“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. 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.”