Noted Artist Who Vowed to Paint ‘Until My Last Breath’ Dies Shortly After Final Interview

Jean-Marie Haessle arrived from France as a 28-year-old with a few hundred dollars in his pocket and a big dream in his heart. Our reporter conducted what turned out to be the last interview with the internationally known expressionist artist in which he vowed he’d keep painting ‘until my last breath.” And then she received the stunning news that the 84-year-old artist had passed on April 16th. The words below, unchanged, are from his last interview.

| 18 Apr 2024 | 05:03

“I was going to be the next Van Gogh, but I found my own way.”

Famed 84-year-old expressionist artist Jean-Marie Haessle is a true New York–as well as immigrant–success story. Arriving here in 1967 with $200 in his pocket and speaking very little English, Haessle’s paintings now sell for thousands on websites such as Artnet and Artsy. One recently sold painting entitled “Night” sold for $10,600.

Haessle developed a unique style of layering colors, eschewing brushes for tubes filled with mixed colors that he applies directly onto the canvas, which adds texture and dimension to his art. Colors (with an emphasis on the primary ones) are spread over the whole canvas without forcing a focal point. The vibe is spontaneous and energetic.

When asked what inspires him, the artist said, “Inspiration is a strange word. To be inspired is to be alive; in spirit.” His muse, simply put, is life. As far as what is the best part of that life, he got choked up as he explained: “The happiness you feel when you finish a painting and then the next painting you want it to be better.”

Haessle has been perfecting his craft for six decades with a career that began in Alsace, France where, at 18, his brother gave him a book on the Impressionists. He promptly started using the doors of his family home as canvases to replicate what he saw on those pages and envisioning a move to Paris.

That dream had to be put on hold for several years though as he was drafted into the French Army. It was during those years stationed in Germany and Algeria that Haessle visited his first art museum keeping alive his desire to someday become a painter.

When he finally made it to The City of Lights it was to live the quintessential life of a starving artist, taking up many odd jobs including architect’s assistant and hotel night watchman. He may have lived in a seventh-floor walkup with no heat, but the dynamic scene in Paris more than made up for his lack of creature comforts. He eventually owned a gallery there.

A romantic relationship with an American artist returning to the States was Haessle’s impetus to come to Manhattan, once again taking paycheck jobs at Columbia Records and the New York Times while pursuing his career in the art world and searching for a creative community.

After a stay on the Upper West Side, Jean-Marie found his people at Westbeth, the then-new but now-renowned West Village artists’ residence. His next move was to SOHO where he and a group of artists got together and purchased one of the last manufacturing buildings.

It was from this downtown loft that Haessle experienced the exciting changes and growth of the 1970s and ‘80s lower Manhattan art revival which included Basquiat & Co. He thinks appreciation for creativity is lost on the current generation.

“[Art] should play a bigger role than it does,” says Haessle. “Unfortunately, a lot of people never go to a museum or listen to classical music.” He wishes more of us understood the value that the arts bring to a society.

When asked what advice he’d give to up-and-coming artists, especially when encountering those who aren’t supportive of their career choice or critics of their work, Haessle advised:“Don’t listen.” One might even choose to use the words that have benefited him: “This is my work and I don’t care what you say.”

Haessle remains actively painting and now creates his art at his home for the past two years, Atria West 86. He recently hosted a tour of his SoHo art studio to share his body of work with his fellow Atria residents and staff.

His professional showcases have been in Korea, Italy, France, Mexico, and around the US. Some of his recent exhibitions included Paintings: Elements in 2021 at Mizuma & Kips Gallery, New York, and Jean-Marie Haessle Color of Life Homage to Hiroshige in 2018 in Wada Garou, Tokyo, Japan.

What’s next for Jean-Marie Haessle? “I love to paint until my last breath.”

Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of three novels, the latest is “The Last Single Wowan in New York City.”