Although Hans Hofmann was a prolific and respected modern artist, his greatest talent might have been teaching rather than painting. He influenced a generation of American artists, mentoring students such as Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner and Frank Stella. Louise Nevelson studied Cubism and abstraction with him in Munich. Jackson Pollock was particularly inspired by his 1940 painting “Spring,”created by dribbling, splashing and pouring paint directly onto his canvas which influenced Pollak’s own drip technique. Hofmann’s exploration of the spontaneous act of gestural painting was pivotal to the development of Abstract Expressionism, the only international art movement to begin in the United States. But perhaps the strongest testimony to Hans Hofmann’s talent is the fact that he still gives art lessons today, more than 20 years after his death.
The students of the High School of Graphic Communication Arts learn from him everyday. They view his mural, “Abstraction,” one of the two Hofmann designed for New York City, on the wall of the school building located at 439 W. 49th St between Ninth and 10th Avenues. It is well cared for, one of seventeen that the Municipal Art Society pledged to preserve in 1991. Hofmann designed “Abstraction,” which was executed by L. Vincent Foscato in 1958, when the high school was called the New York School of Printing. He referred to the mural, 64 feet long and 11½ feet high, as “the bowtie on the building.” Its vivid patterns and spirited presence live up to Hofmann’s description of it. It displays characteristics strongly associated with Hofmann’s work: bold contrasts of color, form, and texture, the results of an theory and technique he called “push and pull.”
Born in Weissburg, Bavaria in 1880, Hoffman grew up in Munich. He originally studied science and mathematics, but by the age of 18, entered art school, studying Impressionism and Pointillism. A patron supported him as an artist in Paris, where he met Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso and Fernand Leger, whose work shaped his ideas and style. Hofmann opened his own art school in Munich, which became well known around the world. Invited to teach in the United States, he immigrated to the United States and ultimately opened the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts in 1933. Hofmann continued to teach until 1958.
As exuberant as his work is, Hofmann held tightly to several rules for painting. Chief among them was his strong belief that an artwork’s meaning should be important to the creator. His mural “Abstraction” still has meaning today, particularly to the current students at the High School of Communication Arts.
– Alison Brown, Carol Cofone