Marcia Hafif is born in Pomona, California in 1929. She studies at Pomona College and at the University of California, Irvine.
From 1961 to 1969 the artist lives and works in Rome and produces pictures reminiscent of Pop Art and Hard Edge. Yet she already considers these artistic approaches to be basically obsolete: »In the middle ›60s some expressed surprise that I was still using a brush‹ (Artforum 1978). She first returns to California and then goes to New York where she radically shifts her artistic focus. Increasingly, she turns to the analysis of the act of painting itself and to the concrete results of painting as action. Questions of materiality as well as the sense perception of color determine her work from now on.
Since the early 1970s, Hafif«s pictures resemble a fundamental analysis of painting and become part of a theory of art. Under the programmatic title »Inventory,« a continuously expanded inventory of painterly »actions« emerges from a large number of panel pictures. Max Doerner’s foundational text »Das Malmaterial und seine Verwendung im Bilde«, published in 1921, turns out to be of special significance. To the American artist, Doerner’s textbook provides inspiration for a conceptual restatement of her work, where painting may be re-learned within the context of self-analysis. The objectifying categories of the technical therefore determine the pictures’ plots and their composition, and the long-term project »Inventory« thus persuasively provides instructions for painting as practice. With the help of this »book of inventory« the artist studies the act of painting as well as the result of this act. In special chapters that emerge as a series of panels, the materials and techniques of the medium are systematically examined. Part of this is the earlier decision for formats and the kind of support, the restriction as to the specific materiality of paints and tools used, and the limitation to specific techniques of paint application. The paint itself is studied as a physical substance, and Hafif includes historical materials used for pictures as well as a very broad spectrum of substances for paints. This spectrum ranges from the use of pigments and formulations to various kinds of binder (oil, encaustic, egg, tempera, casein, etc) and varying vehicles. The qualities of the paint as to its application or its modulation and toning are carefully investigated and tried out.
Hafif names her works according to the paint used. Every single work is part of the »Inventory,« since as an analysis of painting it also becomes part of the general conceptual context. At the same time, each of the 15 chapters of the »Inventory« is to be understood as instruction and thematizes a specific field of painting. In an article entitiled »Beginning Again« (Artforum, 1978), published in 1978, Hafif summarizes her reflections on a »new kind of painting.«
The realization of this newly-defined painting starts with pencil lines on paper and is followed by series of works such as Extended Gray Scale or Table of Pigments. Hafif’s works position themselves as a reaction to Minimal Art and are received within this context in the Sonnabend Gallery in New York and Paris and as part of thematic exhibitions (»Wall Painting,« 1979; »Bilder ohne Bilder« 1977). In 1981 Hafif develops her own curatorial concepts for the exhibition »New Abstraction« at Sidney Janis Gallery in New York, and in 1984 she initiates the exhibition »Radical Painting« at the Williams College Museum in Williamstown. In 1985 her works are shown for the first time in Germany at the Galerie Rupert Walser in Munich. During and after her time in Munich she produces the work groups Enamel on Wood(1989), Sea Garden (1990), Acrylic Glaze Paintings (1994). Hafif describes her interest in the cultural specificities of colors and their meanings as follows: »Working in Munich in 1989 I looked for local colors, and then coming to Neuss found different ones available, and these were all different from those in New York. It seemed that people in each location had their own preferences. This year in Neuss I was influenced by my perception that there are very many red cars in Germany, and I began to look for the different red enamels in the stores (which is why this group in titled Red Colors)« (Hafif, Neuss 1990).
Even if »Inventory« is her most important theoretical study, since the 1960s the artist has also focused on theoretical questions in various essays and free texts.
Marcia Hafif has lived in New York, in Laguna Beach, and at times also in Europe, since 1971.
Die Farbe hat mich, Positionen zur nicht-gegenständlichen Malerei: Ausst-Kat. Fulda, hg. v. Michael Fehr, Fulda 2000
Müller, Hajo: Paintings of the 1970s/1990s. Cortier, Erben, Griffa, Hafif, Mosset, Paatz, van Severen, Zenivk, Galerie Conrads, Düsseldorf 1992
Marcia Hafif, Red Paintings: Ausst.-Kat. Galerie Conrads Düsseldorf, hg. v. Helga Weckop-Conrads, Düsseldorf 1990