A poet, artist, art critic and world traveler, Anthony (Tony) Hassett (1958-2017) first visited Taos in 1978. For many years, he moved between Taos, New York City, Hawaii and San Francisco and Los Angeles, California. He and his partner, Erin Currier, lived in Taos for a decade in the late 1990s and early 2000s. More recently, they made their home in Santa Fe with their dog, Noche, aka Nochecito.
“Last Evenings on Earth,” an exhibition of Hassett’s work, opened Wednesday (April 5) and continues through April 23 at the Harwood Museum of Art’s new Studio 238 at 238 Ledoux St. A free opening reception is planned Sunday (April 9) from 1-4 p.m.
Hassett met Currier at what was then Cafe Ole on the corner of Sanbusco and Agua Fria in Santa Fe. Currier was working at the café while studying theater design at the College of Santa Fe.
“Anthony would come in and we’d sit on the stoop drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and having long conversations about literature, poetry and film. One day, he made me laugh harder than I’d ever laughed in my life. That’s when I knew I was in love,” recalled Currier.
“When I met Anthony in 1996, he had already hitchhiked and backpacked his way across the U.S., Mexico, Europe and North Africa, taking jobs just long enough to raise money for onward plane, boat or train tickets to be back on the road writing poetry. He was a true vagrant poet, hobo, prophet and visionary. I’d never met anyone like him, and I knew with all my heart that his was the life that I, too, wanted to live and that I wanted to live it with him. And boy did we! Our 20 years together was so far beyond anything I could have imagined. We visited some 50 countries together and had indescribable experiences and adventures,” Currier said.
Drawing from Hassett’s writing, as well as her own thoughts, Currier reflected on Hassett’s life and art in an email interview with Tempo. The following passages are excerpts.
Tempo: What did Anthony try to convey through his visual art?
Currier: At its core, Anthony’s work contains an encrypted message that is at once spiritual and political: the message that our world does not have to be this way—with all of its wars, police, military, dictatorships, incarcerations, slaughters—that there is another world possible: a Pirate Utopia built on art, poetry, mirth, generosity, and love. His work dares us to liberate ourselves and each other, once and for all, from suffering.
“There is a poignancy to human beings that is heart-breaking, despite their destructive tendencies and their confusion,” writes Hassett. “Through my work, I want to articulate my fury, but in a way that also highlights our radical emancipatory power.”
Tempo: How is Anthony’s poetry different from, or similar to, his visual art?
Hassett writes, “I was educated in literature and, for the most part, have made my living as a writer. At some point around a decade ago, I began to run up against the limitations of language. … The images address my own failures in expressing meaning when confronted with the limitations of language.”
Currier: In my view, Anthony’s visual work is akin to the Epic Poem—along the lines of Homer’s “Odyssey,” Eliot’s “Wasteland,” or Ginsberg’s “Howl.” His drawings, like his poems, taken individually, are powerful and concise vignettes that each embody an aspect of human experience. Yet, taken as a whole, they become the creative expression of an initiatory journey — fraught with violence, terror, indignities, Eros, awe — that leads to potentially transformative moments of lucidity and awareness. Both his visual work and his poetic work are marked by a beauty that is at once mystical and devastating. And yet, both are also often rife with humor.
Tempo: How did you choose what pieces to bring up for the exhibit?
Currier: The work … is Anthony’s most recent: some are books of drawings created in the last six months; all were created in the past couple of years. One book of drawings, “The Call Boys of Cthulhu,” was completed just a few days before he died.
Tempo: Was there any one experience that really shaped Tony’s approach to making art?
Currier: I believe that his travels, our travels, shaped Anthony’s art making approach above all else—particularly our first nine-month journey together around the world in 1999 and 2000—through China, Thailand, Nepal, India, Italy, and Spain. Our nearly six months spent in Nepal and India had a profound effect on us both. We were blown away by the economic disparity, inequality, and the oppression, that we encountered on a grand scale, but also by the courageous resistance and generosity we continued to encounter on an individual level. Anthony and I were both also deeply moved by what we found to be true in our connections with people everywhere again and again: that our commonalities as human beings outweigh our differences. Despite surface divisions and differences, often handed down from above, at our core, human beings share universal affinities — an idea central to his art making process as well as my own.
Tempo: When you think about Anthony, what comes to mind? How will you remember him?
Currier: He was everything to me. The sun rises and falls with him; we did everything together: martial practice and spiritual practice; kung fu trainings in China; tango dancing in Argentina; Spanish intensives in Nicaragua and Peru. We exhibited our art together in Buenos Aires, Berlin, and Santa Monica, had dinners on dirt floors with Tibetan exiles, and at long wooden tables of great Italian filmmakers, and in the backyards of Weather Underground members. We lived at an artist residency in Berlin, an 11th century farm near Vezelay, a 14th century olive mill outside of Cortona, an old fisherman’s house on an island in Panama, apartments in Buenos Aires, etc. We did not take one moment for granted. Anthony and I loved our beautiful life together — even the past couple of years (perhaps especially the past couple of years), when things became very simple, and we would work on art in the studio and listen to music most evenings, play with our little dog, go for long walks around the neighborhood — through the arroyos and alleyways, make coffees and share laughs with the endless stream of family of good friends and family that came through town. It was a little piece of paradise; we both felt extremely fortunate.
Out of the countless aspects of Anthony that I love, there is one thing I will say in regards to how I, and so many friends, will remember him: his incomparable sense of humor that was a gift he gave everyone who was fortunate enough to enter his orbit. And how he lived his life as a gift to those around him. I always marveled at his ability to make people laugh in any language with his physical humor; he had a magic and a generosity of spirit about him that was contagious wherever we went. ... He loved to make people laugh, to share insights and ideas, to cook for people. He shared everything he had: his knowledge, experience, possessions, his love. That he chose to share so much of his life with me is a profound honor that no words can ever fully express.
For more information, call the museum at (575) 758-9826 or visit harwoodmusem.org.