Saturday, February 04, 2006

Hiler Impressions: Talking to Miller

This is a follow-up to my posting from Dec. 15, 2005, regarding artist Hilaire Hiler's impressions of Henry Miller, as described by him in the International Henry Miller Letter from August 1963.

Hiler: "Henry is that great rarity; an excellent listener. He can not only listen but by his bodily attitude, the little h'ms and 'ums of agreement or interrogation with which he intersperses his listening, he keeps the talker aware that close attention is being paid to his utterances. Thus he draws people out. He can then see and stress their remarkable, exceptional, fantastic or hateful qualities or weaknesses. Because of his work-a-day and Brooklyn early background it's possible that things seemed remarkable to him by contrast which might appear less so to others with other antecedents. I have the lating impression that he talked much less than he listened. He probably felt little need to talk as he got most of his ideas off his chest by his constant and copious writing."
Hiler: "When he talked philosophy, as seems the case with many talented and successful writers, the impression is a different one. His philosophical ideas seem much less interesting. They were confused and colored with emotion and subjective rationalization. Philosophicallly our ways parted sharply and we took different roads. Henry, as a philosopher reminds me of those whom Francis Bacon described when he wrote, '......snatches from experience a variety of common instances, neither duly ascertained nor dilligently examined and weighed, and leaves all the rest to meditation and agitation of wit.'"
Hiler: "We had many long talks and a very copious written correspondence which kept up over most of the years, but in spite of mutual liking and mutual respect, I have the impression that our communication was always rather poor. The reason for this feeling of only partial understanding was a mystery to me at the time. Henry was certainly very articulate and I'm told that, at least for a painter, I express myself quite clearly. Now, it would seem that our difficulties may have been due to the fact that we were using what students of semiotic call different 'types of discourse.' Henry was probably using the poetic or emotive type while I was trying to be more logical, rational and expository."

The picture of Henry Miller is a frame capture from Robert Snyder's The Henry Miller Odyssey.


Anonymous Pierre from Montreal said...

"Henry was probably using the poetic or emotive type while I was trying to be more logical, rational and expository.” Hilaire Hiller

In his weekly column entitled « La Vie de Bohème » for the Chicago Tribune Paris Edition, Wambly Bald (the Van Norden of « Tropic of Cancer ») wrote on September 27, 1932:

« Once I visited Hilaire Hiler in his studio on the Rue Broca. We talked about painting.
Placed about the large room were 20 or 30 canvases-several were monumental in size and all of them betrayed a purpose, a method that indicated a rational program on the part of the artist.
Hiler had a theory.
He spoke of mathematical composition, the geometrical instinct, the scientific use of color. He said that before using color he carefully prepared a plan; then he executed it with the punctiliousness of a scientist.
Where is the line between art and science?
I sat back, smoking a « bleu », and watched him work. He employs all the instruments of a mechanical drawing set : the ruler, the triangle, the compass, the stencil. Hiler works like an architect.
A few weeks after, I returned to his studio. Color had been applied so shrewdly on the canvas that the mechanical squeleton had taken on flesh. The problems of space had been met by color harmonies. I smoked another cigarette.
He was opposed to abstract painting because it ignored associative psychological elements; he was opposed to representational painting because it ignored physiological factors and because it was a recognized bore. He wouldn’t compromise. »
Finally, Bald quotes Hiler and gives in a nutshell the painter’s conception of art :
« A painting must satisfy man’s geometrical instinct. »

One can dare say that Henry’s span of attention was instinctively limited when Hilaire Hiler gave him his Painting 101 lecture. Artistic geometry was not Henry’s cup of tea. He believed in accidents and perfection was never his aim…

Pierre from Montreal

P.S. Wambly Bald’s Chicago Tribune Paris Edition chronicles can be found in « On the Left Bank 1929-1933 » Ohio University Press, 1987.

11:57 pm  
Blogger RC said...

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