Started in the late 1940s–early 1950s, Abstract Expressionism focused on the creative process with no desire to record the real world. Artists may have been inspired by the landscape, as Hans Hofmann was, but their final product was not representational. Expressing the inner life of the artist through the free application of paint allowed artists to explore new dimensions of creativity and personal expression.
Born in 1880, this German-American painter was an influential teacher who inspired a generation of artists. Hans Hofmann was an early believer in using (mostly) rectangles and squares painted in high-key colors to create structure and interesting spatial relationships. He used the term ‘push-pull’ theory to refer to the repulsion/attraction of certain colors. In my discussions with students, I use his work to contrast geometric and organic shapes. We also talk about warm and cool colors. You could easily use his work to address emphasis as well.
The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak. — Hans Hofmann
Kindergarten Abstract Expressionist Paintings
Hans Hofmann’s work is an easy gateway to capture the imagination and energy of young students. Hofmann’s use of geometric shapes (mostly squares and rectangles) provides students the opportunity to practice drawing squares and rectangles, though you can have them use any shape or combination of shapes in their work. I try to help them understand, on a rudimentary level of course, the difference between geometric and organic shapes. To drive home the differences I show artwork by Arshile Gorky. Gorky’s style of ‘automatic painting’ lends itself well to contrast with Hofmann’s more structured work.
I was really pleased with the student’s work. They were SO enthused to be painting. I set up colors at different tables and the students traveled from table to table selecting the colors they wanted to use. I generally do not let my kinders sit when they paint. I find it helps them stay focused and it reduces the number of “Mr. Phillips I put my arm in my paint” comments.
I limited them to using squares and rectangles but you can be as free as you would like. During my brief demonstrations, I showed them how to vary the size of the shapes and to paint around the shapes using both geometric shapes and organic fields of color. Tough concepts for sure but many carried it off with bravado! Oh, and I had them paint on colored construction paper and told them had to have part of the paper showing through. That kept the work from becoming a 2 lb painted slab due to the over-solicitous attentions of happy painters.