Last year I went to the newest museum in Austin, the Blanton, which is part of the University of Texas at Austin. Though most of the works have been part of the university’s collection for many years, they were all new to me.
One painting on the second floor caught my attention, and as I got closer I realized I had fallen in love! It was a work by Hans Hofmann, Elysium (I can’t locate a picture of it online).
What struck me from across the room was the depth of color. It looked amazingly thick and rich. Once I got closer I realized it looked thick because it was!
My second reaction was just pure awe at the beauty of the vibrant color choices. The whole piece sang with purity. A good example is this piece, “Pompeii” 1959 , which is done in the same style.
(Image from pbs.org)
I had to know more about Hans Hofmann, so I ordered a book as soon as I got home. I also spent time researching what I could on the internet.
Hofmann (1880-1966), was born in Germany, studied art in Munich, and between the years of 1904 and 1914, lived in Paris. In Paris he was friendly with such revolutionaries as Picasso, Matisse and Bracque. In Paris Hofmann also struck up a friendship with Robert Delaunay.
“His closest and perhaps most influential friendship was with Robert Delaunay, who, together with his wife Sonia, launched a mini-movement known as Orphism, or Organic Cubism. The Delaunay’s approach, with its emphasis on color over form, clearly made an impression on Hofmann.”
(from the pbs.org site on Hans Hofmann)
Hofmann left for the United States in 1930, to be a guest teacher at UC Berkeley, and he chose to stay in the US, settling in New York City in 1932. In 1933 he opened his own school, the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts (this was his second school, he had opened one in Germany, which his wife, Miz, took care of while he was in the US, and before she moved to NY)
A second summer school was opened in Provincetown, MA, in 1934. In 1939 Hofmann’s wife Miz moved to New York City, and Hofmann spent the next several decades devoted to teaching the up and coming young artists in New York. He retired from teaching in 1958.
The list of students who attended Hofmann’s prestigious school during these years is impressive: Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler, Wolf Kahn, Joan Mitchell, Robert Richenburg, Larry Rivers, and the list goes on. He was incredibly influential on the Abstract Expressionists, and it was in a review of one of Hofmann’s exhibitions in 1946 that the term was first used.
“He is certainly one of the most uncompromising representatives of what some call the spatter-and-daub school of painting and I, more politely, have christened abstract Expressionism” (Robert Coates, review at Mortimer Brandt Gallery, 1946, from “Hofmann” by Cynthia Goodman)
Something I found fascinating about Hofmann as a teacher is that he didn’t show his students his own work. He didn’t want to influence their work, instead encouraging them to visit museums and galleries.
During these years Hofmann’s style flowed and grew more abstract. Portraits, still life, landscapes eventually moved into the Surreal and into some of the first drip and splatter style paintings. He had a philosophy about a painter having a whole different style for every mood, something which pulls together all of disparate works I found in doing my research (perhaps a better trained eye would see that they are from the same artist). It’s also an idea that makes me feel better about my own work, and definite lack of “style”!
Besides his teaching, Hofmann is best known for his theory “push and pull”, which is the color theory of warm and cool colors pushing and pulling to create a sense of depth, movement and space. See a demonstration of it here.
My favorite works of Hofmann are those that he did after his retirement from teaching. His use of the rectangle as “primary spatial organizer” is something I find fascinating. I think that it’s the rectangle used to demonstrate his push pull theory that thrills me.
(“Combinable Wall I & II”, Image from HansHoffman.net)
Most of us know about cool colors receding etc…, but this really does take that idea to another level and with it, Hoffman has created a very exciting world to step into. And the texture he created with the gobs of paint…well, as a fabric/texture-aholic, it’s just wonderful icing!
(“Indian Summer”, Image from HansHofmann.net)
There is so much to Hans Hofmann that I just can’t cover here, so if you’d like to learn more I recommend the following: