The Local Museum Scene
Inspired by Expressionism
By Arthur Stampleman
The Bruce Museum in Greenwich has brought viewers another top-rate exhibit this summer, “Expressionism in Print: The Early Works of Richard Haas, 1957-64”. On exhibit are prints Haas produced at the outset of his career.
“Richard Haas’s early figural woodcuts are a departure from his now more familiar images of the urban landscape,” says Peter C. Sutton, the museum’s executive director. “This show centers on the expressiveness of the human form and will come as a revelation to some of his many admirers.”
Haas (1936-) is best known for his trompe l’oeil murals and detailed renderings of New York City’s architecture. But before he began recording urban landscapes, when he was an undergraduate and graduate student in the Midwest, Haas sought inspiration from German Expressionist printmakers and Abstract Expressionist painters. That inspiration is reflected in the prints on display.
Twenty-nine prints are on view — etchings, an aquatint, monotypes, and a watercolor, but the majority are woodcuts. The gallery is divided into three sections: “Landscapes”, “Figures”, and “Portraits”. But rather than true representation in any of the three motifs, we see abstract and semi-abstract works influenced by the important artists of the day. At the beginning of the exhibition, is a 1969 dry point self-portrait Haas created as a demonstration to his students when he was a professor at Bennington College.
You might call this “style jumping” (a phrase used by Haas), an attempt to probe the various movements, processes, and subject matter of the different styles of artists he admired during his student days. These include the California Bay Area figurative painters, the German Expressionists, and the Abstract Expressionists.
It is the Abstract Expressionist movement that comes to mind as we view the “Landscape” section. The works here vary in style, some mirror the gestural markings of Kline and Pollock, while others are reminiscent of the lush tree groves painted by Post Impressionists. <Floating Parts 1 and 2>, show examples of the former’s influence with layers of dark hatch marks over brightly colored geometric shapes.
The woodcuts in “Figures” show the influence of German Expressionist printmakers such as Emil Nolde and Max Beckman. Typically making use of a chisel or knife in place of a fine engraving tool, they carved deep lines into thick wood blocks and often left traces of their process. In <Pensive Figure>, we see Haas’s infatuation with the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, reminiscent of his <The Scream>. The influence of the Bay Area Figurative movement is evident in <Seated Figure>.
The section this reviewer enjoyed the most is “Portraits”. Here Haas has exaggerated one key feature of each individual, rendering them recognizable, but conveyed through an expressionist framework and not quite a caricature. Emphasizing the flat hat of Henry VIII or the beard of Toulouse-Lautrec, Haas achieved nuanced likenesses of his subjects with the use of thick wood cuts, deep lines, uneven inking, and jagged contours. You may have trouble recognizing the images of portraits of van Gogh and Gauguin that are based on the stars of the 1956 film “Lust for Life”, starring Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn.
Learning that Haas has received a number of prestigious awards, including the Bruce annual Icon of the Arts Awards in 2017, I decided to look for examples of his murals and architectural renderings for which he has many admirers. In 1983, he did several murals for the Periodical Room of the main branch of the New York Public Library. His 1974 Prince Street Mural, one of over 100 outdoor projects, was done to improve the site with a trompe l’oeil mural on the bare side wall to match the architecture of the front of the building.
The Richard Haas exhibit is on view through October 21. The Bruce is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 to 5. For information, contact 203-869-0376 or visit www.brucemuseum.org. On view now through September 2 is “National Geographic Photo Arc,” extraordinary portraits of animals living in wildlife sanctuaries.
Richard Haas <Henry VIII>, 1962 woodcut
Richard Haas <Floating Parts>, 1962 etching
Richard Haas <Approaching Man>, 1962 woodcut
All images collection of the artist
Courtesy of Richard Haas Studio
Photos by Paul Mutino