Inspired by: An Eva Hesse watercolor

On the way down to Nashville we stopped at the St. Louis Art Museum to look at a small showing of prints and drawings done by sculptors. A few of them were quite nice, but a watercolor by Eva Hesse really stuck with me.

Cameraphone image of an untitled Eva Hess watercolor hung at the St. Louis Art Museum

I knew Hesse’s name prior to last week, but I didn’t know anything about her work. Interestingly, I don’t like a lot of it from what I can tell, with the exception of the untitled 1968 watercolor to the right and a 1969 installation titled Contingent, that looks a lot like an installation I did as a college student. The brief at the museum talks about how the two dimensional work was an exploration in light leading up to Contingent.

Both my wife and I were drawn to a beauty within the painting. The shapes reminded me of farm fields adjacent to one another, something I’ve been attempting to incorporate into my own works in the last year or two. But I also took note of her layering. Penciled lines unabashedly bordered and bled through the delicate watercolor wash. Such transparency and layering is something that’s eluded my fledgling attempts to convey the sense of space a person experiences when supercells roll over alfalfa on the Plains. Mmmm, I can smell that distant rain piercing the greeny-sweet alfalfa now.

Hesse’s painting seems to be just the kind of work I needed to see this summer. I’ve started to work on some small paintings, but there was an aspect of these works that was lacking. I was limiting myself to one media and method too strictly — despite referring to myself as a mixed media sculptor. I was only allowing myself to work within an overly basic idea of paint. I realized this before seeing the Hesse artwork, but her watercolor in essence gave definition to my realization.

Now let’s hope I can put some action to this inspiration in the near future!


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

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