This winter the Rose Art Museum presents work that painting guru Hans Hofmann created for architect Josep Sert’s Chimbote Project in Peru. Created for a series of murals, the nine painting studies form a concise example of Hofmann’s strengths as an abstract painter and modernist visionary. All were created in 1950, a fertile period in which Hofmann produced more than fifty paintings and completed numerous writing projects that reveal the formal and conceptual intricacies of his intellectual concerns and creative processes. Writings identified by the first line of the “typescripts,” as they are called include revelatory pieces such as “When I start to paint…,” dated April 1, 1950 and “In this moment…,” dated Nov. 25, 1950.
In the Boston Globe, Sebastian Smee reports that Hofmann, who was 70 in 1950, comes across as a profoundly agitated artist. “He was a great teacher, remembered so well by his students that this aspect of his life’s work is routinely placed front and center. He was also, as a painter, a late bloomer – and when he did bloom, his efforts had a bursting, haphazard quality, like hose water pressurized by a thumb….Full of thrusting energy and frequently beautiful, it’s a show I can recommend wholeheartedly. And yet Hofmann was patently not a genius. He was something else again – an adventurous, animating figure capable of painting scintillating abstractions, but in the end someone so absorbed in process and form that he was liable to forget what he was painting for. Where Pollock bewitches, expending terrific energy on achieving images of unearthly calm; where de Kooning’s twitching, slipping brushstrokes make different strains and speeds of feeling haltingly cohere; and where Rothko’s paintings make fuzzy fields of warm and cool color breathe with a kind of beautiful soul-ache, Hofmann’s paintings excite and impress, but rarely move.”
“Hans Hofmann: Circa 1950,” curated by Michael Rush. Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA. Through April 5.