The Eloquent Place is a powerful exhibition featuring intimate works on paper by Harald Stoffers and Josef Hofer, currently on view at Cavin-Morris in NYC. In a compelling pairing of these artists Cavin-Morris proposes:
Both artists seek to establish a sense of internal and external Place by creating worlds that unfold within and around their own bodies. The act of drawing is a method of controlling survival; in Hofer's case figuratively, and in Stoffers’ case by emotionally charging the written words with visual intensity. For both the art becomes a conduit toward a way of balance and self-placement in the world.
The dialogue between the two bodies of work results in a rich commingling of concepts and earnest explorations of representation versus abstraction through drawing. The opposition of systematic processes with highly personal subject matter reveals a strong connection between the work of Stoffers and Hofer, while exposing a candid vulnerability.
Josef Hofer’s partially clothed and fully nude figures originated as self-portraits drawn from memory of his reflection in a small mirror (with a substantial, ornate wooden frame) placed on his bedroom floor. The priority of his images resides in the recollection and expression of sections of the body, connections of limbs and folding flesh - not reflecting a moment in time or visual representation of the figure, but rather a narrative of observation. He captures a series of moments spent noticing the body, which is then recalled as drawing. Abstract of the obfuscating influence of rendering, likeness, or proportions, Hofer’s marks are naked as they describe the truncated contours of the body he recalls.
An important element included in every portrait, is the frame around the perimeter of the drawing surface (always alternating in bands of orange and yellow colored pencil, outlined in robust graphite). Speculations surround the origin or purpose of this frame; it's generally understood as a depiction of the frame of Hofer’s mirror, although it’s included in every piece, not just the drawings featuring figures. Hofer doesn’t discuss or explain his work since he’s primarily non-verbal - ultimately the genesis and nature of this device remains unclear.
It is certain that, much like its presence in Martin Ramirez’s drawings, the frame is an integral element and not merely a decorative one; Hofer has included it consistently since 2003, though in various iterations. Created slowly and deliberately (as evidenced by the labored impressions of his blunt implement), the frame often becomes quite elaborate and is even more time intensive to develop than the current variation of figure within. Elisabeth Telsnig, who worked with Hofer (at the creative program he attends) in Ried, Austria from 1997 until recently, states, “He draws a figure again and again, looking for ‘the perfect figure’, ‘the perfect position’. Only, when he has the impression, he has found it, can he stop the series. He seems to like to to be under constraint.”
The drawing of the frames is formally opposite to that of the figures (using a straight edge) and bound by consistent rules across all of his works - always orthogonal (even when they evolve to deviate from the rectangle of the perimeter) and meeting at a diagonal, as a frame does.
It's important to notice the use of a straight edge by an artist whose figures are drawn in such a personal way, in which his hand is exposed. The use of a mechanical tool or process to contrast with (or justify) this exposed hand is almost universal throughout art history. From the explicit use of geometric and mathematical rules to restrict the influence of the artist’s voice in catholic iconography, to JMW Turner’s bits of architecture providing an armature for an ethereal expression of light and air, to Gerhard Richter’s squeegee obscuring his hand-painted marks. Chuck close’s grids, Gabriel Orozco’s checkered patterns, the frame itself, or the smooth white walls of a gallery space all strive to achieve the same end as a pencil guided along a straight edge - respite from the expressive responsibility of mark-making, submission to something sure, inert, and objective. In Hofer’s work these methodical choices build inward towards his figures, sometimes working their way around, completely enveloping them. The interactions of these opposing processes is a highly original visual and procedural poetry.
Harald Stoffers’ cascading rows of horizontal lines and text are hand-written letters, most often addressed to his mother. Deeply diligent and well-meaning, his notations describe in great detail ordinary daily events such as his choice of clothing, travel schedules, or activities, yet also embody a more romantic personal narrative and the endeavor of carefully poring over increasingly monumental letters that are rarely sent. This daily ritual of letter-writing has dominated his practice for over twenty years. They have increased in scale since Stoffers began working in the Hamburg studio at Galerie der Villa in 2001; previous to that he would freely give away very small notes to anyone around him.
Stoffers generously establishes a preliminary, wavering framework that mimics ruled paper, which is then loosely used as a guide for the placement of text. In a palette even more restricted than Hofer's, his erratic script primarily appears in black ink, with an occasional rogue excerpt in blue. Inconsistent in spacing behavior, the text expands, contracts, and sometimes much taller letters span several lines. Stoffers very often draws over every line repetitively, with some words receiving more emphasis than others; original text is often obscured by the subsequent layers of mark-making, ultimately rendering it illegible.
In Stoffers’ work, a similar contrast between the systematic and personal are engaged with in a different manner than Hofer’s corporeal vernacular. In his works, which resemble sheet music or unraveling textiles from a distance, the striations and the text itself provide his objective process, where his unsteady hand and his vision through language provide the contrasting expression. Where Hofer uses a system of structured marks to assert a rigid context for his figures, Stoffers appeals to a familiar methodology to assert himself dutifully, not inventing a system, but engaging in common, learned systems - penmanship, list making, and the organization of language.
The conversation between Stoffers and Hofer in The Eloquent Place compliments the dialogue between vision and process within each artist’s work. The association that relentless drawing, manipulating, or obscuring of text has to the content and intention of that text can be understood in terms of the relationship of Hofer’s systematic straight lines to his divulging recollections of the figure, and vice versa. The intellectual depth of these parallels isn’t in the specifics of their implications, but in the quiet emotional power of their coexistence in this installation. These bodies of work are typified by genuine intention, vulnerability, and a complete faith in the meaningful act of drawing to validate their messages through diligent labor as draftsmen.
Harald Stoffers and Josef Hofer will be on view at Cavin-Morris through October 8th.