by Orville O. Clarke, Jr.
(Manny Silverman Gallery, West Hollywood) Most people are familiar with Hans Hofmann as one of the most influential teachers of the 20th century in America, and with his connection to Louise Nevelson, Lee Krasner, and Jackson Pollock, among others. Yet, that is where most knowledge ends. Fewer are aware of his theories of art and the dynamic and powerful nature of his paintings, or even that there was a Los Angeles connection: He was an instructor at the Chouinard School of Art.
Hofmann remains a central figure in the development of a modernist aesthetic in the avant-garde in America. He provided a key link to European modernism through his experience with color and Fauvism and most particularly with Paul Cezanne and Cubism. He was able to set the standard that many young and impressionable artists were to follow. For Hofmann, the canvas was not a battleground for politics or religion, but a sacred spot where the dynamics of color and movement were to be explored.
He denied the preeminence of one point perspective, declaring it dead and insisting on the honesty of the two-dimensionality of the picture plane. No longer would the illusionism of the Renaissance be the goal of a painter, but to find the balance of movement within the picture plane, or "push and pull," as Hofmann called it. He believed that the successful artist should balance the reciprocity of movements in opposite directions. Thus movement inside the pictorial space must be balanced by a movement towards the viewer. This was the goal that one must strive for.
The many works on display cumulatively represent the variety of styles that the artist employed. In Untitled , the bold colors recall Fauvism, while the flatness of the composition and the angular fragmentation of the picture plane echoes similar works by Cezanne. Also, Hofmann's skillful blending of predominately primary colors makes the same attempt to create spacial harmony as Cezanne did with his subdued palette.
In 1958, Hofmann took a dramatic step by closing his two art schools to devote himself solely to painting. The artist, once shy about displaying his works, now burst forth with bold new expressions of his theories that were to influence another generation of American artists--the color field painters. In Untitled  we can see the growth in comparison with the earlier work of the same name, by the bold demonstration of his love of pigment with expansive sections of floating masses of color that seem to float on the paper's surface and simultaneously signals both retreat and advance. The artist is now free to explore all aspects of the relationship between color and the picture plane.
In today's satiated art world, where the boundaries of art that Marcel Duchamp began exploring at the beginning of the century have long been shattered, it is sometimes hard to realize how radical Hofmann's work seemed and the dramatic effect that he had on American artists. Take this opportunity to study the works of a formalist master of color and movement. In these works on paper we can follow the artist's quest for perfection that consumed him throughout his career. It both informed and transcended his fame as a teacher.
"Untitled, india ink and crayon
on paper, 14 x 11, 1948.