Hans Hofmann’s Artistic Re-birth Came Later In Life – Open Studio with Jared Bowen

Hans Hofmann’s Artistic Re-birth Came Later In Life – Open Studio with Jared Bowen

Even without picking up
a paint brush, Hans Hofmann had a profound
influence on modern art as a teacher to some
of the 20th-century greats. But as the Peabody Essex Museum
reveals in a new show, he was in a class all his own. To artist Hans Hofmann, process
was as important as painting. And he’s not just using a brush.>>No. On this one, on this one, I think you can see
a palette knife, you can see brush. He may have squeezed pigment
directly onto the canvas. Once in a while,
we find fingerprints.>>BOWEN: This is Hofmann’s
“Indian Summer” painted when he was 79, when he was in the midst
of an artistic rebirth.>>This is an amazing landscape
or mindscape of what might be fall colors,
uh… this bright, bright orange,
intense blue.>>BOWEN: In fact,
many of the works in this Peabody Essex Museum
show, where we find Hofmann exploring
“the nature of abstraction,” were completed toward
the end of his life, says curator Lucinda Barnes.>>All he did was paint. And the paintings
that we’re sitting amongst, these are paintings
that he made in his 80s. And there’s an enormous scale
to them. There’s enormous energy.>>BOWEN: Hofmann was born
in Germany in 1880. In Europe, he was
a painter and teacher. He was also part
of an artistic circle that included Picasso
and Matisse that would prove to be
hugely impactful.>>There were a number
of German expats who were in-in Paris
at the time, and they’d kind of hang out
at the same bars, and they’d go to
the same exhibitions. You see that influence of Picasso and Matisse
and Cezanne very clearly.>>BOWEN: In the 1930s, Hofmann
moved to the United States, escaping Nazi occupation
and World War II. Here, he took the teacher track, ultimately in New York
and Provincetown, where Hofmann set up a studio
and classroom called the Barn.>>In that barn, he taught
generations of students for over 20 years. He returned there every summer to teach and also recharge
his own artistic practice.>>BOWEN:
Lydia Gordon is a curator with the Peabody Essex Museum, which is putting the focus
on Hofmann as an artist. But it’s hard to ignore
his impact as a teacher, whose students included some of
the most well-known artists of the 20th century,
including Louise Nevelson, Helen Frankenthaler,
and Robert Motherwell.>>Hoffman was inspirational
as a teacher, because he encouraged that
individual creative practice. So, it actually didn’t matter
what the end result looked like, but it was how
his students got there, how he got there. And you can really see that
in his own paintings that we have in this exhibition. They’re really full of movement. It’s almost as if he was dancing
when creating them.>>BOWEN: In Provincetown,
Hofmann thrived. He’d tapped into an artists’
community, just like in Europe. And then there was
the beauty of Cape Cod.>>He goes out, and the landscape
outside of his own studio, outside of his window,
is very evident in the early landscapes
that we have. He’s very much using
those Fauvist colors, those purples and those yellows,
to demonstrate the energy, the spirituality of nature
that he’s after.>>Many of the rules around
painting were moving away from a pictorial, a
photographic image of the world, and how do we delve deeper
into the soul of the artist.>>BOWEN: Hofmann closed his
Provincetown school in 1957 and began painting full-time for the first time
in more than 40 years.>>It was a
total life commitment.>>BOWEN: For much of the next
decade until his death in 1966, he was an unrelenting force,
says curator Lucinda Barnes.>>The experimentation, I think,
in his late paintings was more in the way of pushing
the boundaries for himself. You see much more use
of dark color, and ranges of black
and velvety greens and-and that’s not easy to do.>>BOWEN: Hofmann famously
distilled his method of making into the very simple phrase
“push and pull.”>>He referred to it as expanding and
contracting forces, really, polar opposites,
almost magnetic forces. And with push, you have pull.>>BOWEN: If you find some
of the concepts challenging, you’d be in good company. Clement Greenberg, one of the
most influential art critics of the mid-century,
labeled Hofmann one of the most difficult
artists alive– both to grasp and appreciate.>>What Greenberg was saying
at the time was that Hofmann was
very hard to pigeonhole. He was hard to put
into one category, and that was intentional
on Hofmann’s part. He had said if he had one style,
he was dead as an artist.>>BOWEN: Which is why,
even late in the game, Hans Hofmann never settled.>>He always had
his paintings around. He said, “Well, if I can’t live
with my painting, that painting isn’t
good enough.” And so, that was a test for him. He needed to be
continually inspired and continue to have
conversation with his works. # #

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