Hesse strove for a level of spontaneity in her work. “I wonder how much I must impose my preconceived ideas and to what degree I must be alert and willing to go along with what happens at the moment on canvas,” she considered, in a 1964 diary entry. While many of her peers obscured the artistic process by removing gesture and fabricating smooth, minimalist sculptures, Hesse reintroduced messiness, chance, and material volatility. While she made drawings that informed her sculptures, she often let her unorthodox, malleable materials (rope, cheesecloth, latex) lead her in new, unanticipated directions as she worked.
“It is also not wanting to have such a definite plan. It is a sketch—just a quickie to develop it in the process, rather than working out a whole small model and following it,” she told Nemser. “I am not even interested in casting. The materials I use are really casting materials. I don’t want to use them as casting materials. I want to use them directly, eliminating making molds but making them directly at the moment out of some material.”
Candor drove Hesse’s process. She wanted to reveal, even celebrate, the true nature of her materials.
“I have very strong feelings about being honest,” she explained. “And in the process, I’d like to be—it sounds corny—true to whatever I use and use it in the least pretentious and most direct way.” In many of her late works, like Contingent
(1969) and No Title
(1969–70), she coated knotty expanses of rope and long skeins of cheesecloth with liquid latex. Their forms droop and congeal with the weight of the hardened yellow goo.
Perhaps most importantly, Hesse didn’t impose rules or guidelines on herself: “If the material is liquid, I just don’t leave it or pour it. I can control it but I don’t really want to change it,” she said. “There isn’t a rule. I don’t want to keep any rules.…In that sense processing the materials becomes important because I do so little with them.”