Hans Richter

Hans Richter

On Scrolls
I consider the scroll as a new (dating from 4000 B.C.!) art which, despite “sociological difficulties” that it might encounter (such as being despised by art dealers as too difficult to sell, or finding no room for its display over a potential purchaser’s fireplace) ought to become a modern medium of expression. It must; in fact, as there are sensations to be derived from it
which can be experienced in no other way, either in easel painting or in film.
Robert Russett and Cecile Star, Experimental Animation: Origins of A New Art (Da Capo Pr, 1976), 52.

The scroll belongs to the realm of time, but in special way. It is not physiological movement but rather a psychological one. It is between painting and film. As such it is a movement of the mind, movement which is kept in balance but which still might break out any movement out any moment into kinetic action. One may consider it the ultimate harmony of non-movement, as part of movement.
Roberto Sanesi, introduction to Hans Richter, Roberto Sanesi (La Nuova Foglio Editrice, 1978).

On Transition To Film
I used the square (or rectangle) as the simplest way of dividing the square film-screen, after I had discovered that our scrolls were paintings and followed the laws of paintings not of filming. The simplest square gave me the opportunity to forget about the complicated matter of our drawings and to concentrate on the orchestration of movement and time.
Robert Russett and Cecile Star, Experimental Animation: Origins of A New Art (Da Capo Pr, 1976), 49.

The simple square of the movie screen could easily be divided and orchestrated by using the rectangle of the cinema-canvas as my field of pictorial vision. Parts of the screen could then be moved against each other. Thus it became possible on this cinema-canvas to relate (by both contrast and analogy) the various movements to each other. So I made my paper rectangles and squares grow and disappear, jump and slide in well-articulated time-spaces and planned rhythms. In other words I again did on the screen what I had done before on the canvas and on paper. And in doing so I found a new sensation: rhythm – which is the chief sensation of any kinetic expression.
Robert Russett and Cecile Star, Experimental Animation: Origins of A New Art (Da Capo Pr, 1976), 53-54.

On “Universelle Sprache”
This pamphlet elaborated our thesis that abstract form offers the possibility of a language above and beyond all national language above and beyond national language frontiers. The basis for such language would lie in the identical form perception in all human beings and would offer the promise of a universal art as it had never existed before. With careful analysis of the elements, one should be able to rebuild men’s vision into a spiritual language in which the simplest as well as the most complicated, emotions as well as thoughts, objects as well as ideas, would find a form.
Hans Richter, “My Experience with Movement in Painting and in Film,” in The Nature and Art of Motion (New York: George Braziller, 1965), 144.

On Art & Society
In a way, this answers the question about what function art has in society. Art is, so to say, the most subtle, the finest expression of human presence in this world; and the most refined, because it hears sounds and sees reflections of things that the normal ear doesn’t hear or the normal eye see but which already exist. To refine the means of perception of these sounds, these visions, that is the function of art in society. Society needs this just as much as it needs the perfection of the atom, and more than the atom bomb! There is no doubt that the atom bomb was achieved by the most sensitive intellects which speculated in the realm of physics with things that nobody else could see, hear or divine but which, nevertheless, were present latent in our society without developing all our faculties. To develop them, that is the real problem of the teacher, the art teacher – not to tell them just how to mix the paint, make the seriograph out of a film or take a photo. You have to learn that too, of course. Otherwise the handicraft of art is lost.
Hans Richter by Hans Richter, ed. Cleve Gray (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1971) 169.

On Gesture
My work with gestures grew out of my early scrolls. The first gesture motif appeared in Preludium, 1919, in the seventh drawing. (Eggeling called it an assembly of music of different instruments, an accord – we always heard the music.) In the seventh accord, the seventh drawing, the vertical lines shoot up to their maximum. In the eighth, the following one, they shoot down. In these two gestures is a meaning. In Fugue, 1920, a heavy surface motif, dancing like a clown, heavy, down and up, up and down.

In Fugue, as well as in my first film, Rhythm 21, 1921, there is this up and down, dancing and sliding, a motif of articulation. In the 50’s I elaborated more extensively on the gesture of them per Se, even giving the works titles like Simple Gesture. Elementary Gesture and so on.

Hans Richter by Hans Richter, ed. Cleve Gray (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1971).

A gesture is louder than a spoken word.
Far away the preachings of the Archbishop are just sounds.
You see his arms moving,
vertically upwards and downwards.
joining earth with heaven,
cutting the air horizontally
separating the divine from the profane.
The language of Gestures is older than the word
It is simpler – but just as rich.
It is spoken everywhere on this globe.
It involves the whole body.
A gesture might sweep up the space around it like the Archbishop’s arms.
It might be staccato.
You might be pointing, stabbing, waving -, with slight, short gestures – or all embracing.
It might be solemn or caressing,
in love or hate
in despair or delight
in disgust or approval
All that – and more – you may express in Gestures.
It is the language of the artist.
He may weave it into new pattern,
discover undiscovered ones to use them in a new way –
open them up for the expression of though not-yet-thought,
emotions, sensations, wishes not-yet-felt
Gestures become a new significance
create a new reality
Reaching far above the word,
into music
into the depth of the mind
where things are born.
They become yourself
in a way
That is more than you!
Hans Richter by Hans Richter, ed. Cleve Gray (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1971).

Artists On Viking Eggeling

Hans Richter
Eggeling had succeeded in articulating a complete syntax of form-relationships which he called Generalbass der Malerei, Bass Motif of Painting. We immediately became close friends. He was invited to live on the estate of my parents and there we worked together for the next three years. In this way, Eggeling could finish his most important work. He had been preparing himself by his “Elementary Tablets and his “Orchestration of the Line.” On the basis of polar relationships, by the interplay of contrasts and analogies, an unlimited vocabulary developed; a vertical line was accentuated by a horizontal, a strong line contrasted with a weak one, a single line gained importance from many lines, and so on.”

Amazingly, enough, Eggeling came, so to say, from the same corner as I. He was the youngest of many children, I don’t know how many. His father ran The Eggeling Music Shop in Lundt, Sweden; so he grew up in an ambience of music. Though, first, he was a bookkeeper, in order to make a living. He became enamored of art and finally became an art teacher at the Lyceum in Zuoz, Switzerland, teaching drawings after nature, after plaster of Paris of things. And it was really his teaching necessities, which had led him to this deep analysis of the elements of drawings. Because he had to tell his students how to develop a work. He had to make it so very clear in his mind that finally, at a certain instant, it became a really creative moment for him. His didactic qualities led to a new understanding of the elements of expression. He became an artist of a special kind in a way.

I profited enormously from his experience. He was far ahead of me. On the other hand, he needed my spontaneity. It was one those rare occasions one finds only once in a life by the grace of destiny and when one is young. For the next three years we were inseparable.
Hans Richter by Hans Richter, ed. Cleve Gray (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1971), 38.

Hans Arp
I met Eggeling in Paris in 1915 at the studio of Madame Wassileiff, who in her two studios had set up canteens where artists could eat supper for very little money. Our friends on leave from the front spoke to us of the war, and when the gloom was too great a young woman with a pleasant voice sang: “En passant par la Lorraine ave mes sabots…” A Swede accompanied her on the piano.

Eggeling lived in a damp sinister studio on the Boulevard Raspail. Across from him lived Modigliani, who often came to see him, to recite Dante and get drunk. Eggeling did not paint much at this time, for hours he would discuss art.

I met him again in 1917 in Zurich. He was searching for the rules of a plastic counterpoint, composing and drawing its first elements. He tormented himself almost to death. On great rolls of paper he had set down a sort of hieratic writing with the help of figures of rare proportion and beauty. These figures grew, subdivided, multiplied, moved, intertwined from one group to another, vanished and partly reappeared, organized themselves into an impressive construction with plantlike forms. He called this work a “Symphony.”

I admired his unyielding character, his fanatic love for his work and the work itself.
From the Viking Eggeling Exhibition Catalog at the Stockholm National Museum, 1950.

László Moholy-Nagy
Not only was he first to discover the all-prevailing, revolutionary importance of an esthetic of time in film, he set forth its principles with scientific precision and attempted to carry them over into his creative work. His experiments at first leaned upon musical frames of reference, such as the division of time, regulation of tempi, and over-all structure. Slowly, however, his perception of optical timing asserted itself, and so his first work, based upon form-drama, became a veritable ABC of the phenomena of movement, as expressed by light-dark and variations in direction.

Among present day artists, he was one of the most lucid thinkers and creators. His significance will be heralded with fanfare by somnambulant art historians in years to come.”
László Moholy-Nagy. Painting, Photography and Film (Munich, 1925).

Jonas Mekas on Hans Richter

“[Richter] acted like a steadying rock; his standards were so high and uncompromising. He asked for the highest, the most difficult. For this very reason, Hans wasn’t very popular among the New York avant-gardists – he was too tough on them. But they knew he was one of our Founding Fathers, and we all respected him and were afraid of him.”
Cecil Starr, “Notes on Hans Richter in the U.S.A.,” Film Culture 79 (Winter 1996): 24.

“By the time I met Hans Richter I was ready to jump into the avant-garde cinema. I had just read Art of Cinema, which I found very inspiring. I found his film Dreams That Money Can Buy a very exciting moment. He was there like a father standing on the side. He represented the past, which was still inspiring – the avant-garde of the 1920’s and 20s. He was and inspiration to all of us; the early avant-garde as a whole had an impression on all of us.”
Estera Milman, “Hans Richter in America: Traditional Avant-Garde Values/Shifting Sociopolitical Realities” in Hans Richter: Activism, Modernism, And The Avant-Garde, ed. Stephen C. Foster (Massachusetts: The MIT Press. 1998), 178.

“Seeing Hans restored my faith in humanity…He refreshed my dream, my longing of seeing, of being occasionally with, men and women who are old and wise and beautiful and who are like bridges or examples or signposts for the others, and also crowns of humanity – they are the furthest extensions of man’s body and spirit in time and space. If you want, you can look at them as humanity’s works of art, crowns of Life as Art.”
Robert Russett and Cecile Star, Experimental Animation: Origins of A New Art (Da Capo Pr, 1976).

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