Galleries : Doing What Comes Naturally
Artist Rick Hoffman dresses in typical Vineyard fashion - a well-worn sweater and jeans. The only thing that betrays a hint of his creative inclination is a leopard fur-lined Sherpa hat that he wears in his unheated studio on the upper level of the Union Street Mall in Vineyard Haven.
Although Mr. Hoffman has been living and painting on the Vineyard for almost 25 years, many are not familiar with his abstract expressionist work because of the absence of self-promotion. He pursues his craft sheerly for the love of painting.
Speaking of jobs he's held over the years, Mr. Hoffman says, "You name it, I've done it." He's never been able to support himself solely by painting, and currently he runs his own landscaping business.
Photo by Lynn Christoffers
Immediately likable, Mr. Hoffman is as interested in listening as he is in talking about himself. He prefers speaking concretely about his abstract art, often using analogies and jumping up to find a painting that illustrates his point. His blue eyes widen appreciatively when his listener offers a descriptive word for his process. "Yes, yes," he answers, in his slightly southern twang.
Mr. Hoffman intuits his work, using a visceral rather than an intellectual approach to portray a subject. About his process he says, "I don't have the image. I have to kind of search for the image." He adds with a laugh, "I know when I'm wrong."
The artist grew up in the Washington, D.C., area and in high school his main hobbies were painting and frequenting the racetrack. Mr. Hoffman draws a comparison between his two pastimes: "It's a world in the sense that art is a world of its own. You go out to the track and no one pays much attention to the world at large." With obvious amusement, he recalls how he was described in his yearbook as: "This guy just likes to go to the racetrack and draw funny pictures of people."
After receiving a classical art education at University of Virginia, drawing "funny" pictures of people was in fact how he supported himself for years as a caricature artist in Washington.
After a brief visit to the Vineyard in the 80s, he moved here permanently, setting up his easel by the entrance to the Union Street Mall, where he continued doing quick sketches of shoppers.
Mr. Hoffman reminisces about the days he exhibited his work at Doug Parker's gallery on Lambert's Cove road. "It wasn't really commercial," he says. "It was art for art's sake." For one year Mr. Hoffman owned a gallery on the street level of the Union Street Mall, where he exhibited a variety of artwork and held poetry readings. He found it too difficult to manage both the gallery and his landscaping work and, admits, "We never sold anything."
Prior to his move to the Vineyard, Mr. Hoffman's work was representational. He explains his transition to abstract art: "I sketched a boat while on vacation in Jamaica. I brought the sketches back up and I was going to try to do an oil painting. I started out doing this thing and it reminded me of Jamaica so much, but the boat wasn't there any more."
From then on, Mr. Hoffman says he was determined to unlearn all of his classic training. He notes, "That's the hard part. People are hard-wired. What you become accustomed to - it's really hard to break the bonds of that."
He focuses instead on depicting the essence of a subject, as opposed to its physical form. A lifelong preoccupation with the periodic table inspired him to represent the essential building blocks in his works of art. The energy is palpable, and affecting, in each of the unique works in this series.
Mr. Hoffman utilizes layers of oil paint and linear elements to give vibrancy to his striking depictions of the world around him. Even his still lifes bristle with kinetic energy.
Kate Goodridge, who has exhibited Mr. Hoffman's work at her Oak Bluffs gallery, Hastings in the Alley, is determined to bring him more attention. Of her initial reaction to his paintings, she says, "I was sitting in a room that was just devoted to his work, and I swear the paintings started to vibrate. I was intrigued. Everything had a soul. It had a voice. It had a frequency level."
To some, his abstractions may appear the result of an arbitrary process. However, Mr. Hoffman approaches his work very carefully and critically, often working on two or three paintings at a time. He explains, "Sometimes you get mind-boggled and don't know what to do next, so you work on something else and it resolves itself." Tending to his landscaping work offers the artist breaks from his work, allowing him to refocus. "I guess the wheels are turning somehow and I come back and I know what to do next."
Mistakes are an essential part of the creative process, Mr. Hoffman says. "A lot of times it turns out that your mistakes are really important. You make a mistake and it stands out so you let that guide you. If you accept that mistake and work with it, it can really move you right along." Then he adds, "Sometimes, adversity can really help."