About theglazelondon banner image / Hans Hofmann’s 1958 mural for the New York School of Printing, 439 West 49th Street, New York.

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Mosaic mural for the New York School of Printing, 439 West 49th Street, New York, Hans Hofmann, 1958. Image: Robbie O’Halloran, 1999.

The banner image for theglazelondon might not be the most arresting one to use to brand a website devoted to visual art, but I chose it because it is a photograph of one of the few public art projects by the great Abstract Expressionist painter Hans Hofmann, and for the fact that so many people walk past it every day without realizing the significance of the artist behind it.

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I took the photograph in April 1999 – the same month that I first saw Hofmann’s paintings in the flesh at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The two visits – first to the Met to see the paintings, then to West 49th Street to see the mural – constituted, as much as I am comfortable calling it such, a kind of pilgrimage. Hofmann’s position in 20th century American art, and the story of Abstract Expressionism specifically, has always seemed to me to be more peripheral than it ought to be. At about the same time that I was looking at his work in New York, I had been reading a lot of what has been written about Hofmann, and of course the artist’s own writings on art. Hofmann was one of the most respected and vocal teachers of the time; a fact which may have contributed to the diminution of his reputation as a serious force in the community of his painter peers.

Hofmann’s thoughts on painting were quite well formed even before he moved permanently to America from Germany in 1932. And it is not so much his having such a direct connection to European Modernism that made his work difficult to incorporate smoothly into the emergent critical space of Ab Ex, so much as the fact that Hofmann attached to his work, so vocally and with such conviction, unfashionable interpretations of what he was doing. The story of American Painting in the 1950s is very much owned by the critics who made the work visible and not by the artists.

At its heart, Hans Hofmann’s art was about pure visual sensation, the way color and form operate, interact, and the effect this has on the viewer, at first optically, but ultimately on a more subjective level. I like the fact that Hofmann has never been a household name, even in certain houses whose walls are lined with art books. For painters however, every square inch of his canvases is an object lesson in getting on with the job, and enjoying it in the process.

Further links:

Walls of Color; The Murals of Hans Hofmann at Bruce Museum

New York Times article on Walls of Color – Roberta Smith

200 words #21 / Louise Fishman

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Louise Fishman, A LITTLE RAMBLE  2017, Oil on linen, 70 x 90 inches, 177.8 x 228.6 centimeters. Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York.

By the time Louise Fishman took her first painting class in 1956, the same year Jackson Pollock died, Abstract Expressionism was already in decline. Retrospectively, Fishman has been spoken of as belonging to this movement, if only by way of a spiritual affiliation rather than as having played a part in its formation. In fact, had Fishman been a true contemporary of the main players in Ab Ex, it is unlikely still that she would have engaged with them to any great extent. She has been, by her own admission, a loner when it has come to creating alliances and nurturing relationships within the artworld. For such a solitary activity as painting this is perhaps no disadvantage. 

Fishman’s canvases are packed tight with contemporary riffs on Ab Ex – the sweep and drag of the brush, or whatever other implement the artist employs, leaving on the canvas the unmediated imprint of a super-sized gesture. If this sounds unsubtle, then the effect within each of Fishman’s canvases is elegant and controlled. The artist’s stated intention “…always, was to not repeat a painting”. The implied grid in each painting however, upon which the painted marks proliferate, allows a remarkably consistent voice to emerge.

Louise Fishman at Cheim & Read, New York

Michael Canning – Matter, motion, minutes @ Waterhouse & Dodd London, 26/09 to 20/10, 2017

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On Tuesday September 26th a new exhibition of paintings by Irish artist Michael Canning opens at Waterhouse & Dodd London. I am delighted to have been asked to contribute the catalogue text for this show, and the text plus images from the exhibition can be viewed by clicking on this link:

Exhibition catalogue – Michael Canning / Matter motion minutes

The exhibition, entitled Matter motion minutes expands on a theme which the artist has been exploring for the past twelve years. On walks around the countryside surrounding his studio in the west of Ireland, Canning collects wildflowers and weeds from roadside verges and fields, and returns to the studio with them. The paintings he produces from this raw subject matter invoke the lessons of painting’s rich past, but are also ruminations on the very nature of our perception of the world around us.

If you are in London from the 26th, this show is not to be missed. To view more of Michael Canning’s work, and for directions to the gallery, follow this link:

Michael Canning at Waterhouse & Dodd London

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Painting In The Present Tense, 2012 – 2017, Oil and wax on gesso panel, 100 x 70cm, Image copyright of the artist, courtesy of Waterhouse & Dodd

200 words #20 / Liz Larner

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Liz Larner, ix (calefaction), 2016, ceramic, glaze, stones, minerals, 59,1 x 97,8 x 24,8 cm, 23 1/4 x 38 1/2 x 9 3/4 inches, Courtesy the artist and Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin | Paris, Photo : def-image.com

Liz Larner has said that she was drawn to sculpture because it is the “most physical of artforms”. If this is true of sculpture, then it must follow that ceramics is one of the most physical of sculptural artforms, not only in the way the material demands such direct manipulation in the studio, but also by virtue of the sheer variety of surface effects, density, texture, and form it is possible to achieve.

Larner started working with ceramics in the early 90s, learning about slab building and glazing from the artist Ken Price. In this recent series she has refined the lessons of her earlier experiments into the effects of colour as articulated through sculpture and installation art to produce surprisingly small scale, but highly-charged pieces. Whilst ceramic vessels have long been used to carry pictorial and decorative devices, it is less common to be presented with the raw physicality and haptic allure of ceramics displayed in the same way that we might view a painting. There are no pictograms here, no curlicues – just the irresistible indulgence of rich glazes and raw, brittle ceramic – the kind of sculptural object that Larner might describe amongst her work as “a concrete poem”.

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Side view – Liz Larner, ix (calefaction), 2016, ceramic, glaze, stones, minerals, 59,1 x 97,8 x 24,8 cm, 23 1/4 x 38 1/2 x 9 3/4 inches, Courtesy the artist and Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin | Paris, Photo : def-image.com

To view more of the artist’s works from this series follow the link below:

Liz Larner at Galerie Max Hetzler

Quotations in the text above were taken from a lecture given by the artist (see link below) at the Nasher Sculpture Center:

Liz Larner speaking about her work at Nasher Sculpture Center

Ryuji Tanaka @ Simon Lee London from 23/06 to 25/08 and New York from 13/09 to 28/10, 2017

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Ryuji Tanaka, Nature ’89, 1989, Mineral pigment on panel, other materials 60.7 x 72.6 cm (23 7/8 x 28 5/8 in.) Courtesy of the artist and Simon Lee Gallery, London / New York 

It may seem odd that, no sooner had so many artists in the latter half of the nineteenth century begun to successfully assert their independence from established art institutions, such as the Beaux-Arts in France, than there was a rush to form new groupings, to gather together under new rules and with new criteria for entry. Many artists in subsequent generations would come together to form alternative collectives – the artistic movements with which we are familiar such as Dada and the Surrealists, and other later movements which are less well known, such as COBRA and Gutai. So many of these collectives were underpinned by manifestoes in which, ironically, one variety or other of artistic independence was declaimed. But they were often loosely held together communities of thought and any efforts to keep all participants on the same page failed. By the 1970s, the need for artists to identify collectively under a shared set of written principles had become the exception.

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Ryuji Tanaka, installation view of exhibition at Simon Lee Gallery London, image courtesy Simon Lee Gallery London, 2017

The Japanese group of artists known collectively as Gutai Bijutsu Kyokai (Concrete Art Group – formed in 1954 by Jiro Yoshihara ) cited in their manifesto an artistic kinship with certain Abstract Expressionists who were working almost contemporaneously – most notably Jackson Pollock. What the Gutai artists saw in Pollock was a singular emphasis on paint itself – what they recognised as “the loud outcry of the material” – at the expense of any imagistic possibilities in the medium that the artist might be tempted, by force of habit, to explore. The hyper-individualism in American art which was emerging through the Abstract Expressionists, would reach its accelerated apotheosis in the 1980s – an acceleration which would see the focus move away from painting.

Continue reading “Ryuji Tanaka @ Simon Lee London from 23/06 to 25/08 and New York from 13/09 to 28/10, 2017”

200 words #19 / Secundino Hernández

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Secundino Hernández, Rojo, 2016. Acrylic, alkyd, oil and lacquer on linen, 310.5 x 287 cm, 122 1/4 x 113 in. Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London © Secundino Hernández

I first saw Hans Hofmann’s paintings in the flesh in 1999 in a small collection at the Met – (part of a pilgrimage of sorts which included a visit to Hofmann’s mosaic mural for the New York School of Printing on West 49th Street, which features in the banner image for this website). I remember being surprised by the imperfect physicality of his canvases, buckling under the weight of paint. Still, as rough and ready as these paintings looked, they were the genuine article.

If the finish of Hofmann’s canvases was an initial disappointment to a naïve art student brought up on reproductions, then it was a joy to discover many years later the fresh and rich paintwork of the Spanish artist Secundino Hernández. This, I thought, must have been what Hofmann’s surfaces looked like before they acquired a layer of New York grime.

Matisse observed that “…a big painting needs more architecture, more technique”. Hernández works on a far larger scale than Hofmann did, but through his considerable technique his canvases somehow retain a very human measurement. The paintwork, modulating in tone and colliding with the same comfortable friction that Hofmann termed push and pull, is complex yet well resolved.

If certain places bring to mind certain colours, then Spain presents them all at once. Hernández works in Madrid, and his paintings seem to resonate with the opaque intensity of a sunlit urban landscape.

Secundino Hernández at Victoria Miro