Simon Hantaï was born on December 7, 1922 in Biatorbágy, Hungary and studied at the Budapest School of Fine Art. After his studies, Hantaï traveled on foot through Italy before settling in France in 1948. It was in Paris where the artist met Parisian Surrealists, including the influential writer and artist André Breton, who wrote the preface to his first exhibition catalogue. However, in 1955 Hantaï broke with the Surrealist group over Breton's refusal to accept any similarity between the Surrealist technique of automatic writing and Jackson Pollock's methods of action painting.
In Paris in 1960, at a time when the avant-garde was mourning the death of painting, Hantaï chose not to abandon or destroy the medium, but rather to reinvent it. Triggered by Jackson Pollock, Hantaï began laying his unstretched canvas on the floor. He went on to fold and knot the material before painting its crumpled surface, causing the folded areas to remain unpainted. When unfolded and stretched, the canvas reveals fragmented planes of pure pigment glinting and winking among scattered fields of negative space.
Working systematically over the next ten years, Hantaï experimented with the placement of his folds, the depth of his creases, the consistency of his paints, and the range of his palette to develop distinct series with dramatically different textures, moods, and formal structures. Hantaï paired these studious calculations with a significant element of chance that, along with his all-over compositions and floor-based approach, united his practice with that of Pollock. However, whereas Pollock celebrated the idea of direct physical expression, Hantaï embraced the cerebral side of gesture, creating with his folds a signature mode that bridged the legacy of European Cubism with American Abstract Expressionism.
With the development of his pliage method firmly solidifying Hantaï’s position as a celebrated leader in European abstraction, he went on to exhibit widely across Europe and America. In 1982, he represented his adopted home of France in the Venice Biennale. However, Hantaï’s disillusionment with the commercial aspects of the art world led to his famous withdrawal from the public eye in the 1980s and 1990s. It was not until the Centre Pompidou’s critically-acclaimed 2013 retrospective, organized by Alfred Pacquement, that the world was reacquainted with the full scope of his achievements.
Today, Hantaï’s works are held in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art in Budapest, among others.
Simon Hantaï died on September 12, 2008 in Paris, France.