This work will be included in the forthcoming Hans Hofmann Catalogue Raisonné, sponsored by the Renate, Hans and Maria Hofmann Trust.
Hans Hofmann's magnificent Emerald Isle comes from the private collection of Karen Johnson Boyd, the noted art collector, philanthropist and member of the S. C. Johnson family. The esteemed American business dynasty is famed for its great contributions and service to the community, especially the arts. Under the Johnson family leadership, the company built up an impressive art collection to support their vision of promoting the arts was a means to advance public education and aesthetic appreciation. With the guidance of the prominent gallery owner Lee Nordness, who knew Hans Hofmann personally, the collection became one of the most impressive corporate collections in the United States and many of the artists featured in it have become recognized today as major figures in the art world. Nordness states, "I suggested that S. C. Johnson & Son, Inc. purchase the most extensive collection of contemporary American art ever assembled by any business organization in the world, thereby furthering its reputation for cultural vision which was established when Johnson commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design the famous Johnson Wax buildings in Racine. I further suggested that the corporation then tour these paintings internationally, on a people-to-people basis, bringing the impact of American creative wealth not only to people abroad but to grass-root Americans as well" (L. Nordness, Art:USA:Now, Volume I, Lucerne, 1962, pp. 5-6).
Emerald Isle was first exhibited in Nordness's Art:USA:Now, an exhibition based on his previous shows and sponsored by S. C. Johnson & Son, Inc. Karen Johnson Boyd accompanied the exhibition as it toured 18 cities across the globe during a two-year period and after the show the family acquired all of the works in the exhibition, including Emerald Isle. In appreciation for her work in making the show such a success, her father, H.F. Johnson, gave Karen Johnson Boyd her choice of one of the assembled paintings. Without hesitation, she chose Emerald Isle as it had become her favorite painting from the exhibition. Ms. Boyd also knew Hofmann personally after meeting him when she as a student at Bennington College in Vermont and he was a visiting artist. She was immediately captivated by his exciting use of color and texture and the unique "push-pull" of his composition that filled his canvases.
In Emerald Isle, Hans Hofmann created a work that enthusiastically incorporates elements of Abstract Expressionism, Fauvism and Cubism, conveying the important place he holds in American Post-War Art. Hoffman painted Emerald Isle, which participated in solo shows and retrospectives throughout the 1950s, at one of the most recognized periods in his career - the very next year he would represent the United States in the 30th Venice Biennale with Philip Guston, Franz Kline and Theodore Roszac.
We can see in the present work Hofmann's passionate interest in color, form and movement. Completely abstracted, the painting conveys no illusion of a comprehensive narrative, yet Hofmann uses colors and texture to create an animated and energetic canvas. The work embodies the "push and pull" so characteristic of Hofmann's painting philosophy. The contrasting colors create interplay and dialogue throughout the work - the yellow wash embraces the center blue passage, while the thickly applied blocks of green and red intermingle.
Hans Hofmann's theories on color were vital to his work throughout his career. As the artist states, "In me there develops a real relationship to my paintings, and this is mostly a poetic relationship because what my paintings say is poetry. This is poetry expressed in color" (H. Hoffman, quoted in I. Jaffe, "A Conversation with Hans Hofmann", Artforum, vol. 9, Jan. 1971, p.10). Bright colors fill Emerald Isle, encouraging us to explore the painting's different passages, creating a wonderfully rich viewing experience.
Further, Hofmann's varied brushstrokes - some subtle, some bold - invite us into the composition. We can attribute Hofmann's interest in color to the influence of Fauvism, as well as the lasting impression made on the artist by Henri Matisse, with whom Hofmann is said to have attended evening sketching classes in Paris just after the turn of the 20th Century. Clement Greenberg later said of their relationship, "One could learn Matisse's color lessons better from Hofmann than from Matisse himself" (C. Greenberg, "The Later Thirties in New York", Art and Culture, Boston, 1961, p. 232). Hofmann's most highly regarded essay on his theories on color is The Color Problem in Pure Painting - Its Creative Origin, written for his 1955 Kootz Gallery exhibition catalogue.
While Emerald Isle incorporates many modern ideals of abstraction and the flattening of the picture plane, Hofmann also creates an intriguing sense of space and depth. Hofmann was highly attuned to representing space in his works; he said, "Space is alive; space is dynamic" (H. Hofmann, Hans Hofmann, New York, 1960, p. 14). Hofmann does not create space in a conventional way. Instead, as in Emerald Isle, he produces depth using brushstrokes and layers or planes of different colors. Hofmann stated, "Depth, in a pictorial, plastic sense, is not created by the arrangement of the objects one after another (and in absolute denial of this doctrine) by the creation of forces in the sense of push and pull" (Ibid, p.14). Thus, while the painting points up the canvas's flatness, the colors and brushstrokes make it an active arena, a living pictorial space. Furthermore, Hofmann amplified the movement in the painting by leaving evidence of his gestures within the brushstrokes. We can clearly see the motion of Hofmann's strokes within Emerald Isle, his presence lingering on the canvas, adding to the painting's overall vitality.
Hofmann had a keen interest in expression and spirituality, as did many abstract painters. He particularly followed Kandinsky and Mondrian's interest in purity and abstract philosophies of painting. Rectangles of colors were by 1958 the primary spatial organizer of Hofmann's works, and we find them, traces of his signature style, throughout Emerald Isle. The artist states, "The finest color shades offer powerful contrasts, they influence each other considerably in a psychological sense, as shapes do. A different color shade gives the same shape another psychological meaning. Difference in plastic or spatial placement (composition) causes any color or shape or color-shape to change completely in psychological expression" (H. Hoffman, New Paintings by Hans Hofmann, New York, 1951, p.4).
However, his paintings distinguished themselves from other abstract works of the period through their relationship to nature. We can see this relationship, which endured throughout his career, especially well in Emerald Isle. Nature moved and attracted Hofmann very much, his reactions to it often producing art works. Hofmann grounded many of his abstract paintings with an allusion to landscape in their titles. The phrase "Emerald Isle" refers to Ireland cherished for its green countryside. Thus, Hofmann's canvas abstractly represents a luscious landscape. The rich greens and blues allude to different aspects of nature, while the overall energy of the painting abstractly depicts a vibrant natural landscape. Surrounded by an increasingly industrialized society in 20th Century America, the painting and title are tinted with nostalgic and mythical suggestions, adding a romantic quality to the work.
Hofmann began his career surrounded and influenced by famous artists - after arriving in Paris in 1904, he frequented the legendary Café du Dôme in the company of artists such as Pablo Picasso, George Braque, George Rouault, and Fernand Leger. Conversely, he would spend his later years teaching and greatly inspiriting impressive artists such as Helen Frankenthaler, Red Grooms, Alfred Jensen, Wolf Kahn, Lee Krasner, Louise Nevelson and Frank Stella. Hofmann is in fact the only New York School artist to have also directly participated in the artistic movements that occurred in Europe in the first two decades of 20th Century. Hofmann's works are both delightedly distinct from his contemporaries, and so richly layered with art historical themes and styles. Fellow artist and curator Walter Darby Bannard describes Hofmann as "one of the great geniuses of painting in our time."