George Hofmann – Painting Life

During one of our alcohol fueled conversations on Romanticism, Paul Corio mentioned to me that his colleague, teacher and friend George Hofmann was an inspired Romantic painter and would probably have some insight into our discussions. I was anxious to get the perspective of someone who had seen and experienced the changes happening in the new Postmodern art world first hand. George came of age when the focus of painting began to shift. Something new and definitive was beginning to alter the ways that we approached painting and interpreted vision. George has been kind enough to give us a bit of his personal history, and also, a few of his thoughts about the challenges facing painting today. I find it interesting that a lot of painters from his generation – for instance Hockney and Stella – found something missing in their approaches to painting. It sent them looking for clues in the past – not in a nostalgic sense, but in order to find a way out of the conundrum – what is visual, what is optical and how do we experience what we see? It’s clear that George came to these realizations in his own studio through a lifetime of work, and he’s willing to impart some of his hard earned wisdom and experience our way. So without any further gilding of the lily – George Hofmann

This must start a ways back: I was introduced to the great world of art in high school in the middle to late 1950’s: at the High School of Music and Art in New York, we had teachers who actually were practicing artists in New York, and they expected us to be conversant with what was going on – so seeing what was happening at the 10th St. galleries was a given. A lot of bad Abstract Expressionist work is mostly my memory. I knew it even then.

Then, in a removal, I went to art school in Germany, starting in 1959. It was a shock in many ways to go from a sophisticated art environment to a desert – everyone of consequence and importance to art had fled Germany, or been killed, and what remained was provincial and arid. In school I was regarded as a freak – my teacher thought my approach was “amusing”. All around me, people were just beginning to see Picasso – I had to remember, often, that it was for the first time – but, on the other hand, there was a pristine quality to the first viewers, and of course, there was History, in a big way, all around.

A German artist pointed out an Olitski painting which had just won the Carnegie International, and, by sheer chance, when I came back to the US, I was hired by Olitski to teach at C. W. Post College on Long Island. I liked Olitski, I liked his work, and we became friends; when he went off to Bennington College to teach, I often visited him and his family there, driving up from New York with huge cans of Magna paint from Bocour in the back seat of my VW, and Clement Greenberg in the front seat.

This was indeed the great world – but it seemed like a natural one to me, although I was certainly aware of the stature of those around me. I met Ken Noland, at whose house I stayed, I met David Smith, I met Paul Feeley and Vincent Longo and a host of other painters and sculptors – eventually, Anthony Caro, and Isaac Witkin and Phillip King – the whole of the Color Field school and related artists.

Professionalism then was everything. It signified commitment and passion in those artists, and this is the world I wanted to live in.

As it happened tho, fired by a new administration at C. W. Post, I eventually ended up getting a job teaching at Hunter College, which was then the seat of Minimalism, where Tony Smith reigned over a coterie of ex-helpers and like minded artists, and Gene Goossen was the genial chair. This was the enemy, in a way – the art world as I knew it was split between the Color Field and the Minimalist painters and sculptors. The rest were downtown somewhere, doing something insignificant. And I was an odd man out at Hunter, being suspect, because of my associations.

Still, I was true to my beliefs, but it was a shock when, after my first big show at French and Co. in 1970 (a terrible show), Nancy Hoffman, who was then director there, left to open her own gallery and began showing more commercially directed work. That was my first realization that something was seriously wrong in the art world; looking back, that all probably had its origins in the early 1960s, but I was removed from it at the time, and anyway, it didn’t count for much, even later, in terms of what I thought was important in art.

Altho a lot was being rattled in the 1960s, to pay strict attention to art, this was a period of dislocation for me as an artist; I was friendly with Robert Moskowitz, who had glued a window shade to a canvas and who had shown at Castelli (this was far removed from what I knew) and even Bob was confused by what was arising in the art world, but being part of the downtown scene, he fit in much better than I did then.

Circumstances led me to do some good work in the 1970s, despite personal difficulties, and by the time of the ‘80s I was doing work that sold, and was admired. I was asked by a real estate developer, Francis Greenburger, to head a new foundation for under-recognized artists, and I worked hard to establish his credentials in the art world and to put the foundation on a footing that represented the highest levels of the art world: Clement Greenberg and Robert Motherwell were among the judges that first year out (1986), and there was some comfort for me in the fact that recognition, of a sort, of real value in art, was still alive.

Meanwhile, of course, Pop art dominated the scene, and many other movements, however minor, became prominent for a season at a time. I felt more and more an iconoclast as a painter however, and after a horrendous outing as director of Triangle Workshop (Tony Caro’s summer camp for art) in 1988, I withdrew to the country. I still taught at Hunter (and that place was demoralized after Tony Smith died), but I felt more and more isolated as an artist in the beliefs that I still held – especially as my roots were in Abstract Expressionism, which, I felt more and more, was under-recognized as the seminal movement of our times, but more importantly, one not completed.

Isolation was a blessing in disguise, as it forced me to face what I really believed in, and what my deepest convictions were. Therapy helped a lot: confronting fears and weird beliefs in life helped me to face fears and weird beliefs in art, and the two eventually became intertwined, in the sense that the one taught me the other.

I came to see Abstract Expressionism as a natural phenomenon – one that, as in nature, could be felled by a lightning strike, or from incomplete growth within. I still believe this. AE emerged from the hard confrontations of people who had been born before electric light – theirs was a pioneering effort, and one that required such a tremendous effort and took such a tremendous toll that, perhaps, it was unsustainable. Real feeling, which was the aim, was very, very hard, and still is. Real honesty was very hard, and still is.

It was easy to see how Pop could take over – smart-assness can trump real emotion publicly with éclat, and it was much easier to digest for the newly rich who bought paintings not to have to do the hard work of understanding what painters were trying to do.

And: many artists lost their way, or retreated.

At the same time, the great educational effort in the arts produced a certain intellectualism in artists – the artists now were more and more academically trained, and less the “seat of the pants” types (in Bill Rubin’s phrase) who were the mainstays before.

Is it any wonder that these influences conflated, to produce what we have now?
The wonder is that it has lasted so long.

But again, real feeling is difficult – hard for artists and public alike. We have no religion to base it all in, we are swamped by commercialism, and the lack of candor generally itself breeds contempt.

My own position as an artist can therefore said to be that of a Romantic – if by Romantic is meant the Nearly Obliterated, yearning for light; that yearning seems to me the hallmark of those who “emphasize the imagination and emotions”, who value “sensibility and the use of autobiographical material”, who “exalt in the primitive and the common man”, who “appreciate external nature”, and who have an interest in “the remote”. According to Webster’s.

Count me in.


I didn’t say much about my studio practice:

For a very long time, I worked “despite” in the studio. I mean that I felt hemmed in by the constraints imposed (or self-imposed) on me by the discipline, as I saw it, of the field. I took this very, very personally and it was a long, long struggle.

It had its moments: I realized, early on, that the painters I admired – Olitski, Noland, Louis and others – had opened the Field – that was what Color Field meant to me – and that it was opened for me. I wasn’t conceited about this, it simply felt very real, and a good thing. And I related this openness to the great works of the past which I had seen in Europe when I was a student. My father was born in Wurzburg, Germany, and when I was there, where my relatives still lived, I saw, and loved the Tiepolo frescos in the Treppenhaus in the palace there. That space deeply stayed with me, and I thought, every time I saw Olitski’s early Color Field paintings that this field that had been opened for me related directly to that extreme of pictorial space in Tiepolo.

But I took the self-criticizing that was built in to the rigor of professionalism to a point where, finally, my partner, Patty Kerr Ross, a woman with a great eye and great judgment told me that I had to get Clement Greenberg out of my studio.

This is where what I had learned in therapy began to help me in my work. Later, when I was whining to Paul Corio (who had been my student at Hunter) about the fact that you could not avoid the pictorial space in painting, even with all the rigor in the world, he famously said to me “why not embrace it?” The teacher learns from the student.

In a way, opening, and admitting, the pictorial space in my painting, and facing what happened in that space became One.

It also caused me to look more deeply at artists I hadn’t really “seen” before – Degas, for instance, and certainly Hans Hofmann. Indeed, I became more open to lots of painters I hadn’t admitted into my private pantheon – seeing many traits that were estimable in many artists I had only given short shrift to; my critical intelligence expanded, and while this often involved hard work and dilemmas, the realizations were great as well.

I also learned to look more closely, and more generously, at what was happening around me: much of what has happened in painting in the last few decades has been, in various ways, involved in the fracture of pictorial space, and although this is not the subject matter of most painting, fractured space has been a hallmark, one probably connected to digitalization, of art for a while now. I think, from a close study of this phenomenon, that what will emerge will be a new conceptualization – a new pictorial space; as in any organic process, old forms die, and new forms emerge from the fallen.

For myself, I’ve gone through many difficult and trying periods in the studio: one day, as I was standing with a power saw in front of a new “painting” I realized that the pictorial space that interested me wasn’t physical, and that meant that the space I was after had to really be pictorial, period; as I couldn’t be in another century, or in any place other than where I was, that I had to find a solution, my own solution, to this. I did it by leaning on the masters I knew, Tiepolo, Degas, maybe Hofmann, even Bonnard, and, of course, the greatest of the greats, Velasquez.

The stripped-downness of the painters of the early Renaissance is now very compelling to me – the Duccio Madonna in the Met is perhaps the most compelling picture I’ve seen in a long, long time, and has become a model for me.

At the same time, allowing myself not to be perfect in painting has become something difficult to really accept, and, as in a conundrum, ultimately the most rewarding of efforts. Learning from therapy, I’ve seen that you can’t change the past, but you can work with what you’ve got – change has become a deep part of the process to me; a friend, Richard Garrison (a conceptual artist) said the work is now more like “a recorded mess”. I like this, as that’s what life is, I think.

For more work by and about George Hofmann click the link here!

David Shields – Reality Hunger: A Manifesto

Like most things these days I came across David Shield’s work through links and links of links. June Underwood mentioned a Zadie Smith article that mentioned David’s work in a comment, and I was off to the races. Reality or “finding reality” has been an issue in the studio and we’ve discussed the implications of “reality” in a number of posts. Once I had read a few articles about David’s work I was hooked – Rene Zellwegger to his Tom Cruise (He had me at Reality!) His forthcoming book entitled Reality Hunger: A Manifesto is just that. The book doesn’t work the way we have come to expect our “reality,” our media infused, computer programmed world to work. It twists our expectations and then issues a call to arms. Once you’ve read the book you’ll find a new resolve to go deeper into your work, into yourself. It’s as bracing as a brick through a plate-glass window.

Every artistic movement from the beginning of time is an attempt to figure a way to smuggle more of what the artist thinks is reality into the work of art.

The book itself is worked through in two ways. The first is a direct challenge to the “institutional” idea of appropriation as both homage and reference. Now this is complicated because David accepts that we exist in our Postmodern era, and appropriation is part of the theoretical backbone of everyday Postmodern practice, just like cars in the 50s and television in the 60s and computers in the 90s. He has arranged his book as a collection of aphorisms, ideas, thoughts, quotations, etc., then culled them into thematic chapters. Each chapter is directed towards a specific idea about writing, about art and life. Some of the appropriations are word for word, some have been modified through his own thought processes, and some are half-remembered things that may or may not be original. These are all mixed in and guided by his voice, his thought, his memory. But unlike most contemporary appropriation, here it’s used it to guide meaning connected to an interior process, a process of feeling. This use of appropriation is something we haven’t seen for a while. It is a way for an artist to access memory, access one’s own history through the larger public culture – a “found object” becomes something personal when it’s internalized rather than referenced, when it’s coveted rather than displayed. Appropriation is transgressive when it’s stolen and woven into one’s personality, when it becomes part of one’s life. This kind of specific cultural transgression can make personal expression dangerous to behold and that gets one excited. David “steals” the way Titian stole from Giorgone, Picasso stole from Velazquez, or Matisse stole from Cezanne. In this sense to appropriate means that something new is coming into being, something unfamiliar from the comfortably known. Unlike Postmodern practice which continuously displays its references, footnotes its borrowings or re-presents a representation in an attempt to circumvent meaning, responsibility and progress, David asks us to actually make this found and stolen culture our own, make it part of our expression and our life – to actually use it to make something we haven’t experienced before, something for the 21st Century!

Which brings us to the second and more important (at least to my mind) part of the book. Reality. For the first time in quite a long time an artist turns away from the contrived reality of institutional practice and programmed certainty. David began to change his work when he realized he could no longer write fiction or read novels. Like a few of us in the art world he began to see the contrived and mannered production that was beginning to appear in our culture. The “well-made novel” had taken over the literary world in the same way that the “well-made painting” had taken over the art world. There has been a kind of certainty, a formulaic rulebook that set the basic tone and structure for every act of professional art being made. In our world this contrived reality is called Mannerism. David began to question the processes of fiction by looking inward to his own existence. Reality was a far more complicated and interesting idea. One’s own memory is where nothing is made up, but everything is interpreted. There are no rules, there are only memories, feelings, experiences. How those things are formed and relayed becomes the interesting part of making art. By starting with himself he wasn’t making things up, just relaying them – simple, direct and true. He also describes the disconnect between the culture as it’s formed around us and our natural lived experience. The disconnect between the two, our culture and our life, is huge, disturbing, and exciting, and that is where David was determined to relate his life. The blur – as he has entitled one of his chapters, is that ambiguous area where we determine our own fictions and realities.

Postmodernism’s catchphrase has been “desire.” Today we are lost in a world of desire and many of us have begun to look for a new way through. Our culture remains abstract, unfulfilled, nebulous and we hunger for something more. David Shields calls it Reality.

At least that’s my misreading. I wrote to David in the hopes that he would answer some questions and make it a bit clearer for us. He was extremely kind and generous with me and our discussion follows:

MS: The first [question] has to do with appropriation. In the art world we’ve been dealing with issues of authorship for quiet a while – at least since Duchamp’s Urinal at the beginning of the 20th Century. Duchamp’s challenge was about the nature of art. He hadn’t conceived the piece nor had he made it, he found the piece and claimed it as his own – it was art because he, the artist, chose it. This is the basic found object lesson we have all learned since. But today there is a further issue of copyrights, trademarks – which layers a corporate/legal problem over the creative/aesthetic one.

DS: I think that’s a good summary; it’s amazing how behind the curve the literary arts are. Reality Hunger is in many ways my attempt to bring contemporary writing up to date in this regard.

MS: Since Warhol the art world has become transfixed with the idea of replication, where appropriation – guided by lenses and programs – reproduces everything “exactly” in any form into any other form (for instance, a replication of a Harley Davidson motorcycle using salt as the building material.) Baudrillard in the late 60s and early 70s declared that culture/society had become a simulacrum and that there was no longer an original, a reality to base our perceptions on – the replication, the program had become our reality. In the art world we understand the implication of this idea of a replication from a replication – we view media within media – (the original no longer exists.) We appropriate directly, but we move it to another form hoping to skirt the economic issues. We customize it (with color or materials – we enlarge it or shrink it – we change it from one medium to another – etc) and re-present the representation – but unfortunately, we do not change the nature of the appropriated form, we do not question the simulated reality of the work we use.

DS: I, too, was heavily influenced by Baudrillard as well.

MS: Now if I’ve read your work correctly you use appropriation a bit differently. I believe that for you the appropriation is a way to get at a more personal expression of your own existence. You aren’t necessarily discussing the nature of “art” or “authorship”, but the nature of your own reactions to the things that you’ve seen or read or experienced, those things that you encounter and the impression they’ve made. You use them because they express something of you.

DS: I think you’ve captured something very true here, Mark. In a strange way there is something oddly “sincere” about my appropriation. All of these passages are eerily my own. I’ve edited them in such a way and positioned them in such a way that they have become my own or at least all of ours. That is surely one of the points of the book,or targets of the book. The book began with a course I taught in self-reflexive documentary film. I clipped hundreds if not thousands of lines that I loved and I put all of these into an enormous notebook, and this notebook became the “course packet” for the course, as I wanted to explain year in and year out to graduate fiction writers what it was I found so exciting about self-reflexive documentary film and also about literary essay. Over time, the packet got edited down more tightly, but it was important to me to leave off who wrote what. Some stuff I wrote, and other stuff I edited heavily. A lot of it was heavily combined. It was all very sincere in a way. The crucial gesture was putting the passages into thematic groupings—otherwise known as chapters—and then editing each chapter and each passage within an inch of its life. Editing is to me writing. I feel more like a film editor than I do a writer. My creative act was to find these passages, edit them radically, and then order them, and thematize them. All that being said, I would still say that I am indeed discussing the nature of art and authorship. I forget if you have the early DIY galleys, without citation, or the later galleys, with citation, but it’s crucial to me to see the connection between my argument about genre and the book’s gesture of appropriation. In each case, I’m trying to argue for the importance of unknowing.

MS: I may be way off, but when I was reading your book I felt as if I was reading someone’s notebook, a kind of diary or a sketchbook. It was very structured, there was a concise direction, similar to the way an artist makes notes in a sketchbook about what’s been seen, what sounds right, what feels right, images collected etc. Reality Hunger felt like I was rummaging through, say, Matisse’s letters with drawings and notes about what he was trying to accomplish, sketches, colors, found things pasted in the book, ideas stumbled on – that sort of thing. There was a consciousness driving the appropriation, something deeper and involving, and it was compelling.

DS: Reality Hunger weds the question of appropriation to the question of authorial ambiguity and generic slippage. This technique shadows the entire book. Most readers will spot only a handful of the most obvious quotations, suspect that a lot of the paragraphs are quotations (even when they can’t quite place them), and come to regard the first-person singular whenever they meet it as a floating, umbrella self, sheltering simultaneously one voice (“my own”) and multiple voices. The possibility that every word in the book might be quotation and not “original” to the author should very nicely and suitably arise. This continuous uncertainty or constant ambiguity is meant to be both unsettling and exciting, making the reader feel on his or her own pulse the dubiety of the first-person pronoun: it’s Shields (you thought it was); no, it’s not, it’s Leiris; no, in an important sense, it’s neither. The book’s best reader isn’t going to be a quote-spotter but somebody who grasps and relishes the ambiguous authorship of the text.

The whole argument of the book is to put reality within quadruple quotation marks. Reality here isn’t straightforward or easily accessible; It’s slippery, evasive. Just as authorship is ambiguous, knowledge is dubious, and truth is unknown or at the very least relative. The crucial, yoking gesture of the book is to wed ambiguity of the provenance of quotation with ambiguity of the question of genre—fiction, nonfiction, the lure and blur of the real. Art, not to mention life, now seems to happen primarily in liminal spaces, edited, quoted and quoted again and recontextualized, re-placed, collaged, stitched together. The book argues this idea passionately; it also needs to embody it.

MS: The second has to do with the idea of Reality itself. Every quote points back to an interiority of experience.

DS: Really? Every quote? Many, of course, but surely not every one.
(to Henri readers – OK, I was excited and I overshot – what can I say, I’m human…)

MS: I kept coming back to a physical state, a need to feel something and express that feeling. For instance, you say that you cannot read fiction any longer. The mechanisms are too apparent, the ‘art’ of it too readily understandable and expected. You make the case that reality, what we remember, is not a record but an experience. So what you read, see, hear in our saturated culture is poured through your viewpoint, and that is where you must find your voice. You don’t make things up necessarily, but interpret what happened creating a context for a personal interpretation, or as a friend of mine used to say, the primacy of fleshy memory.

Can you explain what this idea of physical experience is, how its connected to memory? Why do you think, after years of Postmodern “desire” we are now looking for something else? Why hunger? What is it that you feel we are missing? And how did that manifest in your work?

DS: These are great questions, Mark. Not sure I have the answers. Not sure how consciously I’ve worked out the answers. The book was written without a scholar’s logic, but rather with a writer’s intuitive impulses. I basically wanted to figure out and explain and convey why fiction no longer holds my interest, with very few exceptions. That is, doesn’t interest me as a writer or reader or teacher. Physical experience? I’m not sure I’m anymore convinced that we can touch the physical than Baudrillard was. I’m not a naïve proponent of reality. I know reality takes place within multiple frames and lenses. The imperfection of memory is crucial to me, though. Composition is to me a fiction-making operation. Memory is a dream machine. Thus, there is in my view no real distinction between memory and imagination; they overlap nearly completely. I’m all for desire,but the hunger for reality is a feeling that in the very best work the writer is actively gesturing toward some sort of “real life.” Now, of course, this real life is something of a fiction or a construct, but the very fact that the work is trying to get to the real makes the work far more interesting to me, because by virtue of framing itself as a work of nonfiction, and doing so in an epistemologically and ontologically sophisticated way, it raises questions in a serious vein and in a risky mode about the very nature of memory, of the self, of knowledge, of self-knowledge, of other-knowledge. As I say in the book,
What I want to do is take the banality of nonfiction (the literalness of “facts,” “truth,” “reality”), turn that banality inside out, and thereby make nonfiction a staging area for the investigation of any claim of facts and truth, an extremely rich theater for investigating the most serious epistemological questions. The lyric essay is the literary form that gives the writer the best opportunity for rigorous investigation, because its theater is the world (the mind contemplating the world) and offers no consoling dream-world, no exit door.

MS: Finally, the visual arts have been stagnating through the last decade. The economics of it took precedence as it did in the larger economy. It’s almost as if we became a new Rococo generation – expensive visual art made for a select group of very wealthy and specific individuals. Artists approached their work like they were in a “profession” one that promised a good salary, health care etc. Like the well-made novel, we had the well-made painting. You suggest that we find again the gap between art and life. This is something Rauschenberg was famous for saying in the 1950’s. Though today, I think that gap is not in the same place and we have different things to consider.

DS: Interesting connections between the well-made painting-novel and carrerist art world.

MS: How does memory play into the idea of the “blur” as you call it? How does culture exist in this blur and what part of memory must be involved? Where do you begin to draw the material from yourself?

DS: See above re: memory and blur. Re: how culture and memory form a blur, I’m tempted to again quote from the work, from my friend Brian Christian, who says, I’m finding it harder to just “write.” The seeking and sculpting of found text or sound have become my primary “artistic” function. Actually generating that text or music seems increasingly difficult. Lately I’ll sit down with a blank pad and feel like I really have to dig down deep to get my own voice to come out over the “sample choir.” It’s a very strange feeling, like a conductor trying to sing over the orchestra, and is, I believe, a fairly new one for artists.
That to me is central. How do I draw the material from myself? I guess I’d say I don’t. I draw the myself from a thousand different sources, and from my edit, my juxtaposition, my framing, and my thematizing, I say something that is “true” to myself and the culture, that is provocative in its angled attack.

David’s book will be out on February 23, 2010. It is a game changer not only for authors, but for artists of all kind. We Postmodern denizens of the art world would do well to “misread” it as deeply as we can.
“The questions Reality Hunger explores—the bending of form and genre, the lure and blur of the real—play out constantly all around us. Think of the now endless controversy surrounding the provenance and authenticity of the “real”: A Million Little Pieces, the Obama “Hope” poster, the sequel to The Catcher in the Rye, Robert Capa’s “The Falling Soldier” photograph, the boy who wasn’t in the balloon. Reality Hunger is a rigorous and radical attempt to reframe how we think about “truthiness,” literary license, quotation, appropriation.”
I highly recommend you find a copy and add it to your collection!

Style VS Brand: Hans Heiner Buhr

brand-style1-1000Hans Heiner Buhr is an artist I’ve only recently begun to know. He has begun an art site called the Art Club Caucasus where a lively discussion about art can always be found. Hans is an adventurer, a thinker, and an artist – three things I hold in high regard- and he approached the questions about Style Vs Brand exactly in that manner, first with a flurry of uploaded notes and then with direct answers about how he sees these things working for artists.

MS: I wanted to examine the hard public part of an artists work and career and how those parts of our lives might be perceived – how one might play into the other. I think that 21st Century media environments may have changed our understandings and expectations concerning a career in art. There has been a real shift in how we perceive artists and their work especially since Warhol.

brand-style2-1000ohnelink-1HHB: Warhol was one of the first to create a collective, but already much longer before, artists started to prefer again the potentials and protection of Art Groups, like the Brücke, Futurists etc. I think Warhol’s success was a direct result of the Factory Concept, it just was wrongly labeled Warhol instead of Factory. This was chosen by the Mass Media, as the Warhol-geek could be better marketed.

MS: It seems to me that there are two things guiding market perceptions of artists’ work – styles and brands. I believe Warhol was the first to create a true brand in the same sense as corporations create brands – and by that I mean an accessible product that can be reproduced, marketed and sold – something tied to a recognizable “name” or celebrity. This is inherently different from an artist’s traditional development of a style. Style used to come through in the making of art or better through the living of art. Style is intimately connected to the artist and is looked at as a unique embodiment of the artistic impulse. “Style” develops through practice, whereas “Brand” is a more conceptual approach to art making, brands sort of arrive familiarly full-blown.

HHB: Artists very often changed their styles, look close to the development of Pollock, it’s all the time changing. Styles and Brands are both wrongly picking our attention, it should be instead the concepts, which choose/demand a certain style as a package. A brand is only interesting, if it is a label for an interesting concept.

brand-style3-1000-1MS: What do you see as the difference between an artist’s style or an artist’s brand? Is there such a difference any longer? Does an artist have to develop a style or brand or can one appropriate a style or brand? Do you find that “media” feeds these distinctions in how an artist’s work is perceived?

HHB: Yes, of course, ideally a collective forms a brand, where are included many different individual artistic styles, which change and develop all the time in relation to the contemporary project/concept. Styles can be approved, as true new styles (maybe) do not exist anymore. Like the basic style for text are letters, which can form endless new content. All possible artistic styles should be used to create new images and new (interesting) meaning/interpretation. The media loves brands, they give a shit for the style, as they are not interested yet in the concept. Did anybody try to look deeply in Murakami’s concept yet (has he one ?) Btw I am not a big fan of Murakami’s works, he is just an example for those working (collective) like Koons, Hirst etc. but branding their work wrongly. The (print) media and their outlets are not healthy collectives as they are run by individual bosses like dictatorships.

MS: Behind the idea of known style or a known brand are concepts of fame or recognition. For instance the current crop of Postmodern artists that are in the news seem to “put on” or “wear” a type of art fame that is easily defined and already known making it easier to connect with their brands or styles – Jeff Koons as a business man (well-appointed designer suits and ad-man sound bites), Damien Hirst as a Rockstar (looking and sounding more like Bono every day), brand-style4-1000and Murakami as a tech geek (like George Lucas and his Skywalker lab.) All three have assumed media images of artists designed to be familiar and stable, based on a prototypical business formula. This concept of fame which is directed at selling art or the artist or creating a brand focus is different even than Warhol’s artist persona – he remained a sort of show, outside of the mainstream, a caricature or an avatar of a downtown art-type. The main difference is that he continued to be an artist that played at being a businessman, while today’s artists are more like businessmen who make art.

What do you see as being the functions of fame in the art world today and how does this relate to brand making or style making? How has this changed the practices in the studio and in the public eye? What part does creativity play in the development of both fame and business and what part should it play in developing art? What sort of fame do you see artists trying to obtain? How does the attainment of recognition affect the understanding and acceptance of certain artists? How much does this public recognition factor play into the creation and presentation of the work itself? Finally does the idea of style or brand or the creation of a style or brand inform your work – do you see yourself creating a brand or forming a style or both? Is fame and recognition a consideration of that development and if so how?

brand-style5-1000ohnelinkHHB: For me fame is not necessary, I even do not want fame. Fame is fake, when it’s not about the fame of a good concept. I would like to be an artist freely inventing ideas, concepts, projects, styles – paid with a monthly salary like a Google employer and adding units of form to the art collective. Recognition comes via attention to good concepts. The Collective should sell good ideas and concepts to gain revenues. A work without attention/recognition does not exist. This should come from other collectives/artists, which find these concepts interesting to integrate in their own concepts/works (You see how much here negative is the whole Copyright-Bullshit) I would like to contribute to co-create the Art Club Caucasus as a brand, but this will succeed only, if it becomes a strong collective, what is it not yet, it is in a pre-stadium of formation right now 😉 Styles can be freely chosen any time. The power is the network of ideas, concepts, styles which is only in state for a couple of years now. So it’s a very early stadium. I remember the feel of joy, when I got connected to the Internet in 2000 here from the Georgian Hinterland (I was connected in Berlin in 1994). I got able to publish my works to the world, to the few, for whom it is of interest, the dictatorship of Media, Galleries, Curators, Museums, bad time ~ bad~ place~ handicaps were destroyed.

Hans is offering a different view of our art world times, and a new idea of how we might change the constructs and systems we’ve inherited. The Art Club Caucasus is catching on with artists around the world. The Art Club is using the internet to create a vibrant site of images and ideas for artists. Check it out!

We will continue our discussion with other artists about Style Vs Brand in upcoming posts – Stay Tuned!