Hayter explored the art of the unforeseen

Stanley William Hayter was one of the great inspirers of 20th- century art. More than a smattering of the "stars" of modern art were drawn to his printmaking ateliers in Paris or New York. Among them were Calder, Picasso, and Pollock, as well as numerous lesser-known artists. Hayter was not merely a teacher. Something about his free spirit opened doors of possibility.

Hayter had been a scientist before he became an artist. Although he was strongly attracted to Surrealism with its appeal to the subconscious, his work clearly shows awareness of other earlier 20th-century developments such as Cubism, with its multiple viewpoints and overlappings; Futurism, with its compulsive sense of speed; and Constructivism, with its linear explorations of space.

Indeed, Hayter's work brought together many strands in a singular vision.

He was a persistent experimenter. He revolutionized the old technique of engraving, perceiving in it potential well beyond its original function as a reproductive method.

Technically, engraving is done on a copper plate into which the artist pushes a burin - a sharp chisel-like tool - that cuts into the copper surface with varying degrees of depth and line width. The print is made on paper pressed onto the inked plate. The ink is in the engraved lines; the remaining surface of the plate has been wiped clean.

Hayter described engraving as "a very valuable medium for original expression." It was a modest statement in view of his extraordinary engravings like "Myth of Creation." He largely abandoned description of the objective world and made line movement its own justification - a highly liberated means to explore space and imagination.

In his book "New Ways of Gravure," he writes that it is wrong to "divorce the arts from scientific development." They are similar in method. "Man rediscovers rather than creates," he asserts.

One of his "pupils," artist-printmaker Jean Lodge, quotes him as saying: "If you already know what [a print] is going to look like, there is no point in doing it."

Art, then, is a leap of faith, like science. It looks for the unforeseen.

Hayter's art is on display in an exhibition titled "Seeing is Believing" at Tate Liverpool, England, until May 2.

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