Goofy Dufy, 1958
Oil on canvas
69 x 39 in (175.2 x 99 cm)

Hassel Smith’s 1915–2007) diverse approach to painting embraces the contradictions between abstraction and figuration, expressionism and hard-edge color field painting. Though infatuated by vaudeville, employing painterly equivalents of slapstick and caprice with deft effect, Smith was confirmedly anti-nihilistic and a visual thinker of clear purpose and incisive instinct. Smith uses a linear calligraphy—an eye and wrist-controlled automatism derived from years of drawing the nude. His work is known for its sense of humor and a sense of timing and delivery derived from an obsessive interest in jazz. As Walter Hopps has written, “In the midst of a lyrical expanse there might appear a laugh-provoking bulge, a pathetic flap or zany twist of line, which will capture one’s eye, release it and capture it again . . . Smith might also plant a surprise in any part of the painting.”