Germany was a liberating and traumatic 15 months.
Hesse used the miles of stiffened string she found
to translate her drawings into sculptures. Once back
in New York, in a studio on the Bowery, the string
was used to create dangling innovative sculptures,
with lines that were curved, flexible, humorous,
sometimes tentative and at others embracing. They
could be read as deeply poignant, their loose ends
expressing her life. Her friend and biographer Lucy
Lippard called it the “dismantling of the centre, the unravelling of the life force into unstructured
chaos,” or as Hesse herself said, “My Life and Art
have not been separated.”
Hesse started to explore latex as a material for sculpture, a substance used principally in manufacturing. Her work may have been based on the physical and her use of latex emphasised this skin-like, corporeal quality.
Sculpting with latex was not without consequences, particularly as she altered the chemical composition. At the beginning latex is soft, lightly coloured and sensuous, but as it ages, it oxidises, yellows and hardens. “She had tremendous curiosity,” says Rosen. “She interviewed 2 suppliers and she messed around with the formulas a lot. That’s part of the reason there’s instability in the material.” Today, some of her work has decayed and there is much debate as to whether they should be restored, or allowed to perish gently.
Hesse’s work was widely emulated, especially in the 70s by Fiber Artists, (these days in American art, a dismissive term for women textile artists of the period). Hesse herself was not identified as such, but rather she worked and also competed with male artists identifying as Post Minimalists.