Douglas Hofmann Biography Continued:
My father's hobby was building model trains, and we often built trains together. This detail-oriented work taught me patience, and the attention to detail, that I would later need to become a realist painter. The other major early influence on me was the movies. My parents and I used to watch at least two movies a week. This sparked my imagination, and my sense of beauty and composition. In particular, I really enjoyed the ‘Westerns’ and ‘Adventure’ movies. My absolute favorite movie was Disney's ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’.
All throughout my school years I could always draw very well, but didn't take art too seriously until 1963, when on a whim, I enrolled in The Maryland Institute College of Art instead of going to business school. At the Institute, despite the popularity of abstract expressionism, I found that I preferred realism, particularly the style of the old masters. My mentor, Joseph Sheppard, taught me the ‘Maroger Method’, a painting discipline that emulates the chemistry and qualities of oil paintings by the Dutch Masters.
Probably most important to my growth as an artist, was a job I had during my years at the Institute, in the window display department of Hecht's Department Store. Learning how to collect the right props, and arrange them in a display window, is very similar to the work I do in planning and creating my paintings. This practical training was so much more useful than anything I could have learned in the staid atmosphere of art school.
IDEAS & INSPIRATIONS
My primary artistic heroes are the realists of the 17th Century, and the impressionists of the 19th and early 20th Century. Early on I was exposed to Jan Vermeer, and for me he has always been the pinnacle figure in painting. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Vermeer's work always read right for me. That is to say the settings, the props, and the figures depicted, all had an innate believability. Vermeer showed me that an artist could be extremely successful, by placing a normal person in a real room with good or at least interesting lighting, and attempt to paint merely what he saw. On its face, a Vermeer painting might seem simplistic, but in truth portraying the complexities of real images correctly is insanely difficult. Vermeer used numerous techniques and short cuts to achieve his artistic goals, and I use them too, along with many others, some of which are even unique to my work. But at the end of the process, when you view the finished painting, all that is left is an image, which hopefully appears as real, as it is beautiful. Less of an inspiration, Vermeer is more like a challenge. In the final result, the work must be as pure and as real as can be.
Outside of Vermeer I have always looked towards the impressionists and other painters of a hundred to a hundred and fifty years ago for inspiration. Impressionism is a very different look than what I am involved in creating. Going deeper however, the images presented in this era were so often keyed into ordinary daily scenarios. Things like workers working, or dancers practicing, woman bathing, or simply lounging has always appealed to me. For the painters of this era, even when an image was contrived, the goal was to leave the viewer with some insight into the characters. Like Degas or Manet, my goal is to leave to the viewer some tangible emotional feeling or insight into the subject.
FROM PALETTE TO PICTURE
The ideas for my work are a combination of serendipity and planning. I have rather rigid ideas about which models I will use and which sorts of props and settings I like to explore. Yet, when all the elements come together I use my artistic sensibilities, along with trial and error, to create what I hope will be successful images. In my most recent works I have been concentrating on street scenes and unique outdoor settings. Nearly every image I paint or draw is composed and initially created photographically. Photography stops light, and is therefore the very best way to keep an image pure. This is not to say that, when necessary, I don't wander from the original image in my photograph.
I am considered to be part of the ‘Maroger’ school, which is really nothing more than a group of artists, originally centered around Baltimore, who have largely set out to re-discover the techniques of the old masters, and more specifically the actual chemical compositions of the oil paint used in the Netherlands during the 16th and 17th Centuries. Beyond this, my working methods are typical. First, I draw a semi-detailed drawing onto my carefully prepared board. I do this in basic shades, which, when done completely, fleshes the image out in terms of shapes, and relative contrasts between the different elements in the picture. This blocks out my image. Then, in colour, I paint the picture in its entirety. Following this, I paint the entire piece a second time, hopefully bringing it very close to the final look I am aiming for. The oil paint I use is forgiving in the hands of an experienced artist, and it allows me to work and re-work parts of a painting numerous times until I am happy. It is time consuming, and requires a fair amount of patience to bring an image, through layers and layers of paint, to a finished look that I am happy with.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF DOUGLAS HOFMANN
Over the years my life as an artist has settled in a daily routine, which rarely changes much. I rise fairly early and eat breakfast in a local restaurant. I then go to my studio and paint right up until lunchtime. After having lunch, often at the same local eatery where I had my breakfast, I return to the studio and paint until 5 or 6 o'clock in the evening. I usually make myself a simple dinner, and either continue painting until bedtime, or do some preparatory work for upcoming paintings.
I follow this routine pretty much every day, and take afternoons and evenings off only occasionally, allowing me to spend time with friends and family, or to go to the movies.