Jeremy Hoffeld: Icon & Index

By Ellen Thalman

A graffiti-confetti of unfinished thoughts and letters flutter across the canvas in Jeremy Hoffeld’s colorful series of paintings, on display at Galerie Hugo Cassel in Berlin from February 5 until March 5, 2016. With a hint of the comic, this alphabet-soup of art manages to obscure and reveal at the same time – an inter-play of colors both vivid and drab and layers of paint, both opaque and transparent, over what appears to be newsprint.

As with a manuscript, Hoffeld plays with palimpsests and margins, cajoling the viewer to – quite literally – “read” the painting for meanings that may or may not exist. Letters and words appear and disappear, defined and undefined, wriggling for space, emerging and fading within and beyond the borders of the canvas.

These tensions are a common theme in Hoffeld’s work. A native New Yorker, Hoffeld was born in 1974 and studied art history at Columbia University. His thesis on Paleolithic cave paintings in France, some of the oldest figurative and abstract art known to man, helped shape his thinking about the relationship between these two approaches to art. Hoffeld did an apprenticeship in painting and drawing at the Art Students League of New York, having previously spent two years copying old masters at Boston’s Fogg Art Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts. In Boston, he explored the ways in which figurative paintings can also function as abstract pictures, a principle tenet of his instructor, David Andrus.

Hoffeld embraces ambiguity, a stance that is not necessarily unsettling in his work. Indeed, his paintings are both evocative and pleasing. He says he feels no obligation to “choose sides” on some of the traditional debates over art – those “between abstraction and figuration, the new and the borrowed or even clichéd, the bright and the muddy, the natural/primordial and the synthetic/modern.”

Working on this series since 2014, Hoffeld pushed himself to make art that did not rely on outside authority, standardized methods, or his own, self-prescribed guidelines for establishing when the paintings were finished, or judging their quality. The 50 x 75-cm and 75 x 100-cm paintings are acrylic on museum board, some with elements of collage.  

Akin to field paintings, the works recall abstract expressionism and art brut: “They emerge in response to a sense of overdetermination and the struggle to express oneself creatively and, in particular, visually, in an era where images are beyond ubiquitous and everyone is a producer,” Hoffeld explains. In particular, he has looked to abstract and German expressionists for inspiration, but also to Sargent, Degas, John Koch and Steven Assael.  

A further source of inspiration to the artist is music: "For me paintings (abstract and figurative) have always been linked with music (and literature for that matter). Lately my obsession has been trying to make paintings that are more like live performances than laboriously overdubbed, edited and contrived modern studio recordings," Hoffeld explains. "Often listening while I paint to my favorite jazz artists recording 'live' in the late '50s and '60s – particularly Coltrane – I aim to infuse my paintings with a kind of visual equivalent of that spirit of improvisation, spontaneity, energeticness." 

Jeremy Hoffeld has had several solo shows since 2006 at galleries in New York. He was awarded the Best in Show prize at the Woodstock Artist Association and Museum, and it represented in private collections around the United States and Europe.