Japanese artist Kinuko Imai Hoffman plays with textural blocks of colour in her drawings and paintings, building them up into rough stacks resembling drystone walls, or leaving them casually dispersed like ruined old relics. Her colours are pared back and discreet, rarely deviating far from black, white and grey, allowing the sensuous textures of her richly worked surfaces to take centre stage.
Hoffman was born into a family of architects and artists, so it makes sense that elements of order and construction would make their way into her art. But her interpretation of structure is looser and more philosophical, considering how crude, hefty slabs laid down side by side can symbolise our relationship to one another, and to the architecture that surrounds us, a process she calls “a symbolic collage expressing the constant movement of people in today’s world.”
After spending much of her early life in Asia, Hoffman is now based in New York City, and it is clear to see references to this busy, gritty and overcrowded city in her artworks. In Unity, 2014, solid chunks of graphite grey are loosely heaped together into a heavy, sculptural mound, with a cold, metallic exterior resembling the wet pavements or rain-soaked buildings of the urban sprawl.
Before moving to New York, Hoffman studied Chinese brush painting, first in the ancient Song Dynasty tradition, before learning the freer, more abstract Chinese Southern style. Training in New York at the National Academy School of Fine Art allowed Hoffman to collapse together the languages of ancient China with American art styles, particularly Minimalism and abstraction. Sleek, pared back colours and floating forms in empty space speak of Chinese tradition, conveying the same qualities of order, harmony and balance that are so vital in China’s brush painting. By contrast, impasto, low relief surfaces built up with collaged elements of fabric, pumice, paint and string recall the heavily worked patina of American Abstract Expressionism, brought into order with the clean lines and geometric designs of Minimalism and the modern city.
Neither Here nor There, 2014, demonstrates this fusion of east and west, as subtle, oriental shades of grey are arranged into a harmonious and tranquil composition, while grainy textures suggest the harsh, scratchy surface of urban brickwork. Lisboa, plays with higher contrast, laying three crudely cut lumps of darkness on top of one another against a stark and empty grey ground. Affinity, 2014, is even more minimal, as two tall, totemic columns in industrial black and petrol blue lean into one another for support, each one keeping the other upright amidst the desolation of swirling empty space.