HS: The very first art show I ever saw—I was very young it was a Constructivist show. It was a show of a painter who eventually became a well-known Surrealist painter and good friend of mine, Victor Brauner. I started studying art at eight because I did very good likenesses and my parents were impressed, and let me do this instead of piano [laughs].
The very first art I heard about was the advance garde art. Then I was given art history books. I grew up without chronology in my mind. I thought that Picasso did what he did because he felt like it, and Leonardo did what he did because he felt like it [laughs]. I had no guidance. Much, much later I studied art history in college, but for years and years I had no idea of chronology, and I think that marked my work.
JS: Do you want to talk about Bucharest, and your family life?
HS: I was born in 1910, and I was a second child. I had an older brother who was a marvelous beauty and talent. He's dead now. My father was a teacher of languages in high school, and my mother was a housewife. There were no paintings on the wall. Life was tight. Teachers earned very, very little. What else do I remember? I was not a tomboy. All I wanted to do was stay home and draw and read. I taught myself to read and write when I was five. By the time I was six I read for pleasure. I had already read Dostoyevsky at eleven. I also read Proust. I stayed home for a month and read all of it.
JS: Was the family religious?
HS: No. Jews were assimilated and they had the illusion that if they didn't look at the problem, maybe it would go away. And to be quote assimilated was to be civilized. Everything associated with religion was backward. My father was a thinking agnostic, or atheist if you want, and my mother was totally uninterested and indifferent. So I was brought up without any kind of mention of religion at all. Well, there was a moment when I wanted to convert to Christianity [laughs]. I was about 11, and I read The Imitation of Christ. I read everything.
JS: What language or languages did the family speak at home?
HS: Romanian. During World War I, my father inherited from his brother, who died, a business, with the proviso that he should take care of his widow. We moved into this elegant house that belonged to this successful businessman's widow and her mother. Those years were very crucial in my life because there were paintings, and reproductions of paintings, on the wall. She was a singer and it was all Schubert and Schumann lieder singing. My brother was already studying the violin, and there were children coming and playing trios of Haydn. Those were very important, formative years. And three dogs. Fantastic dogs.
JS: What kind of school did you go to?
HS: Jewish children were generally tutored at home because the schools that they were accepted into were of a terrible, low level. I was tutored at home from six to 11. At 11 I went straight to the second year of high school. I graduated a year ahead. Everybody graduated at 18; I graduated at 17. After high school I wanted very much to do architecture, but I was miserable at mathematics. I was terrified.
JS: You had taken some art classes at Marcel Janco's studio in Bucharest in 1926.
HS: That was in my teens, for a short time. He was already a Surrealist at the time. We were given easels, etc. but nobody looked, nobody advised us. I went to various places to work like that.
JS: You took summer classes in Vienna in 1927.
HS: I took ceramics. As a teenager I only drew and sculpted. I didn't paint. At 17 I discovered color. I went to London. I saw a flower show, at Chelsea. It was just unbelievable. I had such an epiphany. I was changed for life by that show. I went back and had the urge, finally, to paint. I had such respect for oil, I thought only masterful artists could do oil—and I started at 17 to do color.
JS: Then, in 1928, you went to the university in Bucharest.
HS: I wanted to go to Paris and just do art. Because when I grew up, Romania was like a colony of France. Everything that was worthwhile was happening in Paris, and if you weren't in Paris you were in exile.
JS: How did you know what was happening in Paris?
HS: Reading. Magazines. There was a wonderful bookshop where I spent an enormous amount of time. There were French books. And then the Surrealist magazines. Cahiers d'art. All of that. Week after week I was there, looking, looking, looking. You know, in provincial places, people are really interested in what goes on culturally in the world. In New York, people think that everything is coming here, and they are not seriously interested in what goes on outside. It's a kind of reversed provincialism. But in Romania I knew what was written in Scandinavia, in Greece, in every country in Europe. Because everything was outside. When my parents traveled, they didn't say "we traveled abroad," they said "we traveled outside." It was like a prison of ignorance and limitations. So this bookshop was like a godsend for a growing child.