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It Speaks to Me: James Welling on Hans Hofmann’s 1958 ‘Equipoise’ at LACMA

May 11, 2011 |  2:15 pm

Hofmann One of the pleasures of seeing the Hofmann is that it’s such a riot of colors. He was right there at the beginning of the 20th century working with Robert Delaunay, Matisse and Mondrian, a participant in early Modernist thinking about color. And “Equipoise” has these terrific passages of intense colors: To me they seem like rich, right-out-of-the-tube cadmium yellows, reds and greens — colors which do not exist in nature.

For the last couple of years, I’ve taught a class [at UCLA] where we look at the physiological origins of colors — the red, green and blue receptors in our eyes. But it always makes me jealous that painters get to use colors directly, where in photography it’s always mediated through tri-chromatic processes like color negatives or digital cameras. Another thing I like is that he made “Equipoise” when he was in his 70s — it’s exciting to see someone that age breaking into new territory.


— Artist James Welling, as told to Jori Finkel


Image: Hans Hofmann, Equipoise, 1958, oil on canvas. Photo from Museum Associates.

Comments () | Archives (3)

I love Hofman. I liked him in Books, then when I saw the work in person the door really slammed open.

Never really cared for him. See him as a second rate painter, school teacher in europe who migrated here and so became the darling of the wannabe Moderns. Its OK, but for me misses the point. I feel nothing, its all trying to be smart. And so more related to contempt art than Modern, which seeks the unifying essence of who we are using all the senses and entire brain, not just the clever and word based frontal lobe.

Its more second generation plagiarism brought to a new audience who so fell in love with it, like Duchamp who became the hero of the Armory show as Picasso and Braque sent nothing and audience missed getting Delaunay and others. Duchamp created the biggest stir, and so headlines, and we love fame in this country of followers. Millions of people, and thousands of artists lived at the same time as Picasso, Braque, Bonnard, Rouault, Miro, Matisse and so many others in Paris, meaningless. What do you have to say and how well do you say it is all that matters. And having lowered the bar from the very beginning, we never got over it here in the U.S.

However, as it is so limited and sliced into sections it illustrated very well certain tendencies in Modern art, but missed the feel of it as creative art is all about relationships and how they build a life force in the work. Always has been, always will be. His are but different groups of muscle, skeleton, nervous system shown seperated, rather than as one. And so makes an effective teacher, if not a good one. He illustrates certain ideas and trends but misses the reason art exists. At least, I dont feel it. He is close enough to give some credit, just not enough to bother to like.

For me, it is just paint, inert, lifeless, just sits there sorta like cy twombly does with his smearings later. Newman and Rothko do it better. But not as well as the originators before and during WWI. Over thought and under felt. It looks like a class project, I did similar when first starting, but knew them for what they were. Color studies, not living art.

art collegia delenda est

I've seen that painting in real life and those colors in nature, but never all those colors grouped together in one place or in such well-defined shapes. The more common and natural the color, the more it fades into the background. The bold and uncommon ones are larger than life and in-your-face. Not a bad thing. Kind of like blog comments sections without "trolls."

Goodbye William and Donald. I quit my Facebook account last year and not interested in signing up again. This comment probably won't go through, but thought it was worth a try. I'll still be a reader, just no comments.

Cate Conroy


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