David Evison reviews the recent exhibition Hans Hofmann: Magnum Opus at the Museum Pfalzgalerie. Kaiserlautern. A video (in English and German featuring Karen Wilkin and William Agee) about the show is available here.
Evison writes: "From the evidence of this exhibition, Hofmann does not make a sudden breakthrough but gets to the top gradually. The group of paintings made at the war’s end, the example being Figures in Ferment, 1945 from the Reinhold Würth collection, are superb. But MOMA’s Flowering Desert, 1953 is special. It has every colour of the rainbow, all manners of paint application, light and dark contrast, even black and white; a recipe for disaster. But he is disciplined and has developed theories for himself and as pedagogy. From this strong conceptual base he has the scaffolding (Struktur) and can let go, and he lets rip when confronted with the canvas and with his materials. It is a little masterpiece as perfect as Gericault’s small Cavalry Skirmish in the Wallace collection."
Another entry in the seminal Paints a Picture series: Elaine de Kooning provides a first hand account of Hans Hofmann's process and approach to painting.
In a richly detailed narration, De Kooning records Hofmann's technical studio practice punctuated by his comments on painting: "Hofmann has evolved no rules for the making of a picture. On the contrary, always on guard against intellectualism and virtuosity, he says: 'At the time of making a picture, I want not to know what I’m doing; a picture should be made with feeling, not with knowing. The possibilities of the medium must be sensed. Anything can serve as a medium—kerosene, benzine, turpentine, linseed oil, beeswax…even beer,' he adds jokingly. ...'Painting, to me means forming with color,' Hofmann states. His first stroke of color is very important since it may be visible in the final version of the picture, and so, for Fruit Bowl, No. 1, Hofmann spent considerable time studying the still-life before picking up his brush... 'A work of art is finished from the point of view of the artist,' says Hofmann, 'when feeling and perception have resulted in a spiritual synthesis.' "
Halasz notes "two surprises in the current selection, two aspects of Hofmann's art that I'd never fully appreciated before. The first was his use of thin, straight lines... The second thing I'd never responded to before was Hofmann’s powerful command of blacks. One knows all about his bright colors, but his blacks can have just as much – if not more – energy. Given the chance, in fact, they can almost explode."
Beginning with her personal connection to Provincetown painting, Nancy Natale blogs a brief history of painting in Provincetown including the profiles of Charles Webster Hawthorne, Hans Hofmann, Henry Hensche, three "teachers who influenced generations of artists in and outside of Provincetown." Natale also discusses the divisions created by the teachers' "conflicting theories of painting." The post ends with a brief history of the Fine Arts Work Center and contemporary painters who live and work in Provincetown today.
It is interesting to consider Hans Hofmann's career trajectory today, a time when many art careers are made while artists are in their twenties and thirties. Carl Belz ponders Hofmann's influence and unusual late-in-life prodigiousness. Unlike the other Abstract Expressionist painters who were younger, Belz writes, "Hofmann was comfortable with the meaning of his enterprise; he had nothing to prove and was content to move his painting along at its own pace."
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.