An artist whose short career was troubled by both psychological and physical trauma, Eva Hesse (1936–70) left journals and other written records of her tragic life and her intense commitment to her work. A documentary on the postwar sculptor, directed by Marcie Begleiter, is screening at Film Forum in New York this week. Below, some excerpts from these documents originally published in our Summer 1983 issue. —Eds.
Eva Hesse was born in Nazi Germany in 1936. She was not quite three years old when, together with her sister Helen, she was put on a children’s train to Amsterdam, where she was later rejoined with her parents and brought to New York in 1939. During the early ’40s, Eva’s beloved mother became mentally ill, was hospitalized, and then divorced from Eva’s father. Her equally loved father remarried soon after, and in 1946, when Eva was 10, her mother took her own life. Besides this loss and “abandonment,” Eva carried the fear that she might have inherited her mother’s instability and would follow the same course. In 1961, Eva met and married Tom Doyle, The Eva Hesse revealed in her diaries is as psychologically disturbed as one might expect from such a biography. But she is also stubbornly persistent, courageous, faithful, cognizant of her own shortcomings, ambitious and, though tormented by self-doubt, convinced of her significance as an artist. but by 1964-65, when they spent a year in Germany, their marriage had already begun to break up. Eva’s father died in 1966, soon after she and Doyle had separated. Eva finally accepted the fact that her husband would not return to her (although she never divorced him), and she began to learn to control—or at least to live with—her persistent feelings of anxiety, rejection and desertion. She was working full force and becoming increasingly recognized when cancer struck in the spring of 1969. She underwent surgery for a tumor of the brain three times; yet during this last year of her life she produced some of her greatest works. She was only 34 when she died on May 29, 1970.