Monet had the river Epte redirected through his property to create his famous water garden. The Nymphéas were the result of this architectural landscape staging. That garden allowed him the luxury of never having to trudge through nature again, made a studio of his back yard. Monet began to rethink the possibilities of Impressionist seeing. He began to push the function of his technique – extended the stroke, moved in closer to the subject, composed across a Panavisual billboard. The map and the territory had become one.
The Moderns began with the landscape. It is the armature upon which they hung nearly every innovation, nearly every radical break with convention. They used it to change our understanding of vision, then to change vision itself. From Impressionism all the way through Minimalism the unfolding landscape was the territory to be mapped. There can be no doubt about George Hofmann’s connection to landscape painting. It is that rising subject, the unmapped territory, that he returns to throughout his career. He was a late Modernist, but you can sense his fight with the ever tightening strictures inherent in abstraction itself; the codes of flatness, materiality and composition. For many of us, his ceaseless questioning of vision is exemplary. But today, in our time, George has made a radical break, mapped a new territory.
In his new work now on view at SHOW ROOM George has broken the code. The grounds for the paintings are plywood panels. The wood grains, beautiful and falsely graphic, provide a surface of arbitrary geometric mechanisms, unnatural architecture, just as the garden once did for Monet. But we live in an age of changed vision. We don’t have the luxury of continuity, the unfolding space of sublime contemplation. Instead we are blinded to the territory by the map. As George has said about his new work, the paint is erased, scratched away. The rising subject can not exist as a whole experience. His compositions seem to have a central image that’s been torn into parts, ripped across the grain, scattered through the ground. He melds the pigments into the wood, into and against the manufactured patterns and codes, scrapes the brush strokes down until they are ghostly images crossing patches of pure hue. The color remains fresh, bright, and alive even as it’s torn away from the history that he brings to the work; the history of the manuscript, the fresco, the landscape, the boulevard, the café. He is attacking the Postmodern edifice trying to get at a different vision, one free of the 20th Century program.
George knows that the mechanics and understanding of vision are different.
“The world is awash in visual information; unedited and torrential, pixellated, flickering, backlit, and instantaneous. This hasn’t necessarily resulted in greater pictorial literacy, but it probably has affected the way we look at art, and the making of art. In painting it probably accelerated what was already happening: more and more fractured, shifting, unexpected and surprising pictorial space.”
These paintings, ripped and scraped, challenge our comfortable understanding of maps and territories, landscapes and abstractions. They tear a way through our assumptions and make clear that abstract painting can be about a different way of seeing the “natural” world, a different understanding of our territories. George has given us a new map.
This is the last weekend for the show and it’s a game changer. Make your way there. George Hofmann’s new work at Show Room is an important one for abstract painters.
ADDENDUM: The show has been extended through October 21.