Hofmann, Hans (1880–1966) By Robbins, Christa Noel
Hans Hofmann was a German–American painter associated with Abstract Expressionism. Known as much for his paintings as for his role as a teacher, Hofmann moved to New York City in 1932. Much older than the core group of New York School painters, Hofmann acted as a kind of bridge between European and American modernism. Hofmann’s paintings are highly recognizable: they feature large planes of thickly applied, bold color, often interspersed with expressionistic fields of gestural painting. The result, which can be seen in his 1962 painting Memoria in Aeternum, is a dynamic play with depth of field and colour relations. Hofmann referred to this spatial and optical play as the “push–pull” effect, indicating the manner in which areas of a canvas can appear to push back behind the picture plane and pull forward into the viewer’s space, while simultaneously reading as flat surface. The spatial and material relationality introduced through this device influenced a generation of New York painters and critics, both those taught directly by Hofmann and those who learned of his theories through second parties. Hofmann’s students from this period include Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler, Frank Stella, Allan Kaprow and, importantly, Clement Greenberg. Many of their first lessons in modernist painting took place in his school.