'Rick's Underground Gallery' showcases prints by Hasse '80

by Lucy Randall | 11/21/06 6:00am

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by Courtesy of Eric Hasse / The Dartmouth

Every day from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. in a space below street-level, Dartmouth alumnus Eric Hasse '80 shows five rooms of his print work. The exhibition, which began Oct. 6 and will run until the end of December, features both the sumi ink works that Hasse produced in the 1980s and his newer, digital images from the past few years.

Challenged and limited, but not discouraged by his early-onset Parkinson's disease, the artist watches over the vast space he leases, happy to see visitors and to explain his art by writing notes on a notepad, since he can no longer speak.

Hasse's newest pieces on display are a group of gicles on canvas and digital prints titled "Resurrection." These all portray an upward movement through elongated floral shapes in vibrant, tropical pallets Featured among them are the diptych "Body & Soul: Remembering Beauty in a Time of Disease" and the outstanding "Libra Ascending: The Assumption of Karol Wojtyla." Both remind the viewer of what makes Hasse so extraordinary: both the vitality of the piece and the reference within them to Parkinson's disease.

Other pieces displayed in the depths of Hasse's cavernous showrooms feature varied themes, from the images of crisp folder paper in the Retro Room to the psychedelic -- such as a print of a CD with a collage of images across called "How the West was Lost." This last work exists among a small collection in the back of the gallery, which Hasse has labeled as the fruit of his strongest resurgence of strength after Deep Brain Stimulation last July and August, as a sign on the wall explains.

In pages of information Hasse carefully prepared for this reporter about his thoughts on his "philosophy of art," the artist explained that his motto is "carpe diem." He expressed his desire to reach out to guests, not with the intent of selling his work, but rather as a means to "share my world with as many people as I can in the time we have left to be with each other."

Ever-inquisitive, Hasse, who majored in English at Dartmouth, is auditing the Dante course this fall taught by his friend and fellow stroke-survivor Robert Hollander of Princeton University.

"Rick studied Dante with me in 1979, when I was Montgomery Professor here for the Summer term. We got back in touch last year, after his incredible comeback from Parkinson's," Hollander said. "He cannot speak, but his eyes and smile are all he needs to show how much he appreciates being alive and sentient. He is simply pouring out images. I think it is not a stretch to call him heroic."

After experiencing his first tremors in his thumb at age 35, Hasse set off down the typically long and convoluted road to a diagnosis of Parkinson's. Winding up a career in banking and real estate in 1995, he set off on a new life as a venture capitalist, raising millions for several startup ventures before the slowness of movement finally overcame him in 2003, and it all came crashing down.

"What remained was art." Unable to hold a brush, he turned in August 2003 to the digital scanner with a vague notion of bringing color to his original black on white sumi ink drawings. "Things kind of took off from there," Hasse recalled. "The next 100 days saw 500 images sprout from my computer ... and the first of two hard drives vanquished under a stack of MB's of digital files."

After this brief window of renewed creativity, the symptoms of his Parkinson's proceeded with a vengeance: preventing him not only from using a keyboard and a mouse, but also from walking, dressing or even feeding himself. He asked his good friend from hospice, Marie Kirn, for some advice over how to end his life gracefully, and she brought up the topic of brain surgery. Hasse had opted not to take any drugs for 10 years at that point because of his determination to let nature take its course. "So neurosurgery was the furthest thing from my mind!" Hasse quipped.

Hasse opted to undergo the two operations required at St. Elizabeth's Hospital once he secured a deal allowing him to use, what was at that time, an experimental patient-operated controller. Hasse can fine-tune his own settings as his symptoms shift in order to optimize his DBS device. And after the second operation, immediately after his current was turned on, he was blessed with strikingly improved balance and a complete remission of his tremors, as well as the ability to feed himself for the first time in months. Hasse expressed that, while the surgery does not stop the progression of his condition, it has given him a year and a half of productivity -- a tremendous gift which he has tried to repay via his art, and his smile.

"My advice to younger folks is look at all you can. For as long as you can," Hasse wrote. "As clearly and openly as you can. Then, put that all aside and create your own world. That goes for everyone: artists, poets, musicians, especially but not exclusively."