“When I start to paint – I want to forget all I know about painting. …What I would hate most is to repeat myself over and over again – to develop a false style.” (Hans Hofmann, “Notes on Art and Pictorial Function of Colors, 1 April 1950,” in Hans Hofmann Papers, circa 1904-1978, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.)
Bursting with an irrepressible vitality of peerless exploration that is the hallmark of Hans Hofmann’s corpus, Moonshine Sonata is wholly demonstrative of an artist at the absolute apex of his painterly energies. Executed in 1961, when he was eighty-one years old, the present work broadcasts a bristling and energetic verve that so perfectly captures the quintessence of the artist’s insatiable pursuit of experimentation. With an illustrious exhibition history that bespeaks its central importance and a rich surface that announces Hofmann as both a pioneering colorist and preeminent abstractionist, Moonshine Sonata subsumes us within its mesmerizing composition. Despite being a generation older than many of his peers, Hofmann bridged the gap between the School of Paris – dominated by artists such as Sonia Delaunay and Raoul Dufy – and the Abstract Expressionist movement in New York with energetic innovation. This magnificent painting definitively embodies the critical link between tradition and the avant-garde that characterizes the very best of Hofmann’s art. Across the brilliant surface of Moonshine Sonata Hofmann staged a symphonic union of color and form through the sheer exuberance of his quintessential gestural vocabulary. The stunning result precisely describes the enduring influence of the artist’s oeuvre and exists today as a simply outstanding archetype of his output.
In 1958, Hofmann retired from his career as a teacher and, for the remaining eight years of his life, devoted himself exclusively to his own painting. Moonshine Sonata transmits arresting vibrancy as the explosive bursts of luminous orange, the magnificent consequence of pure painterly force, punctuate a sea of deeper blues and greens all set against a dazzling white ground. Hofmann’s late paintings are often described by spectacular outpourings of unfettered dynamism partially contained within architectonic compartments; in Moonshine Sonata the geometric organization of space appears looser, more fluid and lyrical, and the entire composition confronts us with an overpowering sensation of unadulterated freedom. In its utterly unique compositional quality, the present work is inherently paradigmatic of Hofmann at his very best: “Hofmann’s avowed desire to approach each canvas as if it were his first – without the benefit or hindrance of prior experience or knowledge – speaks to the artist’s lifelong commitment to experimentation.” (Marcelle Polednik, “In Search of Equipoise: Hofmann’s Artistic Negotiations, 1940-1958” in Suzi Villiger, Ed., Hans Hofmann Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Volume I: Essays and References, London, 2014, p. 34) In the present work Hofmann has abandoned illusionistic space and representational imagery entirely in favor of a dramatic graphic arrangement that allows his flurried brushwork to dance across the multi-faceted ground in a deluge of ebullient color.
Moonshine Sonata is an elegant and refined pictorial summation of the economies of color and form that typifyed Hofmann’s practice. Conflating a reductive sensibility for outline and shape together with the apparently arbitrary process of action painting, this superb painting is a celebration of color as the foundation of visual communication. The artist’s sophisticated re-ordering of primary and secondary hues, create a complex essay on color-theory and optical and psychic effect of the chromatic palette. Moreover, Hofmann used both heavy impasto and thin brushstrokes to create an ethereal richness that leaves his working methods visible, imbuing his canvas with the intimate expressions of his creative process. Near the end of his prolific life, Hofmann delivered the summation of his vision with Moonshine Sonata, drawing together the sum of his extraordinary experience into a canvas of alluring vitality.
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