Hans Hofmann’s famous phrase “push and pull” is most often associated with his signature works of the 1950s and 1960s, in which bold color planes emerge from and recede into energetic surfaces of intersecting and overlapping shapes. The ideas and impulses behind this enduring term, however, took shape decades earlier, in his teachings, writings, and in his own paintings. In the late 1930s, in a series of widely attended lectures in Greenwich Village, Hofmann demonstrated how to “push a plane in the surface or to pull it from the surface” to create pictorial space. “We must create pictorial space,” he declared to audiences of avid young artists and critics, including Arshile Gorky, Clement Greenberg, and Harold Rosenberg. Hofmann would later refine his definition of push and pull as “expanding and contracting forces...the picture plane reacts automatically in the opposite direction to the stimulus received; thus action continues as long as it receives stimulus in the creative process. Push answers with pull and pull with push.”
Push and Pull: Hans Hofmann brings together signature paintings from BAMPFA’s distinguished collection of the artist’s work, such as Combinable Wall, I and II (1961) and Magnum Opus (1962). In 1963, at the height of his internationally acclaimed career, the artist donated nearly fifty paintings to UC Berkeley in recognition of the University’s important role in his early career. He first came to the United States from Germany in 1930 to teach in UC Berkeley’s Department of Art, at the invitation of Worth Ryder. From Berkeley, Hofmann went on to New York, where he established his famed and influential art schools. By the late 1940s Hofmann was also recognized as a progressive, avant-garde painter and one of the originators of Abstract Expressionism. In 1958, at the age of seventy-eight, Hofmann closed his schools and returned to his studio full-time, for the first time in over forty years. In this last decade of his life, he produced an astounding body of energetic, masterful paintings. “My aim,” he stated in 1962, “is to create pulsating, luminous, and open surfaces that emanate a mystic light, in accordance with my deepest insight into the experience of life and nature."