Echoing the hymn from which it takes its name, Te Deum performs a symphony of various tempos through its endless explorations of surface treatment. In his teaching, Hofmann described color in terms of “the tone scales in music,” which “can be played in Major or Minor;” each color scale, he explained, accords to “a rhythm entirely its own.” (Hans Hofmann, “A Statement by Hans Hofmann,” Exh. Cat., New York, Hans Hofmann, Kootz Gallery, 1952, n.p.) Hofmann juxtaposes the strict geometric Slabs with a fluid background of tangerine zig-zags; swaths of yellow ombré paint; a burnt orange and olive green sponged patchwork; and an intoxicating amalgam of seemingly improvised strokes, which range in hue from amethyst, hot pink, mustard yellow, hunter green, to crimson and clay. The array of colors in the present work creates a sense of the tones and pitches at play, whereas Hofmann’s handling of the painted surface and its various colors provides an indication of Te Deum’s rhythm. From the slow, carefully measured Slabs; the staccato diagonal strokes of paint at the juxtaposition of the blue and green rectangles; the vibrato of the slight flicks of green pigment; to the sumptuous largo of the downward-sloping red line, Te Deum demonstrates Karen Wilkin’s estimation of Hofmann’s paintings as “reflections of an omnivorous appetite for stimuli.” (Karen Wilkin, “Hans Hofmann: Tradition and Invention,” Suzi Villiger, Ed., Hans Hofmann: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Vol. I, Burlington, 2014, p. 47)
Te Deum exemplifies the unparalleled synthesis of influences that has shaped Hofmann’s oeuvre—a blend of European and American styles so extraordinary and singular that art historian William C. Seitz hailed Hofmann as having “crossed more significant boundaries, national and aesthetic, than almost any other twentieth century painter.” (William C. Seitz, “Introduction,” Exh. Cat., New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Hans Hofmann, 1963, p. 7) Hofmann's ability to take on the legacies of movements so far reaching results, in part, from his direct connection to many of the most heralded schools of artistic thought of the twentieth century. Not only did he train as a painter in Paris during the height of Fauvism and the birth of Cubism, but he also moved to New York at the cusp of the city’s emergence as the new center of the art world, a byproduct of the advent of Abstract Expressionism. Foremost among Hofmann's influences is Henri Matisse, the modern master whose flattening of perspective and joyous celebration of color come to life in some of art history's most beloved paintings. Indeed in the present work, Hofmann evokes the expressionistic and saturated colors of Still Life on a Blue Table, further abstracting Matisse's interior in a contemporary vernacular. Viewers can trace the fusion of a Cubist and Fauvist visual vocabulary; Te Deum constructs form and a sense of space through geometric planes while also employing unmixed passages of vibrant color and loose brushstrokes. Fractured and fragmented, Hofmann’s Cubist-like planes simultaneously affirm the flatness of the canvas and create an illusion of three-dimensionality. His side-by-side placement of complementary colors evidences his Fauvist-like commitment to color theory. Underlying these European impulses is the Abstract Expressionist ethos of individualism and unbridled self-expression: “Creative expression,” Hofmann explains, “[is] the spiritual translation of inner concepts into form.” (The artist cited in Cynthia Goodman, Hans Hofmann (Modern Masters Series), Berkeley, 1986, p. 109)
Te Deum serves as a veritable consummation of his array of philosophies, teachings, and sources. Like the “swelling of an orchestra,” Te Deum creates form through the luscious harmony of combined elements—a perfect instantiation of Hofmann’s artistic aim: “To form and to paint as Schubert sings his songs and Beethoven creates a world in sounds.” (Irving Sandler, The Triumph of American Painting: A History of Abstract Expressionism, New York, 1970, pp. 68-72)
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