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Monday, June 17, 2013

Hans Hofmann

Works by Hans Hofmann
Would you believe, the man on the right did all three paintings? No? If that was your reply, you'd be correct. Hans Hofmann (one "f") did the abstract painting above (as well as his self-portrait, right). The squirrel was painted by a different artist, who lived in a different century (spelling his name with an additional "f"). The Red Squirrel (center) was painted in 1778 by a German Hans Hoffmann, a great admirer of Albrecht Durer (who sometimes went so far as to sign his animal paintings with Durer's distinctive "AD" logo). The colorful abstract (left), To Miz, Pax - Vobiscum, was painted in 1964 by a different German, the more well-known, Hans J. Hofmann, who was, apparently an admirer of no one but himself. One of the websites I visited in pursuing my research had the squirrel attributed to the 20th century Hans Hofmann (along side his actual work), complete with a biography lifted from Wikipedia. The point in all this is that, in doing art research on the Internet, let the "buyer" beware.

Interior Composition, 1935,
Hans Hoffman--a dozen years
before its time.
It wouldn't be going too far, I would think, to nominate the 20th century Hans Hofmann as the "father of the New York School of Abstract Expressionism." The man had quite a number of that group's early abstractionists as his students, influencing such names as Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner, Wolf Kahn, Louise Nevelson, Larry Rivers, and the art critic Clement Greenberg (who was highly influential himself). Even before he migrated to the United States in 1933 (fleeing Hitler's Germany) he had, for two years, been teaching during the summer months in California. Taking up residence in New York, he taught at the Art Students' League before opening his own schools there and in Provincetown, Mass. Hofmann was something of a "painter's painter," doing work that, at the time (and probably even today), only other painters could really appreciate. Not only that, he wrote and taught what he thought, long before the seeds of his art philosophy took root and sprouted in the 1950s.

Magenta and Blue, 1950, Hans Hofmann
What was this philosophy? In his highly influential book, Search for the Real, Hofmann argued such views that: "...each medium of expression has its own order of being;" that "color is a plastic means of creating intervals;" and "any line placed on the [blank] canvas is already the fifth [line]." Hofmann lived to be 86 years old, long enough to partake of the Abstract Expressionist fruit he'd planted in the minds of his students. And though he was an intellectual, lacking the flamboyance of a Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning, his solid exploration of color masses has stood up quite well against the work of all those he taught to think as well as paint.
The Conjuror, 1959, Hans Hofmann--a progression to abstraction

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