Peter Allen Hoffmann (2011)


Peter Allen Hoffmann

Interview with Sarah Christman

The following is an interview with artist Peter Allen Hoffmann and his wife, filmmaker Sarah Christman:

Sarah Christman: Recently you’ve been looking to the past and re imagining paintings by old masters and even artwork in other media by artists you admire.

Peter Hoffmann: My work is at least partly about my interest in art. But the thing is, I don’t think of it as appropriating or copying. It’s not even just fandom; it’s about my relationship to the work. That may take on a very direct literal transcription, or it may become more opaque. But that has less to do with it being outside of me, and more to do with how I’m processing the information. Because that varying degree of similarity or difference also happens with my own imagery, with my own experiences of places I’ve been and images I’ve collected. I don’t see a boundary between art and everything else in the same way that one might expect.

SC- So a still life by Gustave Courbet and a landscape of the cove on Islesboro, Maine are both memories, which you consider on an equal playing field?

PH- Equal in the sense that I’m trying to process or understand both of them. I present them equally in that they’re both 12 ×12 inches.

SC- Is that uniform scale for the paintings a constraint for you or for the viewer?

PH- It’s a constraint for both of us. It’s a constraint for me as a square format partly, and as a small square format. The square is perfect in its own structure and so anything you do breaks that structure, making it less resolved.

SC- In some ways you can see it as a form of remix. Remix is often associated with music or video, but not so often with painting.

PH- But I think that may miss certain aspects of my relationship to the work. It is the context in a certain respect, but I think that the parameters or the super context is me and my relationship not just with these works, but also with the world. That relationship happens with an equal rigor with things I’ve experienced first hand, second hand, as well as things that I’ve experienced through another’s work, whether its Courbet, Duchamp, or whomever.

SC- You’ve also been working in multiples. So you’ve done three different versions of a particular Courbet still life with the pomegranate. And right
now you’re working on the second of a painting that was original to you – “The Source.”

PH- And I’ve done a few of other paintings, yeah. I think that they speak to how one grows with an image, how it becomes more or less difficult. And how the image is a structure, mostly. Whether you’re looking at a painting that is a still life, a landscape, or an abstraction. A. They’re all the same size, so they all relate and B. No matter how different they are, I made them all. As stupid as that sounds, it’s true. I chose every moment in each of those paintings.

SC- The analogy of inviting any ten people, living or dead, to a dinner party comes to mind.

PH- Right. I don’t know if it’s because my mom is a writer or because I’m terrible at carrying a conversation, but I’m fascinated by the dialogue between things.

SC- You are pretty specific about how the paintings are hung: 59 inches high and two feet apart. When you’re in a room with a number of them, you’re allowed to feel, in film editing terms, rupture and flow the places where paintings are arguing with one another, and the places where they are complementing one another. Of course, there is always an engagement with the individual painting. But you also seem concerned with an engagement with the group.

PH- I think the relationship between the group and the individual is tenuous right now. I’m interested in that unease the unease of resolving the group to the individual. And I think it comes out of thinking about one’s relationship to the world. There’s always unease about how one relates to the world. It’s always tenuous.

SC- Something I find rewarding in your paintings is being able to see evidence of previous paintings below the surface. Does this occur more often than is visible?

PH- Since I’ve started making paintings at this scale, I’ve opened up to the idea that a painting can happen in a minute or a painting can happen in a million minutes. I don’t think I’ve gotten to either. I almost never give up on a painting. I find a way to always get back to it somehow and restart. Because every action is somehow contained within the painting and the time and effort is embedded in the work. If you spend six months on a painting, then get rid of everything all the paint, all the imagery and then complete the painting in a minute, you still contain those six months of effort. They’re not lost; they’re there in some way or another.

SC- I like that you don’t want to abandon a painting. It fits right into your frugal and loyal nature. Painting is a medium that contains artifacts within a two dimensional surface. I start out on film, which is tangible and physical, but I edit non linearly, referencing a video file, which is digital information. What is absent in film or video or a medium that is reproductive, is that the viewer doesn’t have an impression of the latent image. But I can undo anything that doesn’t work.

PH- I can’t undo, no I can’t. But a wrong move, a misstep, is only a wrong step. It’s not the end of the painting. From when I begin a painting, to when I finish a painting, I’m always looking for the end. I’m always looking for that thing that I can do, that move I can make that at any given point finishes the painting. This invariably results in me sitting around a lot. Not actually putting paint on, but trying to figure out that move.

SC- Do you think that time is visible?

PH- I like to think it is. I’m interested in slowing people down. I think that any sort of time investment in a painting comes through in slowing the viewer’s eye down, which is the most difficult thing to do. I think what I’m trying to do in a lot of ways is just slow things down.

SC- I think that anyone who encounters your paintings feels a strong sense of time we’ve already discussed this in terms of the time it takes you to complete a painting, the time applying paint to canvas, and time thinking —

PH — Taking naps and listening to sports talk radio and well, it used to be smoking cigarettes, but that ended.

SC- But I think time is working on another level in your work. I think it has a lot to do with the relationship to space, and the way that you present three- dimensional space in a two-dimensional medium.

PH- I wouldn’t disagree. There’s always a tension that’s created between the surface of a painting and it’s deepest point. Then there’s time in the sense that we’re always trying to catch up. We’re constantly trying to look for ways to understand it, whether it’s based on the sun and a 24 hour cycle or it’s based on a 30 minute sitcom or it’s based on a 30 second encounter with a painting. We’re always trying to educate ourselves on time. I guess until we die, I don’t know. A painting that takes six months to make, can it be understood in less than six months? I don’t know.

SC- For me, the basis of all film is ellipsis the span of time that occurs between scenes, in other words, the time that we don’t see on screen. In a narrative film, you might have plot time that is several months or years, but no matter what, it’s compressed down to approximately two hours of screen time. What I find most satisfying, as a viewer, is when it’s not entirely clear how much time has passed. Not only between scenes, but between shots within a scene.

PH- You’re shortening things, making them more concise, more whole and more important. That is exactly the same in painting. There’s that public mural in Philly with the child and the [Walt] Whitman quote, “I contain multitudes”. And moments can contain multitudes. Each artistic form has its own parameters and yet they each want to contain elements of the others.

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