Simon Hantaï (1922-2008)

Biography

French-Hungarian Conceptual artist Simon Hantaï is best known for his abstracted canvases of saturated colour. His signature pilage technique - the application of paint to systematically folded canvas - reveals an irregular pattern of alternating patches of saturated colour and raw, unprimed canvas when stretched over a frame. Some works such as Mariales (Cloaks) (1960-1962) emphasised colour while others like Les Blancs (Whites) (1973-1974) stressed its absence. He once remarked, "It was while working on the Studies that I realised what my true subject was-the resurgence of the ground underneath my painting." His pilage works were just one of the many techniques employed by Hantaï in his exploration to eliminate the painterly gesture.

Born in Bia, Hungary in 1922, Hantaï studied at the Budapest School of Fine Art. After his graduation, Hantaï became politically vocal and spoke publicly against German Nazi occupying forces and the Hungarian government's collaboration with them. Budapest was liberated by Soviet troops in 1945 which no doubt influenced Hantaï's decision to join the Communist Party the following year. Hantaï then studied under François Gachot, director of the French Cultural Institute, who introduced him to the work of Matisse and Bonnard. In 1948, he and his wife moved to Paris where he fell in with the Surrealists, particularly, André Breton who wrote the preface to his first exhibition catalogue. Hantaï broke with the group over an aesthetic argument regarding automatic processes of art-making. The artist became a French citizen in 1966 and went on to represent his adopted country at the Venice Biennale in 1982 after which he famously retreated from public life until the mid-90s when he created a final series, the Laissées, which concentrates on deconstruction and reconstruction. He officially ended his self-imposed seclusion in 1998.

Today, Hantaï's works are held in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art in Budapest, among others. In 2013, the Centre Georges Pompidou held a posthumous retrospective of the artist in honour of his legacy.