Eva Hesse in Her Own Words

Eva Hesse in her studio, ca. 1959

  • 23 August 2022

Eva Hesse’s diaries from 1955 to 1970 served as a tool for the artist to analyze her experience of the world. They detail her refuge in books, including citations from Simone de Beauvoir or F. Scott Fitzgerald, and are a phenomenal glimpse into her traumas and delight in the fluctuating process of making art. The backdrop of the mid-20th Century is prevalent, serving as an important marker of the historical moments Hesse was pioneering in her sculpture and drawing. ‘Eva Hesse: Diaries’ was first published in May 2016 by Hauser & Wirth Publishers. Below is an excerpt from the book, focusing on Hesse’s time as a student at Yale in 1959, an important moment of formal development and transition in the young artist’s painting practice.

Dec. 10. I have been working on a painting for 2 weeks, which realistically is a short time, however, it seems at this time for me, long. I felt all along that the image on the canvas corresponded although in its early state with the image I conceived in my mind. Possibly it was merely a surface arbitrary confirmation since it was so easily destroyed—I feel deeply engrossed and it is really a painters concern and not a substitution for the repressed problems.

Jan. 9. This canvas is a bitch. Now I can’t read it nor do I understand it. innuendo—insinuate, intimate young lady Eva, you must put all your resources to work, and clearly assemble all dislocated parts into a unified whole capable of functioning and with a self confident air. Remember the cab incident with Walter, your own experience when entering a dept. store with class and even the job interview this summer. If I maintain a pride, ease and dignity in my actions and conversations others will treat me with the respect due to this form of behavior. This is what is necessary, hopefully I too can believe this and not just present this attitude as an act. Worrying is nonsense, a sure waste of time and leads nowhere. How far wrong can I go, nothing will be that much of a drastic change and prove disastrous. I am blocking my thoughts and mind so that I can do nothing. Nursery School—morning 5 days weekly—masters degree afternoons + summers England hardly Danes—Masters one year 3 Cooper 1 1/2 Pratt 2 Yale 1 masters

[loose] A long cry, once was distant, far near—here to stay, go away. The wind carries the particles of all matter, covering earth. The stone too bears the weight, Rain will settle [illegible] The droplets wash the load off the stone. Mud pies the children make. The sun will shine, The child will play. A new creation.

May 2. 800 then Later again I feel very strongly that I must be on my own; stand up as an individual with the responsibilities of my existence and future on my own shoulders. This is not a momentous decision, I know my reasons, and tried to analyze them to the best of my ability. I have derived from my estimation as follows. I must look ahead, plan my studies doing them, no hesitations, fears, from these single day to day assignments to the more difficult decisions involving mine and other lives. The element of time is imperative but can be coped with: Organization. I will move to the dorm in the village, keeping busy with work and play will have no time to be lonely and depressed. I know at this moment I can and am feeling much better am capable of handling a rich life of study and experiences. By not exaggerating a problem but accepting them as an experience which all people must face and own and eventually having to so maybe with difficulty and sorrow but all passes. The most pressing problem is that feeling of inadequacy academically. I must begin but where. how, which is most important which am I most lacking, I am afraid to find out, one is based on the other. Whatever it is one must concentrate on one endeavor at a time, thinking clearly about what he is doing. I run away and avoid thinking of problems till they are at the limit of exhaustion. and want it to be. They are not flawless, but still clean in thought am working at something for the need to learn and do something better.

Eva Hesse, No title, 1960 © The Estate of Eva Hesse. Photo: Jon Etter

The quiet night deadly, dreary, desolute dream. Awake. crawl into my world. Open. I see a small streak of light. Wander slow . . . ‘now, there you fit, sit, stay awhile, Don’t go.’ ‘This is my book, shall I write about you? Don’t go.’ ‘This is my book, shall I write about you? Don’t go.’ ‘I shall write a story, for you, about you; Yes.’ ‘My little friend’ ‘No, Don’t go.’ Quiet night. A love that can be beautiful trust faith understanding What words need not be spoken What fears should be told What beauty should be shared Ideas if different are appreciated by both moods are trivial, forget them The bind cannot break by quarrels, they strengthen the binds help to ease the tensions carried on from the disturbing influences of the outside world. This world cannot be forgotten the two are only 2 of the many thousands. While they are separate and function separately the mind, heart and soul is linked. So be it . . . . . . . . my ideal might only be a dream; a collected being made from one mind another character. But while it exists very little satisfies.

‘EVA HESSE: Forms & Figures,’ presenting a selection of figural paintings from 1960 and a group of experimental sculptures from 1969, is on view at Hauser & Wirth Zurich, Bahnhofstrasse 1 from 16 September – 19 November 2022.