With a great respect for tradition balanced with a commitment to experimentation, Hans Hofmann bridged the School of Paris and Abstract Expressionism with energetic innovation. Gloria in Excelsis, a work by Hofmann completed in 1963 comes just 3 years before the artist's death. Paintings from this period in Hofmann's life are characterized by a free flowing energy. Although his works are primarily abstract, his writings on art are formulaic and theoretical, revolving around dynamics of creative activity, spatial tensions, and the expansive and limitless role of color.
In his earlier years in Europe, Hofmann knew Braque, Delaunay, Picasso, and Gris, artists who all had a great influence on the development of his technique and career. When Hofmann came to the United States he sought to create an international style that drew from a variety of sources, including the work of Wassily Kandinsky. Hofmann was enthralled by the spirituality of Kandinsky and Mondrian. Sam Hunter noted, "For Kandinsky, abstraction was a road to the individual's liberation and fulfillment. For Mondrian, abstraction became a simulacrum of a new, rationalized social order, and a new Universalist spirit. Something of the Utopian tone of uplift and high seriousness of these two great artists echoes in Hofmann's writing, but the social applications that might give his concepts larger meanings were absent." (James Yohe, ed., Hans Hofmann, New York, 2002, p. 16)
Hofmann's legacy as a formative teacher in New York City at mid-century is enormous and far-reaching. With his retirement from teaching in 1958, Hofmann was able to devote himself to his own paintings for the last 8 years of his life. Gloria in Excelsis and other works from this time can be viewed not as a culmination of Hofmann's career but rather a rebirth. These incredible works have great vibrancy as geometric shapes and planes intersect and connect in energized Cubistic style. In the present work Hofmann has abandoned illusionistic space and representational imagery in favor of dramatic graphic arrangement and colors as rectangles come together with clarity and originality. Pure yet dissonant colors are juxtaposed against each other as rectangles are arranged in a fairly rigid vertical and horizontal arrangement. Hofmann states in 1963, "push and pull is a colloquial expression applied for movement experienced in nature or created on the picture surface to detect the counterplay of movement in and out of the depth. Depth perception in nature and depth creation on the picture-surface is the crucial problem in pictorial creation." ("The Painter and His Problems: A Manual Dedicated to Painting" excerpt, Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art (and traveling), Hans Hofmann, June 1990 – April 1991, p. 177) Color consumes the composition. Hofmann used both heavy impasto and thin brush strokes to create an ethereal richness and to leave his working methods visible. At first glance the rectilinear forms seem monochromatic, however, on closer inspection underlying colors, particularly in the reds, show through in a Rothko-esque glow.
In the last decade of his life Hofmann was honored with awards and exhibitions establishing his international significance. In 1963, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, circulated two major Hofmann shows throughout the United States. Gloria in Excelsis is an excellent example of a work from the most innovative and important time in Hofmann's career as a painter.
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