Richard Haas: Circles in Space

June 25, 2021–January 9, 2022

In his most recent series of paintings and drawings, Richard Haas explores intersections between abstraction, color theory, and the geometry of the universe, bringing together passions and preoccupations from throughout his long career.

Richard Haas (American, b. 1936) is best known for his illusionistic architectural murals and trompe l’oeil style, painted on and within prominent buildings across the United States in cities including Portland, Chicago, Washington DC, New York City, and Yonkers, as well as international commissions in cities such as Munich, Germany. During the pandemic and while working from his home in Yonkers, the artist turned to painting on a more intimate scale, moving away from realistic imagery. He was inspired by the circular geometry of the famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959), for whom he worked as a teenager. The experience played a formative role in cultivating his fascination with architecture and urban design, which features in a majority of his paintings, drawings, and prints.

Moved to think deeply about the meaning of life, Haas began what he calls “a series of drawings and paintings related to the universe and the earth from above.” Remembering his early contemplation of such broad views, he writes, “My interest in seeing and studying our universe really began . . . in flights over the Midwest and Plains States seen from above with hundreds of circular irrigation wells causing one to view Earth as an endless sea of circular patterns as far as the eye can see.”

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Haas also drew inspiration from Hubble Space Telescope photos, which he had first seen in the 1990s. The forms and colors in these images, which had been enhanced for publication, reminded him of the early twentieth-century color experiments of artists Wassily Kandinsky, Robert and Sonia Delaunay, and Stanton MacDonald-Wright. He writes, “the Hubble Space Telescope’s views of outer space . . . expanded my sense of the scale of the universe dramatically as I realized that my miniscule human mind could not really contemplate its expanse, its frightening beauty and our relationship to it.”

At the same time, Haas was reminded that artists and theorists have used circles to conceptualize our relation to the universe for millenia. The earliest drawing in the exhibition is his own take on Dante Alighieri’s concentric conceptions of heaven, purgatory, and hell. Like the fourteenth-century Italian philosopher, Haas uses art to bridge the gap where the universe seems even now to be, as he says, “beyond the limits of human imagination to comprehend.”

The installation of these visions of space in the Troster Gallery, outside of the Museum’s Planetarium, emphasizes these enduring connections between art and science and celebrates the much-anticipated reopening of the Planetarium on July 16, after being closed to the public for more than a year.

Richard Haas (American, b. 1936). Circles in Space, 2021. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist. © 2021 Richard Haas / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

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