Simon Hantai was a Hungarian-born French abstract painter best-known for developing his technique of pliage (folding). Hantai was temporarily blind at age 8, an experience that later influenced his unconventional artistic methods. He attended the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest before moving to France with his wife in 1948. Enveloped in post-war France, Hantai further pursued his interests in avant-garde art and set out to reinvent painting.
Hantai’s work of the 1950s drew from Surrealist and Art Brut techniques, painting landscapes in addition to biomorphic and geometric forms. He also experimented with collages and paper cutouts. He utilized a variety of techniques, but it was between 1960 and 1962 that the artist developed the pliage method. Hantai would fold the canvas and cover it with color before unfolding. Once unfolded, the canvas revealed blank areas intercepted by color. Commenting on his creative process, the artist stated: “...you could fill the folded canvas without knowing where the edge was. You don’t know where things stop.
You could even go further, and paint with your eyes closed.” Hantai followed the Lyrical Abstraction and Art Informel movements, which were open to personal expression and emotion.
Hantai became a French citizen in 1966, the same year that he moved to the Fontainbleau Forest. He was interested in ideas of silence and absence, often retreating from society during the 1980s and 1990s. The reclusive artist once stated that he was asked to paint the ceiling of the Paris Opera House, but declined the commission to avoid the spotlight. He was given retrospectives at the Centre Pompidou in 1976 and 2013. Hantai stopped working after he represented France at the 1984 Venice Biennale until he reemerged with a new series in 1998. His work has been collected extensively, including by notable institutions as the Musee National d’ Art Moderne in Paris, the Vatican Museum in Rome, the Ludwig Museum in Budapest and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
Related Categories: Abstract art, French art, Hungarian art, Post-war art, Lyrical abstraction, Art informel, 1960s art, Pliage, Modern art