Museum of Contemporary Art, TX
  • Los Angeles County Art Museum, CA
  • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA
  • Whitney Museum, New York City, NY
  • Tate Gallery, London
  • Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, NY
  • Houston Museum of Art, TX
  • University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM
  • Pasadena Museum of Art, CA
  • Stanford University Museum of Art, CA


  • Hassel Smith . Paintings 1937-1997, edited by Petra Giloy-Hirtz. Paul J. Karlstrom, Susan Landauer (Co-authors) with contributions by Petra Giloy-Hirtz, Robert C. Morgan, Peter Selz, Allan Temko, Prestel Publishing: Munich London New York 2012
  • Hassel Smith, The Pasadena Art Museum, exhibition catalogue, essay by Walter Hopps, 1961
  • In: Suzan Landauer, The San Francisco School of Abstract Expressionism, University of California Press, Berkeley Los Angeles London 1996, S. 254
  • Bruce Nixon, Hassel Smith; published by John Natsoulas Press, Davis/California, 1997
  • Hassel Smith: 55 Years of Painting, Sonoma County Museum, 2003, exhibition catalogue, essay by Peter Selz