"PHANTASIE IN RED"
New York was the epicenter of Surrealist activity during the mid-1940s, as many artists had fled Europe during World War II seeking refuge in the United States. Hofmann was greatly interested in the Surrealists' psychological investigations, as well as the mythic, primitive imagery they produced as a result of their explorations into the unconscious. He was also heavily influenced by Miro's use of accident as a point of departure for his artwork, and fervently explored these spontaneous Surrealist methods of drawing. Painted in August of 1945, Phantasie in Red embodies these investigations with its lively drips, animated life-like forms and dynamic colors. As discussed in the 1986 catalogue for the exhibition, The Interpretive Link, "this watercolor is remarkable for the tiny pictographic creature situated in a space that cannily compromises between the illusionistic space of veristic surrealism and the abstract expressionists' commitment to integrity of the picture plane"
Hans Hofmann is considered to be one of the most vital artists and influential teachers of the 20th century. Known for his experimentation with a variety of styles, Hofmann strove to create a synthesis between the spatial principles of Cubism, the vibrant color palette of the Fauves and gestural paint handling of Expressionism. As a teacher, he formed a link between European Modernism and Abstract Expressionism, transplanting the revolutionary ideas that flourished on the continent earlier in the century and cultivating them within the fertile soil of mid-century America.
Born in Germany in 1880, Hofmann moved to Paris to study art in 1904 during a particularly transformative period when the radical movements of Fauvism and Cubism were at their height. He learned from, befriended and studied with École de Paris artists such as Picasso, Delaunay and Matisse, and as a result became an active participant in the artistic revolution that occurred in Paris at this time. This was an especially crucial experience for Hofmann personally, as it would form the basis of his artistic philosophies for the rest of his career.
In 1915, Hofmann left Paris for Munich, where he opened his own art school, the Hans Hofmann Schule für Bildende Kunst, which developed an international reputation in the years following the war and attracted many students from abroad. One such pupil was Louise Nevelson, who continued to study under him after he relocated to New York in 1931, due to growing political violence. After teaching at the Art Students League in New York briefly, Hofmann opened his own American art school, which, after several moves, settled in Greenwich Village where it remained until he retired from teaching in 1958. In 1935, he also established a summer school in Provincetown, Massachusetts- a resort town in Cape Cod which attracted many fellow artists and inspired his own creativity.
Hofmann provided his students in New York with a direct line to European Modernism that was previously not available to them. At that time, American aesthetic taste and academic direction were dominated by Regionalist artists such as Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry, and Grant Wood. Through his first-hand accounts of these experiences, he was able to bring the School of Paris to life for his American pupils. His instruction was derived not just from contemporary European art movements such as Fauvism, Cubism and Expressionism, but were gathered and distilled from a variety of other innovators who spanned the centuries such Rembrandt, Rubens, Lorenzo Lotto and Giotto. The philosophies of Hegel, Wofflin and Goethe were also vital components of his teachings. The result was Hofmann's own hybrid philosophy of art that stimulated exploration and experimentation and encouraged his students to develop their own creative modes of expression. Notable pupils from these years included Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell, Larry Rivers and Allan Kaprow.
Hofmann was a dedicated teacher for decades before his own artwork gained recognition. It wasn't until 1944, when the artist was in his 60s, that he had his first one-man show at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of this Century Gallery. The following year, his work was included in the Whitney Museum's "Annual Exhibition: Contemporary American Painting," as well as in multiple exhibitions at Howard Putzel's Gallery 67, The Betty Parsons Gallery and The Kootz Gallery. Thereafter, his work was regularly exhibited until his death in 1966.
Much like his teaching philosophy, his artistic style was highly varied and experimental. As critic Clement Greenberg aptly remarked, "Hofmann's inventiveness is truly enormous, to the point where he might be called a virtuoso of invention" (Clement Greenberg, Hans Hofmann, Paris: Éditions George Fall, 1961). In this way, Hofmann's work defies simple categorization. His art synthesized the three-dimensionality of nature and the two-dimensionality of painting, the conscious and the irrational, form and color, flatness and depth, push and pull. As a result, he left behind an enormous contribution to the artistic development of the 20th century.
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