Artist's Biography - Frederick Hart
( December 1943 - 8/13/99 )
Sculptor Fredrick Hart was an uncompromising art warrior-a passionate and unapologetic classicist who insisted on defining art not only for himself, but all artists. Once derided as an "art fascist" by a former New York museum director, his response was quintessential Hart: "The whole world of art has been turned upside down for political reasons," he lamented. "Art has become acceptable on the basis of who creates it, rather than in the quality of the work. This has essentially destroyed the old order. I like art of the great tradition of fine achievement of caliber and quality."
Nor was Hart necessarily a fan of all so-called "classical" piecca. One of his criteria for art (adopted from his mentor, Italian stone carver Roger Morigi) became his mantra: The spirit of the work defines the level of its success. "When I create something that has a spirit, that has impact, I know I've achieved what I intended," he said.
Hart's exquisite sculptures are woven into 20th-century culture and have catapulted him onto a platform from which he willingly strode headlong into the thorny politics of art.
By far his most ambitious creation is Chesley, the 17,000-square foot, 31-room mansion he built 12 years ago at the base of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains and named for his deceased sister. Chesley reflects Hart's passions.
While Hart would have loved to see Chesley become an area landmark, he was fully aware that "there are people who see this house as the parvenu expression of a Johnny-come-lately; too showy, too big and too ornate."
In defining his goals for Chesley, Hart referred to Priscilla Roosevelt's comprehensive book, Life on the Russian Country Estate. He saw his home and his relationship to it in much same vein as her references to Russia's educated elite-its writers, artists, visionaries and prophets. "For many of them," writes Roosevelt, "the estate was a retreat where artistic talent could be nurtured and where they were laying the foundations for Russian culture at its height."
Indeed, Hart turned Chesley into a mecca for revivalists of every artistic medium who refuse modernistic fads. Fellow artists, musicians and writers who share his outrage at the high-profile melange of contemporary artistic styles and disciplines gather at least twice yearly at Chesley to decry the current condition of the art world. Calling themselves "Centerists," they rail at the notion, now in vogue, that art is anything that's called "art".
The Centerist philosophy he adopted nurtures the idea that being civilized is inextricably tied to being human. He believed "the same outrage" of youth was available to him in his later years-only now it was marshaled in defense of classicism.
He saw himself as a Northerner whose character was "Embedded in the Old South." "Southerners," he said, are by nature more romantic and more given to extravagant view of life" - a view in which Hart delighted. Chesley is that indulgence personified.
Drawn to the formality of pre-Revolutionary Russian royalty, Hart has amassed a collection of Czarist memorabilia in a small room off the ballroom. Here he kept some of his most cherished possessions - samovars, dozens of original photographs and letters from the reign of Nicholas II. This room, which also serves as a bar, is fittingly painted a deep royal blue.
Over years of his life, Hart did something that, in art world terms, was even more infra-dig than Ex Nihilo and "Three Soldiers"; he became America's most popular living sculptor. He developed a technique for casting sculptors in acrylic resin. The result resembled Lalique glass. Many of his smaller pieces were nudes, using Lindy as a model, so lyrical and sensual that Hart's Classicism began to take on the contours of Art Nouveau. The gross sales of his acrylic castings have gone well over $100 million. None were ever reviewed.
Private and Public Art, Rebirth of the Heroic Spirit, 1995. My most ardent wish is to see a fundamental change in the philosophy of the "practice" of art. That is to say, a renewed vision of whom art is for, and what its role of service can be within the civilizing forces of society. I would like to see the idea of "art for art's sake" debunked for the self-centered, dead-end philosophy that it is. As Tolstoy said, "Art is not one of the higher purposes; it is simply a unique instrument for embracing the collectively."
At very least, Hart demonstrates the potential for a new figurative heroism in this important exhibition at CFM Gallery, which includes some of his best work in bronze-including two life-size male and female torsos that are among his most celebrated pieces-as well as a selection of his trailblazing sculptures in the modern medium that he reflects to as "the twentieth-century looking glass of Lucite." One assumes Hart was drawn to work in cast acrylic resin out of his desire to give physical form to the ethereal; to create work expressing a sense of mystery almost antiherical to the unique solidity of stone or bronze. Its crystalline translucence makes east acrylic an enormously seductive medium, and indeed some of Hart's less masterful imitators have produced results with it that verge on the banal. Hart, however, employs the holographic illusions and the dazzling light refraction's possible in the medium with the selfsame restraint and integrity that he brings to his work in bronze or stone. He exploits it peculiar qualities not to create "special effects"
Hart is a sculptor in the "neo-traditional" mode, which means you can tell what the sculpture is about merely by looking at it. The Three Soldiers look like three soldiers, tired and heroic. The figures in "Ex Nihilo" show humankind emerging, in wonder, from the vortex of chaos. The emerging humans, stylized, look human. You can like his sculpture or not.
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