Paintings reflect childhood experiences

By Lee Woo-young

French American Jean-Marie Haessle showcases extensive range of paintings made from 1983-2013 at his solo exhibition in Seoul

  • Published : Feb 27, 2014 - 20:57
  • Updated : Feb 27, 2014 - 20:57
Artist Jean-Marie Haessle poses for a photo by one of his paintings at Korea University Museum in Seoul on Tuesday. (Jongheon Martin Kim/Kips Gallery New York)

Paintings by French American artist Jean-Marie Haessle are often compared to those by abstract expressionists Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. Haessle’s all-over paintings, which spread colors over the whole canvas without emphasizing a certain point, exude spontaneity, rapidness and primitive energy that his contemporaries strive to express.

“I am me. I have both French and American side in me. I try to be both. Certainly my central color is French,” said Haessle during an interview with The Korea Herald on Tuesday at Korea University Museum where his works are on display.

The museum currently holds Haessle’s solo exhibition of about 70 paintings that he worked on from 1983 to 2013. 

“Cocktail Time in Babylone” by Jean-Marie Haessle. (Keumsan Gallery)

Born in Alsace, northern France, in 1939, Haessle moved to New York when he was 28, looking for the dynamism in the art world that he thought France was losing.

“France in 1967 was very boring; But New York was very different. It was always moving,” he said.

Influenced by both French modernism and abstract expressionism from the U.S., Haessle developed his own unique style of layering colors on the canvas. Instead of using brushes, he mixes different colors, puts them in a tube and directly applies the mixed colors onto the canvas, adding to the texture and dimension of his works.

He gets visual inspiration from his childhood memories in Alsace, northern France. A variety of shades of red or blue or dashes of yellow express the happy days he spent in the beautiful grass fields and flower beds in his scenic hometown.

“I loved to lie down on a grass field and look at flowers and the sky. I was the happiest person in the world. All my life I’ve wanted to feel this again in my work,” he said.

He once attempted to change his abstract style and try new painting materials. In the 1990s, Haessle felt he needed to break away from the abstract art that he had pursued. He then integrated human forms using bold colors. He either delineated human beings in yellow medieval alphabets or created a contrasting image by drawing just a human silhouette and adding blocks of vivid color on the background.

He chose acrylic paint which dries faster than oil. He said acrylics made him resort more to instincts when working out paintings because he had to move his brushes quickly before the paint dried.

But he returned to his abstract style again naturally as his body forms started to become simplified and fragmented. 

“Sentinelle” by Jean-Marie Haessle. (Keumsan Gallery)

Haessle’s exhibitions have been held mostly in New York and France. Since he opened his first exhibition in Seoul, his works have received growing attention in Korea and Japan.

“I am happy people love my paintings. I guess this has to do with detailed works of mine that resemble Korean artists’ meticulous works of art,” he said.

The exhibition “The Color of Life” runs through May 18 at Korea University Museum at Korea University in Seoul. For more information, call (02) 3290-1514.

By Lee Woo-young