Tell us about yourself.
I was born in New York and am now 87 years old. I studied art at the Art Students League and was seriously painting by the time I was 15 years old. My journey has been a never ending process, and I’m working as furiously today as I did then. Early on had a show at the Gallery Neuf on 79th street. A critic was there and he wrote that you must come to see the Allen Hart vigorous landscapes. The dealer called me up and told me to come down on Sunday to meet a very interesting woman. It turned out to be Peggy Guggenheim and I was part of her troupe for about a year until we parted ways over a disagreement about Rouault’s work which I was very influenced by.. I was friends at the time with a wonderful group of artists, Zero Mostel and Jean Liberte. They were all politically to the left and were a great influence on my work. In 1948 I traveled to and lived in Mexico for over a year, there I became a member of the Talle Graphicos which was an art workshop in Mexico City. Every Thursday they had meetings in a big abandoned church and I met Pablo O’Higgens, Siqueiros and Frida Kahlo. I was asked to be the studio manager, so I was loading and unloading kilns and taking the images off limestone plates that they use for lithography. I was awed by the experience but the fact is they took very good care of me. I met my wife in 1952 and we traveled in Europe and lived in Spain for over a year. We then returned to New York where we have lived ever since, and have two sons, Dan and Adam.
Besides making art, what do you do, do you have a day job?
I was the director of visual arts at the Children’s Aid Society for 33 years. I built it into a very strong community center. We had pottery, painting, photography and more. I had a great staff and it was wonderful to work there.
Where does your inspiration come from? Is there anything you are looking at that particularly speaks to you?
My inspiration comes from within myself. At this point in my life my work is becoming psychological imagery as my Book Art shows. I have created 80 of these books to date. I also enjoy reading history, particularly about the Elizabethan era and I’m influenced by the writings of Samuel Beckett. I become a part of history and I pretend to pretend. My life right now healthwise is rather limited in a physical way but I read continually, I draw continually. I don’t know where my pen ends and I begin.
Has any advice influenced you?
I studied with Harvey Dunn back in 1944. At that time I was rather realistic in my work. He said to me, “What are you afraid of, son? I said “I am not afraid”. He said “You are” and proceeded to take some prussian blue paint and make 3-4 strokes on my painting. I thought my god, you ruined it but he had it right on the spot. When I got home and looked more, I knew what he was talking about. That was a big turning point in my life, I became a thrower and a slasher, that’s how I released so much creative energy. This goes back so many years..
How would you describe your creative process?
In this journey I’m always conjuring up new images and new ways, My new work is done as Book Art and then the ideas sail onto the canvas. Art to me is way of existing, there’s a sense of magic to the whole thing. I use my handicap today as a way of poking fun at the devil.
How do you get out of your creative blocks?
I never have them. The art flows from me.
What is the most positive and inspirational thing about being an artist for you?
And this Dylan Thomas Poem: In My Craft or Sullen Art
In my craft or sullen art Exercised in the still night When only the moon rages And the lovers lie abed With all their griefs in their arms, I labour by singing light Not for ambition or bread Or the strut and trade of charms On the ivory stages But for the common wages Of their most secret heart.
What is the most difficult thing about being an artist for you?
Money. And the times are bad for everyone right now.. All through my life my wife helped out financially, we always worked together.
If you could visit the studio of any artist or designer, who would it be?
The first one would be Rembrandt. I think of him as the most modern of the old masters. I find his lifestyle and everything about him very beautiful. The second is Anselm Keifer. He is the most important modern painter in my eyes.
Do you have any main goals for now or the future?
I never thought of art as a series of goals attained, it’s just an endless process that has awareness at every stage. The thrill and mystery of it.
Do you have any advice for artists just starting out?
My advice would be to just be yourself at all times and not be influenced by exhibitions or flattery or anything. You should swallow up everything you know and learn and put your own signature on it.
Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about?
The images from my Book Art. The books are made by Tibetan Monks living in Nepal. Sometimes they are thematic, sometimes about history. I have finished about 80 of them now.
My website is allenmhart.com
It was wonderful speaking with you Allen!