The Golden Wall, Hans Hofmann / by Les Ann Holland


We enter the picture plane, not by entering it, but by hovering just outside of it. Anchoring at each corner, visually, we begin to feel the color, its stability is palpable. Yet, its not symmetrical. The right-hand edge is cadmium medium light (light) uninterrupted, therby defining its edge as ground. The left-hand edge anchors and houses the vertical green rectangle, its accompanying cadmium medium red line resting upon it and extending into the space to the right of it, another field of paint, a couple of values lighter and chromatically more yellow. We follow this down to a somewhat crooked mark which leads us literally into a small format square the same color as the green rectangle, with less edge but clearly related. Perhaps a detached representation of the interior? Its only delineated or crisp edge located at its base. Yet, it's a trick. For, if we read the edge of the paint itself, it is fuzzy. Figure becomes ground and ground becomes figure. Not complete yet with the anchor of the left-handed edge, we follow the blue horizontal rectangle leftwards into the time of the piece, discovering a nearly nonexistent--due to lack of value shift--brown small format rectangle connected to another sequence of shapes, again to the left, forming a staccato of even smaller yet divisions of the aforementioned crisp vs. fuzzy edge construct. Again, at once another trick, but not a trick. This tension sets the tempo for the read of the entire piece. We are then rewarded with a vast expanse or slab of cadmium itself, occupying almost half of the left-hand edge, one of three. Definitely the figure, upon which is stacked another figure (green) and above that, brushstrokes of color acting as one:figure and ground. Beginning at the upper left-hand corner of the painting, the top edge and left hand edge form a corner. We are guided in towards a blue rectangle reflecting a scale shift with mirrored proportion from the yellow below and to its left. The colors are pure, intact, unmitigated. Edges are formed by virtue of their position. What happens inside of the blue rectangle is curious, as it is the first time that we see a fuzzy edge or value shift contained within an edge, clearly protected. Just below, we have the most expressive passage of the picture, the small brushmarks of color mixing at times within themselves, stacked up and arranged horizontally, at least fifteen of them. This convergence is mimicked to the right of the composition in the yellow vertical dashes which reflect back to the yellow slab on the left-hand edge, consistently one color and value. One dash houses a small black dash, which hovers above an orange brushmark or rectangle: micro reflects the macro of the left-hand third. Hofmann introduces a new set of imagery to the lexicon of this work just below, by superimposing a blue rectangle on top of two yellow brushy fields. Not a bridge, as it is positioned above, on top of, the yellow in domination of, materially, speaking, stacked upon the two yellow fields and rendering the orange space between and their mirrored fuzzy edges inaccesible. Owning. Pictorially speaking, this flips the blue into our, the viewer's space. Blue becomes figure to the subordinate orange ground, which is subordinated object to cadmium seas surrounding. In this moment, we see the cadmium is actually the sea, upon which not only the yellow, but the blue now float, flipping us viewers into another plane, aerially speaking. The sea of cadmium becomes an almost square, located in the middle of the composition, becoming a rectangle. Not a slab, its weight is artuculated by brushmarks, anchored in by lighter and darker versions of itself. Separate, but whole, a part of the sea revealed and eclipsed by itself in its vertical and horizontal arrangements. This sea of cadmium sets the stage for what is the only diagonal of the piece, anchored above our orange square / rectangle. Marked by contrast of white, (no color) and black (includes all) its edge is clear. The question is, which anchors which. Side to side, or front to back. We recall the tension of the blue rectangle earlier floating and or dominating the yellow beneath. As they float into, above  and below the surface of one another, one thing we do know, is they are anchored to the sea of orange by the yellow brushmark below, which provides the opportunity and clarity to consider, is the brushmark, which once looked like a rectangle, now a line? Is the line now holding up the white form? Is the white form protecting the line? Sitting on top of it? And what exactly is the golden wall? Is it the yellow raft to the right, the yellow slab to the left, the yellow anchor above or the orange sea (or perhaps the pronouncement of itself in the middle where its color literally becomes more yellow) itself? Perhaps it is the yellow line/slab to the left of the middle of the piece. This anchors us back to the edge via the pink rectangle which breaks apart at its lower edge. A beautifully mysterious moment where we encounter the only circle on the field, truncated by the lower, grounded edge, which moves us to the right in the sequence of seven shapes unfolding in our passage to the lower right corner. It is the same color as every other corner, save the bottom of the corner of the leftmost golden wall, the only corner of which an object or figure occupies two edges of the picture plane. Unless of course, we consider the ground, or maybe the figure? of the sea of orange, which occupies three corners, or seven edges of the picture plane (including the bottom edge of a circle--how is this possible?) comprised of the corners, bringing us back to the sides of the painting itself, where we began. Ladies and gentleman: push and pull.

Hans Hofmann
American, born Germany, 1880-1966
The Golden Wall, 1961