Connected \\ November 6, 2019

Feeding a creative impulse

Walking through Hans Hofmann: The Nature of Abstraction with a notebook in hand, Felix Rozenblyum couldn’t help but note the freeing feeling depicted in the paintings on view. Knowing little of abstract art as a child, the Montserrat College of Art junior now has a deeper appreciation. “It’s almost like living like a child again, but as an adult,” the student says of abstract art. “You just want to go and splatter paint. It’s a freeing experience.”

Rozenblyum recently joined 60 students from Montserrat College of Art for an exclusive tour of the Hofmann exhibition as well as a look inside the museum’s new wing. PEM Associate Curator Lydia Gordon, who serves as the exhibition’s coordinating curator, is also an instructor of Modern Art History at the small college located in downtown Beverly. Gordon invited the dozens of students to the museum one recent October afternoon as part of a special lecture.

Being able to teach in the gallery is incredibly meaningful to the students and to me,” Gordon said of the visit. “To be able to use PEM as a resource is really beneficial for students. It helps them think and experience art in multiple senses.

 

Leading her students into the exhibition, Gordon talked about Hans Hofmann — a German-born artist and teacher who immersed himself in the avant-garde scene in Paris with the likes of Picasso and Henri Matisse before migrating to the U.S. and beginning his trajectory into abstract expressionism. Widely known as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Hofmann is equally celebrated for his skills as a teacher, having taught countless numbers of students at his art school in Provincetown, Massachusetts.


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A group of students pause at Hans Hofmann's painting The Garden and listen as their professor reads a quote of his on the wall: "Nature speaks to us in space, color and light."


The curious group gathered closely in front of The Garden, the first painting on view, and saw the bold saturation of colors and thick splotches of paint. “Nature was his constant source of inspiration and the window through which he created, always,” Gordon said. She then gestured to a set of shingled barn doors, a nod to Hofmann’s art studio in Provincetown, while a soundscape of ocean waves and chirping seagulls plays softly in the background.

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Lito Karatsoli-Chanikian, PEM exhibition designer, talks about how the gallery experience was created, including the decision to use walls in a variety of widths and heights to mimic the angles of an easel.

Hofmann’s teachings and principles are woven into the curriculum at Montserrat College of Art, which also has deep connections to the famed artist. Paul M. Scott, one of the college’s founding faculty members, was Hofmann’s studio assistant and student, along with several other founding leaders who studied with the artist. “Montserrat College has that wonderful tie,” added Gordon. “Hofmann’s legacy is wide, varied and very deep.”

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Motioning toward the colors and noting the strong parallels to nature in Hofmann's In the Wake of the Hurricane, PEM Associate Curator Lydia Gordon speaks to her students.

Entering into a new gallery space, the group viewed The Wind, a 1942 work that incorporates drip paint and a mix of mediums. “He never stops trying new things. He never stops experimenting,” Gordon told her students.

Pursuing a major in Book Arts, Audrey Aristeo says the tour, as well as the opportunity to have Gordon as a professor, has given her much more respect for the curatorial team who create exhibitions such as these. The college sophomore is also very much interested in abstract art. “It speaks to me,” said the Pennsylvania native.

Walking through the bright red passageway inside the exhibition, students then entered into the artist’s abstract world of bold colors. Their professor invited them to step further into the “color room,” an immersive rotating-light experience inspired by Hofmann’s theory that color has the power to evoke certain moods. Transitioning from bright yellow into violet and green to shades in between, students sat transfixed on bean bag chairs, taking notes and sketching.


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With notebooks in their hands, the students comfortably situated themselves inside the captivating “color room,” taking in the silence and letting the colors awash them.


Wearing neon pink and green-dangling earrings, student Carter Fluckiger stepped out from the room and spoke of those two colors the most. “I loved it. It was my favorite thing,” said the college sophomore. Fluckiger, who wears eyeglasses, said some of the colors bouncing off the walls almost mimicked the feeling of wearing 3-D glasses.

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Montserrat sophomore Carter Fluckiger talks with a classmate in the gallery.

Making their way to the end of the exhibition, the group stepped in front of The Castle, one of Hofmann’s last known works that represents a culmination of his principles, including his use of line, shape and color and “push and pull” technique. As its use of white space differs dramatically from the rest of his pieces, Gordon motioned to a quote on the adjacent wall: “A work is finished when all parts involved communicate themselves, so that they don’t need me.” Similar to Hofmann, she suggested that each of them know, as art students, the feeling they get when they know they’re done with a piece.


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An art student gazes at Hofmann’s 1950 work Magenta and Blue. All photos by Bob Packert/PEM.


Exiting the gallery, sophomore Kiran Marwaha started thinking of her own work. “It definitely gives me ideas on how to experiment with art that I wouldn’t have thought about before,” she said. “It’s maybe something I can try.”

That kind of experimentation and fostering of individual creativity is what Hofmann is known for, says Gordon, who hopes this experience gave her students the chance to engage with his spirit in the space. “It’s really inspiring,” she said. “Your creative impulse is always there, you just have to keep tapping into it.”


Hans Hofmann: The Nature of Abstraction is on view at PEM through January 5, 2020.

As Montserrat College of Art celebrates its 50th year, the college is reflecting on the impact of Hans Hofmann on the college. The following talks and exhibitions are taking place during this celebration.

Join PEM Associate Curator, exhibition coordinating curator and Montserrat faculty member, Lydia Gordon & Longtime Montserrat faculty member Tim Harney for The Impact of Hofmann
Founders Gallery, 248 Cabot St, Beverly, MA
November 13, 6:30-7:30pm

Lydia Gordon in conversation with longtime Montserrat Faculty and steward of Hofmann's principals, Tim Harney. The discussion will loosely be structured as a historic context of Hofmann (Harney), a contemporary contextualization (Gordon), followed by a joint exploration of Hofmann's lasting impact.

Ollie Balf: A Bright Life
Founders Gallery, 248 Cabot St, Beverly, MA
Through December 15
Reception: November 13, 5-8pm

In the late 1940s after graduating college, Ollie Balf would go on to live in New York and studied at the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts. While in those years artists from New York flocked to the coasts of Massachusetts, but instead of following Hofmann to Provincetown, Balf landed in Rockport, MA, spending his first summer there in 1947. Balf was among the founding faculty of Montserrat, which was officially open for enrollment in 1970.

Balf fell in love with water-coloring on Cape Ann, a medium he'd never been formally taught but later declared his favorite. In between visits to Old Garden Beach and East Gloucester's Hawthorne Inn Jazz Club, he knocked out three paintings a day. A Bright Life features eight framed and fourteen unframed watercolors from various years, ranging from abstract to observational.

Color and Abstraction: Montserrat Students Respond to Hans Hofmann
Founders Gallery, 248 Cabot St, Beverly, MA
Through December 15
Reception: November 13, 5-8pm

Not only were some of the founding faculty directly influenced by Hofmann, countless other faculty members hold his teachings and methods as canonical, and frequently incorporate them into their syllabi. On view as part of Color and Abstraction current students display paintings, drawings, and sculptural objects that reflect or react to the tenants of Hofmann. Participating artists include Joshua Bonifaz, Caddy Cicogna, Emily Davis, Jack DeBusk, Laurel Driskill, Jack Fay, Jaime Fox, Maeve Lally, Rebecca Nagle, Emily Scally, and Matthew Rucki.

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