Wrestling with Hofmann’s “Push-Pull” in Painting

Slow, tedious work on the flatiron

Slow, tedious work on the flatiron

Creative expression is . . . the spiritual translation of inner concepts into form, resulting from the fusion of these intuitions with artistic means of expression in a unity of spirit and form. . . . Imitation of objective reality is therefore not creation but dilettantism, or else a purely intellectual performance, scientific and sterile.

Hans Hofmann

What a gift this evening provided–I managed to dust off tomorrow’s class preparations late this afternoon, and am now finishing a deliciously quiet evening of watercoloring and studying.  It’s been frustrating lately, working late into the nights doing school stuff and having little-to-no quality time to paint.  I managed to insert quite a few more details into the crown of this Fort Worth flatiron as the evening progressed, then stopped abruptly awhile ago, realizing that I was falling into my paint-by-number syndrome.  When my mind starts ranging about in extraneous ideas while only my eye responds to details on the watercolor, I feel suddenly that I am on auto-pilot, and am merely whipping out another watercolor for the trade.  At this age, I am more hungry to learn, to experiment, to push the boundaries, and not repeat what I’ve done before.


Nice Quiet Evening in the Claustrum

Abstract Expressionist painter Hans Hofmann found his way to the United States in 1934, the same year as Paul Tillich.  Both men fled World War II Europe, set up shop in New York City, and began changing our world by bringing European avant-garde thought to our early twentieth century.  Both men had an engaging way of applying dialectic to their disciplinary homes.  Paul Tillich was fascinated with the “boundaries” separating disparate realms, and Hans Hofmann alike spoke of that energy emerging from the “push-pull.”  Among Hofmann’s discussions of “push-pull”, I have decided to play with contrasts in color, both warm vs. cool and complementary pairs as well.  As I worked in the shadows of the cornice of this flatiron building, I continually balanced my Transparent Yellows with my Winsor Violets, and juxtaposed my Winsor Reds with mixtures of Transparent Yellow and Winsor Blue (Green Shade).  My photography is quite primitive, and I hate it that my blog cannot really put the painting before my reader’s eyes in the same way that this raw watercolor gazes back at me.  But I’m loving what I see with these colliding pairs of colors placed side-by-side.  My shadows are showing much more dynamism than they did in the days when I relied on Payne’s Gray for cool effects or Sepia for warmth.  There is so much more going on now, in the shadows, plenty of push-pull.

I’m glad I stopped earlier this evening.  The theories I’m reading from Hofmann and Paul Cezanne regarding complementary colors and warm vs. cool colors are giving me fresher ideas that I intend to apply to this experimental painting.  Just before stopping for the evening, I looked at the work and began to realize that it was becoming academic and tight.  I’ve done more than enough of that throughout my life.  I want to discover new worlds in watercolor, and wish to learn something new from every painting excursion.  I fear that art will become boring to me if it ever reaches a point where I am cranking out product.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remember that I am not alone.

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9 Responses to “Wrestling with Hofmann’s “Push-Pull” in Painting”

  1. Playamart - Zeebra Designs Says:

    the painting is beautiful and is going to all but jump off the page when you’re finished!
    last night as a friend and i were critiquing one of my paintings, i said that long ago i worked out a ‘map’ and knew precisely where every single splotch of color would go, and what the end result would be.

    now i work out the general essence of the design and then allow the painting to dictate the direction, colors, etc as it evolves. there’s no longer a war between the painting and me, and it’s so nice to delegate the power and just let it flow! z


    • davidtripp Says:

      Very nice! I tend to go the direction of your 2nd option. I have always let my paintings “evolve” but it has bothered me that I have not done the compositional studies, thumbnail sketches, tonal sketches, etc. The Edward Hopper exhibit at the DMA is really kicking my butt, making me feel undisciplined. I’m really trying to explore the “planning” phase of making art, the way you did before. No doubt, your recent approach “works” more for you, and I can see the excitement in that as well. Right now, my flatiron is just sort of sitting there, awaiting my next move. And I’m really not sure just waht to do at this juncture.


  2. Deanna Tennent Masterson Says:

    Gorgeous beginning! just keep going & stop thinking so much:)


    • davidtripp Says:

      Wow, thank you. I hear your point. Problem is, when I’m not thinking, my stuff all comes out the same. I’m trying to get better rather than stay the same. But yes, I acknowledge that over-thinking also contributes tightness. I’ll look for that balance (or perhaps it will just come to me?)


  3. coreyaber Says:

    I like what you’re doing with the colors. Gives me some good things to think about with the painting I am working on now, despite the somewhat different style I am attempting and not quite getting to.


  4. davisbrotherlylove Says:

    I enjoyed this entry, as I am of late wrestling with Hofmann’s push pull concept. My goal with watercolors is to use them for the expression of feelings and ideas. Use of contrasting themes (colors that advance and recede; saturation vs black and white; large and small) all can be used in service to an idea or feeling.

    Have you ever posted about Paul Klee? I’m interested in your take on him.

    Thanks for your post on Hofmann.


    • davidtripp Says:

      So good to hear from you, thank you. I have not yet posted about Paul Klee, but thank you for the idea. I’ll put something up about him in the near future. Thank you for sharing with me your experience in watercolor and theory. Best of luck in your endeavors.


  5. Push Pull in Nature | Brotherly Love Says:

    […] I thank David Tripp for the following quote from Hans Hofmann in his blog entry about push pull, and encourage you to visit his blog: […]


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