Falling for Fall

How bizarre and yet at the same time brilliant that a walk to my local coffee shop should have signaled the start of autumn for me this year. Have you had your first ‘fall’ moment yet? In my case effects combined a couple of days ago to give a combined effect of official slippage from a hot, steamed summer to the cooler cosiness of the coming months.

As I walked up our hill, fallen leaves fluttered underfoot, a colored motif that greeted me too as I entered said coffee shop: red and orange foliage flipping across the menu boards! I’m excited for our first full fall living on the East Coast because I know nothing does Fall Foliage like the trees around the District. The second element of my autumn awakening came as I clung hungrily to the counter display: I didn’t think you could put pumpkin in so many things! Pumpkin bread, pumpkin scones, pumpkin cream cheese muffins. I half turned orange just thinking about squashing all that squash into a set of seasonal baked goods.

For me, autumn is the best time of year and this year it’s taking on a lot more luster and shine as I’m sitting on a stunning slew of seasonal pictures that I’ve been itching to share with you. So to usher in our Art 2010 autumn, it’s Autumn Gold (1957) by Hans Hofmann. Born in Bavaria in 1880 (he died in New York in 1966) Hofmann was an influential Abstract Expressionist artist. He trained in Europe (in Munich and Paris) before emigrating to the States in 1930. In New York, Hofmann started an art school, running it from 1934 to 1958. He became a respected teacher, instructing young Abstract Expressionists, including Lee Krasner and Helen Frankenthaler. People prized particularly the contact Hofmann had had with avant-garde artists on the European continent.

Autumn Gold lets us look right at the definitely distinctive kind of abstraction that Hofmann came up with, which in essence is squared patches of vivid color. His surface here is dense, the dried paint forming a mosaic-like effect on the canvas.

Combining a compulsive and vigorous paint application (some of these square will have been laid on with a palette knife) and an obvious interest in color, Hofmann is not quite Action Painter, not quite Color Field Painter. He’s just somewhere in a distinctive, delicious middle-ground. As an artist, he sought out the tension between the flatness of abstract art and the illusion of depth of representational painting. He called the result “alive, dynamic, fluctuating and ambiguously dominated by forces and counter-forces, by movement and counter-movement, all of which summarize into rhythm and counter-rhythm as the quintessence of life experience.”

Setting that description aside for a moment, let’s let the painting do the talking here. I just adore its tapestry-like richness, the way the colors are woven into and across one another. In places (orange meets green, blue meets yellow) the jarring of complimentaries jangles and judders the work into life, while in other places more harmonious combinations are at play. Gorgeous. And for me, it’s entirely evocative of a charismatic, colorful carpet of fallen fall leaves. Or big, bright pumpkins sitting in a patch. Or the kind of golden, sun-dappled afternoon that happens on an autumn walk. In fact, whatever your favorite things about this season, I’m willing to bet you’ll find some abstract expression of them here.