Space sways and resounds;
space is filled with movement,
with the tone of colors and light,
with life and rhythm
and the dispositions of sublime divinity.
With its seamless fusion of calculated geometry and uninhibited poeticism, of spontaneous dissonance and contemplated harmony, Hans Hofmann's Stardust is the triumphant exploration of the play of opposing tensions on a single painted surface. The work dates from 1959, a year after the closure of Hofmann's famous art school in the Greenwich Village. Freed from his obligations as a teacher, Hofmann was now able to re-channel his energies into his own artistic development, which resulted in a late renaissance for the artist and some of the best paintings of his career. In Stardust, Hofmann draws upon his rich cultural background and variety of early influences, and fuses them with an inner spiritual fire to create a work which brilliantly appears both pulled together and yet ripped apart.
While Stardust embodies Hofmann at his ripest phase in his career, this jubilant work can also be read as an index of the artists' early artistic seeds of influence from his years living in Paris from 1904-1915. His complex artistic background consists of many of the great European founding fathers of the original avant-garde, many with whom he was acquainted on a firsthand basis, and with whom he cultivated intimate personal relationships.
Firstly, his exuberant use of scintillating color bears the legacy of the fauvist penchant for vibrant, irrational, and at times, acidic hues. Hofmann's study of the expressive capability of color takes a queue from the intense color palette of Matisse and Delaunay. Indeed, Delaunay's thoughts on color theory resonate closely with Hofmann's work. Hofmann would allow his inner feelings to collide with his visceral responses to nature. Delaunay wrote, "Nature is permeated by rhythms whose variety cannot be restricted. Art imitates it in this respect, in order to clarify itself and thereby attain the same degree of sublimity, raising itself to a state of multiple harmony, a harmony of colors that are divided at one moment and resorted to wholeness by the selfsame action at the next. This synchromic action is to be regarded as the real and only subject of painting," (quoted in H. Friedel, ed., Hans Hofmann, Munich, 1997, p. 8). The interplay of unruly color in Stardust similarly injects a dynamic rhythm to the work. This pairing of dissonant colors creates an undeniable harmonious musicality which resonates from the work, recalling the chromatic musicality of Kandinsky's abstract compositions.
Gentle flashes of lavender, foreboding areas of mauve, streaks of luminescent white, unmodulated planes of muted yellow, regal swipes of blue, and shimmering patches of red and orange simultaneously emerge from and dissipate into the green "ground". This wide variety of color is applied with equally varied brush stokes and textures. Abrupt, almost pointillist dabs of paint interrupt series of square and rectangular geometric forms, recalling the work of Mondrian. Like waves crashing into the sand, thick, luscious applications of paint achieve a low relief, causing them to physically as well as pictorially emerge from the ground.
This delight in the materiality and texture of paint itself carries with it the decidedly modernist notion of self-referentiality, as most famously espoused by modernist critics Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried. Thus by showcasing the thickness of paint and the flatness of the canvas, painting could declare its autonomy as a medium to be set apart from and above any other craft.
While Hofmann's dots and dabs of paint evoke a sense of unmediated inner emotions, rectangular forms (a characteristic that would eclipse all others as his signature motif) anchor the composition, evoking a sense of reality as a point of departure in the abstract work of art. Thus, while Hofmann believed painting captured the inner life of the artist, he was very concerned with the painting as a formal arena where the artist could translate nature into a an expressive pictorial language. Stardust exemplifies his ability to gorgeously reconcile a multitude of opposing dualities and create a painting of unmatched visual power and complexity.