A STRIPPED and disused former bank houses SPACE, the gallery in
which Maciej Hoffman's unstretched and unframed canvases currently
hang. As a not-for-profit enterprise in property that could be let
commercially at any time, this liminal space with its whitewashed
blocks and exposed wiring is the perfect setting for Hoffman's
existential and expressionist art.
The child of artists, Hoffman was antagonistic to following in
his parents' footsteps, which resulted in a "troubled" childhood.
He was a teenager during the beginning of martial law in Poland.
Then came the fall of Communism and his immersion in the birth of
Polish capitalism. For 15 years, he worked for one of the biggest
advertising agencies in Poland; but this freedom to use art for
commercial purposes, combined with the unrelenting dominance of the
profit principle, came to seem as much of a trap and constraint as
that which he had experienced under Communism itself.
Hoffman's canvases hang from the ceiling, as well as on the
walls of SPACE, forming walls within walls, a maze of images to
circumnavigate, and a recreation of the traps that Communism and
commerce represented for him. Yet, on these immense canvases, where
all the angst of the world seems spilled out in drips and splatters
on distressed surfaces depicting equally distressed characters with
existential force and a seeming spontaneity of style, he has also
realised his vision of freedom.
There is great freedom and improvisation in his gestural
brushstrokes, overlaid with flecks and drips of paint, creating the
sensation that he has almost physically attacked the canvas; and
yet concept and composition also clearly underpin his
First, he says, "there is always a concept, an idea." As he
works, however, intuition guides him, and the painting paints
itself. The images that emerge from this maelstrom of paint,
although often founded in the darkness of existential angst,
exhibit a dynamism and energy that move towards freedom.
Escape and Dynamic move from darkness into
light, the violence of the brushwork conveying the force of their
motion. The One depicts bowed, cowled figures, forming a
mass of interlocking downward-looking faces, from which one
upward-thrusting, ecstatic figure emerges unhooded, and eyeballing
the crimson sky.
Hoffman is interested in art as freedom. His sense is that our
control-systems for classification, measurement, and supervision
are narrowing our space for what is irrational, imperfect, or
disordered. Artistic creation remains the one real margin of
freedom we can use.
His is an art that connects with the work and styles of earlier
émigré Polish artists in the UK, such as the mystical expressionism
of Marian Bohusz-Szyszko, and the satirical expressionism of
Stanislaw Frenkiel. It also has synergies with the continuing
resurgence of neo-expressionism, which is currently well
represented in London through the work of Philippe Vandenberg,
which can be seen at the gallery Hauser & Wirth in
Hoffman's philosophical or intellectual expressionism (to borrow
a phrase often used of Marlene Dumas) also makes sense within the
modern history of Polish art, where the Symbolism of Józef
Mehoffer, Janusz Bogucki's promotion of the sacred in art, and the
neo-Byzantine iconography of Jerzy Nowosielski all reflect on the
meaning of human existence as being more than the material
Hoffman studied philosophy at the Faculty of Theology at the
Papal Theological Academy in Wroclaw - the study of "life", he has
said. The subjects that interest him are those "issues that puzzle
us throughout the years, forming our way of looking at the world,
Our reluctance genuinely to explore these issues features in
another key image from this exhibition, But what's going
on? - a question posed by those whose covered faces prevent
their seeing. It is his willingness to look into the abyss,
enabling the abyss to look at us, that makes his work both so
striking and such a challenge.
Ultimately, his are grandiose, dramatic works, full of the
tension and conflict by which, he says, he is frequently seized -
the collision of thoughts with reality. Stress and fear flow from
the problems of the everyday through the walls of his studio to rip
apart the work. Almost all his days, he says, are accompanied by
stress and the fear of danger, encircled, as he is, by a world in
which a price is paid for each breath. Chaim Soutine, Willem de
Kooning, and Anselm Kiefer are each inspirations and references,
but Hoffman is assuredly his own man, with his own existential
vision. His fluid, gestural manipulation of paint on canvas is
seemingly raw, random, and unfinished; and yet the emotional impact
of both his angst and his search for freedom is as great as the
size of the works themselves.
Maciej Hoffman is exhibiting work at SPACE Gallery, 141 High
Street, Southgate, London N14, until the end of the month. Opening
hours are: Monday to Friday, 5.30-7.30 p.m.; Saturday, noon-4 p.m.;
Sunday, noon-4 p.m.