Van Gogh •
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Hans Hofmann, one of the great art teachers of our time, was born in Weissenberg, Germany. He
ran away from home when he was sixteen, and in 1898 began to study art in Munich. By 1901, his Impressionist paintings had so impressed a wealthy Berliner that he sent Hofmann to Paris for ten years, paying all his expenses. Hofmann's friends, in Paris, included Matisse, Picasso, and Delaunay; all leaders of the most advanced artistic circle of the period before World War I. Once in Germany, on vacation, in 1914, Hofmann was exempted from military service because of an earlier lung ailment, and in 1915 he opened his own school in Munich. He taught there until 1930 when he was invited to teach two summer sessions at the University of California, and was thus able to escape Hitler and the Nazi strictures upon modern art. Hofmann emigrated from Germany in 1932 and two years later, at the age of fifty-four, he opened a school in New York and then a summer school in Provincetown, Massachusetts. He continued to teach until 1958 when he decided to devote all his time to painting.
Hofmann provided the link between European art of the early twentieth century and the art of post-war America. He arrived steeped in great traditions ranging from the humanism of the Renaissance to the enthusiasms of Matisse and Picasso. His painting was fauvist in color and expressionistic in manner. In 1939, he became one of the first Abstract Expressionists of the New York School and is considered, with Arshile Gorky and Jackson Pollock, a co-founder of the movement. He is the teacher's teacher for today's artists and his influence will no doubt continue on for many years to come.
Hofmann believed that what an artist felt about his work was more important than the manner in which he painted and as a result his students' work ranged in style from pure realism to complete abstraction. He taught that "creative expression is ... the spiritual translation of inner concepts into form." He thought of paintings as the use of color to create form by oppositions of contrasting colors, of positive planes in negative space, of contraction opposed to expansion, the static to the dynamic. He characterized the tension in any composition as "push and pull," a simple enough summation of the more technical terminology. A forceful, positive, warm personality, Hofmann's long and difficult career encompassed two worlds and two civilizations. He taught artists, art critics, and art historians, and will be long remembered for both his teachings and his works.