Stanley William Hayter, the eighty-four-year-old English printmaker and painter, has a demonic way with a line. In the two-gallery retrospective of Hayter’s career mounted on Fifty-seventh Street in December each journey of the engraver’s metal tool, of the draftsman’s pen, or of the brush dipped in black paint was as powerful as the snap of a whip—one’s eyes felt yanked almost violently through the space. (Hayter’s paintings and drawings were on view at the Armstrong Gallery, his prints at Sylvan Cole.) Hayter uses these lines to build up images which range from humanoids with octopus-like limbs to patterns of ocean currents and the equally wavelike curves of non-Euclidean geometry. His work suggests a fluid, unstable, dissolving universe. In perhaps the most beautiful work in the two shows, a 1943 drawing called Shells from a Wave, Hayter’s lines keep pulling out toward...


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