Saturday, January 20, 2007

Art Space Talk: M Hunter Hoffman

I recently interviewed artist M Hunter Hoffman. Her paintings are very expressive in nature and often reflect her memories and experiences.

Margie was born in Belfast, Ireland. She observed the political and social struggles in Northern Ireland. This experience reminded her about the bombing in Belfast and her subsequent evacuation to the small town of Glenarm during the second world war. Her series, The Children of War (which I greatly admire), is a visual documentation of those nightmares and reflections.

Hunter Hoffman's work is not always focused on the atrocities of war. She also creates wonderful images of nature, everyday people, and abstract paintings that are full of life and hope. They serve as a reminder of what war can take from us within the context of her Children of War series.

Q. How has society influenced your art? Are there any social implications in your art?

A. "Oh yes, there are social implications in everything I do. All my experiences, everywhere I have lived, everywhere I have traveled becomes important in my work. I am very aware of politics in Canada what is going on in the world and am a totally committed artist who observes and files as much as possible to I pull out when I need it."

Q. On average, how long does it take you to create a piece?

A. "It might only take a moment... like the night when on the edge of sleep when I saw a room full of red birds trapped, with a shaft of light coming through the dark. Rushing down to my studio I made a quick impression and next morning started to research (I had never painted birds before) and compose. Or I might research for weeks, months and then start work. I often work on several paintings/drawings at the same time, especially when working on a series or for a specific exhibition. And sometimes a work is not complete until it is sold and leaves my studio."

Q. Has your art ever been published?

A. "Yes, I am awaiting the publication of a new book "100 Famous Contemporary Artists" in which I am featured. It is published by Petru Russo, Sweden and will be marketed though Amazon and other large outlets. I have also had work in Parkhurst Exchange Publications, Canada and essays about my work in many catalogues in Canada , Seoul, Korea, Florence and Rome, Italy and Rochester, New York .USA."

Q. What was your most important exhibition? Care to share that experience?

A. "While all exhibitions are important, two immediately come to mind. One at the Art Gallery of Hamilton which is the seventh largest public gallery in Canada. I had three large works exhibited in one of their galleries, one on each wall and on the fourth wall were two Robert Houles. Robert Houle is one of Canada’s top artists and has work in the National Gallery, Ottawa. Yes, I felt good about that.

And two, I did a series of three exhibitions over a five year period tracing the Legend of Brigit, the most famous of Irish goddesses. The research went back to 3200BC until 1993AD and I portrayed her at 8 points in her history. I went to Ireland, my homeland in 2005 and went to the megalithic tomb of Newgrange to visit the source of the legend and then to visit the Brigitine Sisters in Kildare, Ireland where they had opened a house in her name in 1993AD. The exhibition of these large charcoal and acrylic drawings, 72" x 48" were particularly satisfying."

Q. Do you have any ‘studio rituals"? As in, do you listen to certain types of music while working? What helps to get you in the mood for working?
A. "Sit, think, put on music, pace, sit, think, set out paint or materials and sit. Music is a must and is mostly classical but choices include a wide range according to mood. I might listen to a classical radio station or put on Rachmaninoff, Pink Floyd, Shaggy, or Chris Barber Jazz and sometimes, usually at midnight....Last Night At The Proms, a British tradition at the end of the Albert Hall Classical season and I sing at the top of my voice such renditions as Land Of Hope And Glory. Oh! The emotion of it all! My husband, at work somewhere in the house will smile and know I am happy at my easel."

Q. If you could pinpoint the characteristics of people who collect your art, what would they be?

A. "Professional, educated, sophisticated and other artists. Collectors who fall in love with my work and own several."

Q. Do you have a degree or do you plan to attend school for art? If so, how did it help you as an artist?

A. "I had already been painting and drawing for 20 years when I returned to art college. I had a successful 15 year civil service career in the government as a programme and policy analyst in women’s programmes. There I did important and highly responsible work. I entered college the month after leaving the civil service. On my first day there when I stood in front of a large canvas with a model in the centre of the vaulted studio with that glorious smell of oil paint and Vivaldi playing quietly, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. College gave me the discipline to focus and paint and draw daily. After being expelled from the same college in Florence, Italy where I was completing my fourth year studying the renaissance, I was forced into becoming a professional. I did, however graduate with honours! What I did not learn at school was the process of critical thought and I had to learn that from other sources. The study of fine art is never complete. I have studied in Ireland, England, France and Canada. The challenge of visual art for me is that it is like life itself, the learning is over when life is over."

Q. Are you represented by a gallery? Do you have any upcoming exhibits

A. "I am currently, until January 24th 2007, exhibiting at The Etobicoke Civic Centre Art Gallery, a public gallery in Toronto. I have 10 large works there showing a process working from representational to abstract. Abstract allows me to go straight to colour, movement and form and that excites me no end. I have had an urge to abstract for some time and think I have found a way to make it meaningful for me using the human form as a source. In addition I have been working with a group of female musicians who sing, drum and chant and they have been coming to my studio over the past 16 months to rehearse and as they sang and danced I painted. It is very exciting to respond to the moving image and I am happy with the result.

I also am having an exhibit at my studio gallery May 2007. For that location see my email address."

Q. What trends do you see in the ‘art world"?

A. "I have been working for 14 years with three female artists under the "Once Around The Sun" art collective title. We met in college and together we applied for an Ontario Arts Council Project Grant last summer. These grants give recognition to artists in the form of small awards to help pay expenses to mount an exhibition. To get one is a big deal. We received a previous grant of a couple of thousand dollars and are proud to be have been supported by the Arts Council. But when we received our rejection letter this year we noted that in Ontario with a population of 10m that only 11 groups were given project grants and of those 9 were projects working with video. What message is the government giving to fine art?

Visual art that is painting and drawing refuses to go away. For decades, almost a century now ‘they’ have been pronouncing that "painting is dead." It is the old struggle between original thought, intellect and emotion, politics and money.

So, no, I cannot identify trends but what I think is that a highly technical electronic global village the soul needs colour, texture and the human touch of painting and drawing. You must look to the universities and dealers for trends and to the artists for the truth.

I am always experimenting, looking for new ways to be looser, to get purer colour and to engage and hold the viewer and as an artist I will continue to communicate with my vocabulary of mark making."

Q. Any tips for emerging artists?

A. "Do it because you love it almost more than anything else. It takes a long time to learn your skills both intellectually and technically and the rewards are not great. Work individually and with a group, the group‘thing’ is difficult but four or six heads are better than one and the rejections are easier when shared. Try different mediums and materals. I use canvas, papers, aluminum, acetate, newspaper, transfers, just do it . We (a group I work with) hire curators and teachers to help us organize and put together difficult ideas. Go ahead and experiment.

But boy, the wonder when I hit that split moment in a painting or drawing when I know that it is working and I have created an energy between me and the canvas, that’s a high."

Q. Has your work ever been censored? If so, how did you deal with it?

A. "Yes a couple of times. At first I felt rejection and then I thought "Wow! I have reached them and that’s good""

Q. What was the toughest point in your career as an artist? Have you ever hit rock-bottom?

A. "Yes. I had to give up studying for 17 years to go back to college and do social work so that I could support my three children. But when I did my time I was able to go back to college
AGAIN and focus on my real love, fine art and I have not looked back."

Q. In one sentence...... why do you create art?

A. "I paint because I must."

Q. What can you tell our readers about the art scene in your area?
A. "Tough! It is my understanding that there are about 17,000 artists across Canada and I think that they are all in Toronto. Nevertheless I do well. "

Q. Has politics ever entered your art?

A. "All is political and cultural. As in the renaissance or any other time in history artists are influenced by all that is happening around them at home, in the community and in the greater world. I have made many paintings with political comments and will continue to do so. And that is another story."

I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with M Hunter Hoffman. Feel free to critique or discuss her work. For contact information check out her site at:

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

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