Hassel Smith was born in Sturgis, Michigan in 1915, a small factory town between Detroit and Chicago. While attending Northwestern University, Smith was exposed to painting at the World’s Fair in Chicago and became inspired by artists Salvador Dalí and Marcel Duchamp. The two artists opened up Smith to new ideas and became the driving force behind his interest in Abstract Expressionism. After graduating in 1936 with a degree in art history and English literature, Smith relocated to the California School of Fine Arts to focus on painting. Smith was very active in the local art scene blossoming in the Bay Area and exhibited frequently while working as an educator. He held teaching positions at the California School of Fine Arts, University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of California, Berkeley. Teaching alongside him during this time was Clyfford Still, Richard Diebenkorn, and David Park, among others. Along with Robert McChesney and Edward Corbett, Smith founded the Artist’s Guild, a postwar artist-run gallery in San Francisco.
In 1958, Smith was a part of the first exhibition at Ferus Gallery, founded by Walter Hopps. Of Smith’s work, Hopps remarked, “I’m sure you know a good deal about Hassel Smith, painter, man, legend as a renegade, teacher and leading free spirit of art here in the Far West. Hassel has caused some furious storms and is my opinion among the four finest artists to come out of the West: Diebenkorn, Lobdell, Corbett, Smith”. Smith received much acclaim throughout his life, including an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, an honorary doctorate by the San Francisco Art Institute, and the Cunningham Endowed Chair from the College of Notre Dame. His works are part of numerous collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, Tate Gallery in London, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others.
Selected Solo Exhibitions
1947 University of Oregon
1947 California Palace of the Legion of Honor
1953 King Ubu Gallery
1958 Ferus Gallery
1961 Pasadena Art Museum
1964 David Stewart Gallery
1964 University of California, Berkeley
1972 Bristol Art Gallery
1977 Paule Anglim Gallery
1981 The Oakland Museum of California
1983 San Jose Museum
1984 Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco
Theatre of the Primitive Future, London
1985 John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco
1987 Blum Helman Gallery, Santa Monica, Calif.
Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco
1988 Hassel Smith: Recent Paintings, 1986-1987, Gallery 44, Oakland
Hassel Smith: Selected Works, 1948-1963, Wiegand Art Gallery, College of Notre Dame, Belmont, Calif.
Hassel Smith: Measured and Figurative Paintings, 1964-1985, Monterey Museum of Art, Calif.
Cleveland Bridge Gallery, Bath, England
lannetti Lanzone Gallery, San Francisco
1989 Natsoulas-Novelozo Gallery, Davis, Calif.
1991 John Natsoulas Gallery, Davis, Calif.
1995 Harcourts Modern and Contemporary Art, San Francisco
1996 The Bevan-Thornton Arts, London
1997 John Natsoulas Gallery, Davis, Calif.
Mendenhall Gallery, Pasadena, Calif.
2002 Hassel Smith: 55 Years of Painting, Sonoma County Museum, Santa Rosa, Calif.
2003 Hassel Smith: 55 Years of Painting, Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, Calif.
2004 Hassel Smith: Jazz of Color, Lenbachpalais, Credit Suisse, Munich
2008 Paintings and Drawings by Hassel Smith, San Jose Museum of Art, Calif.
2011 Hassel Smith, Silk Mill Studios, Frome, England
2013 Hassel Smith COSMOTIANA: The Measured Paintings (1970-1986), 333 Montezuma Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico
2017 Hassel Smith : The Ferus Years, Washburn Gallery, New York
Selected Group Exhibitions
1937 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
1941 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
1945 California Palace of the Legion of Honor
1948 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
1950 California Palace of the Legion of Honor
1950 Henry Gallery, University of Washington
1950 Lucian Labaudt Gallery
1957 Los Angeles County Museum of Art
1976 Smithsonian Institution
1984 Paule Anglim Gallery
1996 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
The Oakland Museum of California
Pasadena Art Museum
Whitney Museum of American Art
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Berkeley Art Museum
Crocker Art Museum
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
San Jose Museum of Art
Sonoma County Museum