Hans Hofmann (1880 - 1966), German-born American painter and one of the most influential teachers of modern art in the United States. Hofmann was a leading figure of the abstract expressionism movement. He painted with great freedom of gesture, yet his compositions were tightly organized, with an eye to relationships and contrasts between colors, shapes, and textures. His pupils included artists as diverse as sculptors Louise Nevelson and Richard Stankiewicz, and painters Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler, and Larry Rivers. Hofmann’s lectures on artistic theory significantly influenced American art critic Clement Greenberg.
Hofmann was born Johann Georg Albert Hofmann in Weissenberg, Germany. After establishing a career in science and engineering, in 1898 he enrolled in Moritz Heymann's art school in Munich. From 1904 to 1914 he lived in Paris, France where he absorbed many of the theories of modern art that would find expression in his paintings and teachings. From the paintings of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque he learned about the geometry of cubism, while Robert Delaunay and Henri Matisse inspired his palette of intense colors. In 1915 he founded his first art school, the Hofmann Schule für Moderne Kunst, in Munich. In 1930 and 1931, at the invitation of a former student, he taught summer school at the University of California at Berkeley. He moved to New York City the following year and opened the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts in the fall of 1933; in 1935 he also started a summer school in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Until 1958, when he closed them to pursue painting full-time, Hofmann’s schools trained many of the most accomplished abstract artists of the era.
Even in early, representational works, such as Table with Teakettle, Green Vase, Red Flowers (1936, University Art Museum, Berkeley), Hofmann combined intense colors with strong geometric organization. He spread colors across the canvas with both brush and palette knife, working quickly and spontaneously, and leaving his gestures prominent in areas where he applied the paint thickly. By the mid-1940s Hofmann’s work had become increasingly abstract and had begun to show the influence of European surrealists (see Surrealism). The surrealists’ use of automatism — a technique in which the artist paints or draws with as little conscious control as possible — and their acceptance of the role of accident in art led him to techniques of pouring and spattering paint onto the canvas. Hofmann often employed several techniques in one work, combining poured paint with conventional brushwork in such works as The Wind (1942, University Art Museum, Berkeley) and Spring (1944, Museum of Modern Art, New York City).
Throughout his work Hofmann alternated between a variety of distinct styles and techniques. In Fragrance (1956, Honolulu Academy of Arts, Hawaii), he favored rough, irregular shapes and thick dabs of paint aimed in many directions. By contrast, Combinable Wall I and II (1961, University Art Museum, Berkeley) consists of precise and clearly outlined rectangles whose strict geometry echoes the shape of the canvas. In other paintings, such as Heraldic Call (1963, University Art Museum, Berkeley), irregular, gestural marks compete with sharp-edged geometric shapes in the same visual field.
In his writings, Hofmann stressed the correlation between painting and music and expressed the belief that paintings were the product of both visual and psychological oppositions. He frequently mentioned the idea of pictorial “push and pull.” Because warm colors (red, orange, yellow) appear to project toward the viewer and cool colors (blue, green, purple) tend to recede, Hofmann juxtaposed warm and cool colors, as well as different shapes, textures, and gestural marks, to generate a sense of movement and energy, a visual “push and pull.”
Source: Cited from Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia with revisions.
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