Hans Hofmann left not only a body of groundbreaking paintings, but also a legacy of students who became great Abstract Expressionist artists. Heather James Fine Art has opened The Hans Hofmann School, an exhibition featuring paintings by four of its namesake’s students: Michael Loew, Michael Goldberg, and John Little, and Michael Corrine West. The exhibition continues through June 30.
The German-born artist was as prolific a teacher as he was a studio artist. He taught briefly at University of California, Berkeley; Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles; and the Art Students League of New York before starting the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Art in New York and Provincetown.
The influential critic Clement Greenberg opined that Hofmann was “in all probability the most important art teacher of our time.” However, the artist closed the school in 1956 to focus on his own painting at the height of Abstract Expressionism. (Hofmann, who was a generation older than his Ab Ex contemporaries, was 64 when Art of This Century in New York gave him his first solo exhibition in 1944.)
Hofmann was prolific for another 20 years, parlaying the influences of Henri Matisse’s use of color and Cubism’s displacement of form into his signature “push and pull” approach based on relationships between form, color, and space. “The whole world, as we experience it visually, comes to us through he mystic realm of color,” Hofmann said. He wrote about the theory, as well as his reverence for nature and art’s spiritual value in his influential book Search for the Real.
His obsession with structure, spatial illusion, and color relationships surfaces throughout his work — as well as in the work of his most successful students, including Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler, Allan Kaprow, Michael Goldberg, and dozens of others. Each of the four artists in The Hans Hofmann School has a distinctive style that traces unmistakably to the master.
Michael Loew (1907-1985) painted murals as a Works Progress Administration artist before studying with Hans Hofmann in New York and Provincetown, and later with Fernand Léger in Paris. He became known for his paintings based on the geometry and syntax of Neo-Plasticism.
Michael Goldberg (1924-2007) is known as a second-generation Abstract Expressionist, although he exhibited his work in 1950s with Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, and others from the New York School. His style vacillated over the years, ranging from minimal to dynamic gestural canvases.
John Little (1907-1984) was a textile designer in New York before studying with Hofmann, who led the younger artist to abstraction and affected his views of color theory. After serving in the Navy as an aerial photographer, he moved into Hofmann’s studio (Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner were neighbors) and his exploration into AbEx painting continued in earnest.
Michael Corinne West (1908-1991), born Corinne Michelle West, took a man’s name to get attention in the male-dominated realm of Abstract Expressionist painters. She took her first Hofmann class at the Art Students League and created hundreds of paintings between the 1940s and ’80s. Her work bursts with energy and color, and has been exhibited alongside Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Robert Motherwell.
Meanwhile, Hofmann’s work continues to soar in demand. Earlier this year, at a Christie’s New York auction, Auxerre (1960) sold $6,325,000, a record for the artist.