SOLILOQUY WITH GEORGE HOEHN
George Hoehn is a artist with many faces and styles. There is hardly any area of the arts that he has not touched. Educated in the arts at San Jose State University and San Francisco State University where he earned an MFA in graphic arts.
He taught for 35 years, including two years as head of the art department at the American School Foundation in Monterrey, Mexico. His work is in the permanent collections of the MOMA in New York, the Brooklyn Museum, the San Francisco MOMA, The California Palace of the Legion of Honor and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
George Hoehn has also been a neighbor and my friend in the arts and other life adventures for
Alex Nodopaka: George, good to be talking to you again. I let you know that our association to this day is alive and well. Your gentle and humorous coaching has had inestimable consequences. To this day I never forgot our arguments about the archivability of art. I remember how the choice of the best materials guided your decisions no matter their costs and how I laughed at the idea of permanence remarking to let history take care of it if it has any interest.
George Hoehn: Laughs aloud as he recalls my first ephemeral artwork made up of crumpled wadded hygienic paper mounted on an Ph-balanced archival cardboard that I subsequently matted and glassed in a shadow box as if it were a real piece of art that in fact it did become. He loved it so much that he said I should make a series of the content stressing the ever changing play of shadows on each wadded piece over the day.
AN: Thanks George, no wonder with such complimentary opinions about my art I put you on a
pedestal! So George, how is it on the other side of the fence?
GH: Actually not bad at all. I am no longer preoccupied with paying the mortgage on time or
eating the right foods or smoking. The mortgage and food are now off my mind. We inhale the air and the clouds which are plentiful and free and there 's no pollution at this elevation.
AN: Well, you're almost making me envious to join you but I want to first complete this interview. So how is window shopping over there?
GH: Oh, that was a great period wasn't it! San Francisco was the place to be with all the windows loaded with mannequins already posed. I really liked it when you came to visit me at the Brooks Photography lectures. As a matter of fact I say again what a great job you did when you formulated your own lectures the few times I needed an assistant to substitute me during my absences. Remember the time Brooks Photography Class organized the boat trip to Alcatraz?
AN: Wasn't that wonderful! You and your son David and myself had the grandest of time clowning around the jail cells and posing at the most odd of locations. The funny thing was that I was photographing the whole scenery from outside in while you were always concentrating on the dirt beneath your feet or the graffiti on the walls or the cracks in the floors or the walls. Are you still doing that?
GH: Well, the nature of heaven is different and I need to focus on the separation of the clouds
and the sky to replace the cracks on earth. I like it best when there's an upcoming storm and the contrast of the blackness of the clouds against a blue sky is at its best. It's just that everything appears so ethereal up here forcing me to use red filters when I do black and white photography. I had to change my earthly concepts since I use the scenic backdrop of the Earth. Of course I go for the abstract compositions not the whole panoramic scenic as you did then.
AN: Yes, you always told me that photography was a sketchbook for future paintings. I
remember I was the photographer at the time and that it was only a tool for you until you developed your skills to the point of teaching it. I always knew of your insatiable need to conquer every craft. I'll always appreciate what you taught me about painting and abstraction. So did you meet any of the famous angels or God yet? I bet you painting them in your unique style pleases them to no end!
GH: The funny thing is that neither exist. It was all a figment of human imagination and fear of the unknown and desire to fly. Here everything is reduced to the size of a sub atomic particle flying around in the void.
AN: So you mean there's nothing up there?
GH: You bet your sweet ditty there's something up here and that's the nothing you mention. Isn't that something!
AN: George, I really appreciate your philosophical stanzas but let's not go on a tangent which reminds be of your belief of ET's from Boswell that you so adamantly defended against my sensible advice. So what do you really do 24/7?
GH: Well, look Alex, there's plenty to do. First there's all these interviews with earthlings. They
ask the most basic of questions about existence and I always have the same answer, the purpose of existence is to exist by filling one's life with art. Now you Alex and I we do that our own way. Then there are the others who fill their lives with whatever. The sad part is the people that have nothing to fill their lives except with money. And you know where that leads to!
AN: I sure do! Well, I did try to explain to you the advantages of living on borrowed money in a
Capitalist society and that you needed to take some of that money out of your house and spend it traveling the world instead of being cooped up all your life in the same place. Of course that was my lifestyle but look what happened since the dot com real estate lottery, you died a multi-millionaire while I live the life of Riley! At least we artists use banknotes to make archival paper after washing off all the bitterness of its meaning. Speaking of archivability, how long does this state of being lasts in heaven?
GH: There's no concept of duration here. We just are.
AN: Do you feel like doing more of one thing than another?
GH: No, here it's all about nothing. Actually there are no concerns whatsoever. You don't even
waste time sleeping. Not that time exists but I'm just relating to the earthly concepts for your
understanding. We have fun missing the clouds while spitting down on earth
AN: Speaking of time, do you remember telling me lets go travel together to some god forsaken places that we never did because of time and work constraints then because of ill health from our partners or other now stupid reasons. In retrospect I'm sorry we didn't, however, we sure had some good times at Pete's Harbor Restaurant in Redwood City! You remember that time we sat at the bar and a couple of pretty damn good looking ladies joining us and the conversation hit on art and painting and photography and they wanted to make boudoir photography of themselves?
GH: Oh, yes. That's what started my series of the simplified line, the contour of the sensual parts of woman which in effect was of the whole of woman... haha! As a matter of fact I spent quite a bit of my time on the subject. I even expanded into the Video. Of course at the time it was quite an expensive hobby and it was not just paying for modeling studio time but by then I could afford anything I wanted. Within reason of course.
AN: Now that you mention expenses our going out ventures were pretty reasonable. The Photo
studios were paying for the models, our trips to salvation yards were free and the rotting still lifes on your balcony cost nothing but time watching their decomposition until they were ripe to be photographed and painted!
GH: Yeah, those were the good old days. As a matter of fact after completing these works they
slowly decomposed and I didn't have to worry about their storage. Not like you Alex who pays for 2 of them.
AN: But George, that's your fault. I always thought you worked too small at a time when galleries were devoting a whole wall to a single artwork and your answer was you wanted the viewers' nose in your art but somehow you talked me into making my then small artworks into these life size torsos and full size mannequins and now I can't get them in my house! Of course I won't sell them just like you did not unless they were priced at what art should be priced. I don't mean the stupid stratospheric prices of the big auction houses but at least at a decent living prices.
GH: Thank Ganesh I don't have to deal with that part of art any longer! Speaking of elephants,
how are you doing on your surrealist series by the way? I remember your far out series with the found bits and pieces at the salvation yards and in particular your dumpster diving.
AN: I still do them on occasion and thanks for asking but this interview is all about you. What are you going to do with all the artwork you left with David? (His son)
GH: I hope he can dispose of some but I would hate for him to spend any more time on them
than he already has. Maybe he should have a big yard sale... haha!
AN: Earlier you mentioned some hanky panky in a bar. How is it, for art's sake, up there? Do
Archangels do bartending?
GH: Well, you have to be careful not to be seen by God because if you are, he sends his brother
Satan to pluck the feathers off angels wings one at a time until they can fly no longer and then he whips their asses with the sharp quills and in the end pushes them off the clouds!
AN: Wow, George, those are biblical statements! So in fact you say that God is as mean as they
describe him in the big book?
GH: Yeah and then some! Well, I got on his good side. He kind of likes my art. Most of it anyway and he doesn't interfere in any ways, he pretty much lets me paint or sculpt anything I want to.
AN: So he must really appreciate your Genesis series. I love myself all those amorphous forms.
They are very primeval and mysterious. Do you still use woodblock printing techniques?
GH: Yes, there's nothing like the feel of the wood burin carving the line out of the wood. I love the feel of my back hand swiping the black oil ink on the woodblock.
AN: Yeah, I still remember that one time you and I were in Palo Alto you teaching me the
mysteries of printing etching in the Smith-Anderson gallery and Sam Francis dropped in the
printing studio, said a quick hi to us in that one room as he went straight to his monotypes and you whispered for us not to interfere with his work as he was on a hush-hush stay there.
GH: Oh that was a real chance meeting. And the fact that he let us watch print some of his
monotypes was a real memorable affair. What I remember best is our arms covered in greasy
black ink up to our elbows and you inking all those plates and our going to Sushi restaurants to celebrate a good printing day.
AN: I wonder how Igor Medvedev is doing? I haven't heard from him in over a 2 decades since
he married that young Russian woman. I stumbled on a site featuring a sales skit with him
interviewed in 2010 by probably their art salesperson. A rather sad sell-out on Igor's part art-
wise. I remember your long friendship and professional association with him when we were all in the Bay Area? Is he in your neighborhood?
GH: Well, I'd rather not speak of him. In spite of all my wife's input and mine, as you know, he
never gave credit for our guidance just as he never contacted you after all the art judging affairs you invited him to sponsor.
AN: George, I always wondered how you're doing without your lovely pets. Sam has departed as
you know but what about your house rat that you fed overnight in your kitchen?
GH: That's also a thing of the past. No pets allowed on premises that's because earth people
complained about their droppings. At first we thought we were sending them blessings from the sky but humans didn't take it to heart for being crapped on their heads.
AN: Yesterday I spent a day in San Pedro, the breeding grounds, pardon my pun, for Charles
Bukowski that you introduced me to. I still have the books you gave me. Well, I went around from the San Pedro Hotel all the way down to his preferred bar and like a fly I sat there pondering over flies and all the rough and tumble life that still is here but much tamer than it must've been 60 years ago. I even went around the harbor docks and reached an area literally teeming with seagulls who flew overhead and used me as a target practice and believe me after 3 direct hits 2 on my shoulders and one fly-by all over my pants sent me scurrying to the local bar for another drink and a rinsing off.
GH: Alex, you're great at remembering these small things. Well, I still recite my poetry to the
angels but leave the writing to you. I've shown you the way and how easy it is to write when
inspired by the likes of Charlie Bukowski.
AN: Oh, yes! Thank so much for presenting me with his books for my birthday. By the way what
do you think of Leo Castelli and Larry Gagosian and the likes of them on the art stage?
GH: Oh, you mean the Abbott and Costello type art peddlers. I love their, Who comes first
routine. Very pertinent to the art world, Art or Artist, who comes first,? They sure faked out the art world and the rich to believe in their doo. Well, it wasn't hard to do with a public way under-educated about the arts. I mean one can sell packaged rocks with instructions how to raise them as pets and voila you become a millionaire.
AN: Well, I somewhat agree but would add that the promoted artists of that period belonged to
the most powerful and most admired country in the world. I am curious though why all the content of the art of that period was about nothing. What's your opinion about that?
GH: Well, most of these artists were also undereducated so how could one expect any
substantial intellectual content? So on they went with scribbles, spots, smears, squiggles and
their promoters saw a gold mine about art about nothing. That's the famous period when art
alienated its public and the famous quote birthed, "My 5 year old can do that!"
AN: Isn't that the consequence of Vassili Vassilievitch Kandinski saying that every work of art is the child of its time or something of that nature?
GH: I love how you pronounce his name! Precisely and that's who started all this child-like stuff and thank God I never outgrew my childhood myself... Hahaha!
AN: George, thanks for taking time out of Eden for this interview. Do you have any advice for
GH: Yes, keep your fingers off your pimples and never slow down practicing art except for
pondering over the results. It's the doing of the doing that gets things done. Be inspired by the
smallest events as they all are catalysts to living. It leads to a life well spent.
Upon these last words George flies into the California sunset. I hope he doesn't burn his wings
like Icarus did.
George and I have been friends for over 27 years. Not once did we get into any personal strife
despite us going on common artistic excursions each with his camera or painting side by side
with our brushes and different view points.
About George and his Feeding a Street Rat
When my friend and I visited Alcatraz Island
we were entranced by paying a visit to where
we thought the Birdman of the Rock prison resided.
Back home we joked about that day
knowing other inmates befriended mice, cockroaches
and flies. Of course that was many years ago.
He died sitting before the television, his Greek hat
askew on his head to keep his bald spate warm.
He was watching a classic black and white movie,
Birdman of Alcatraz and for some odd reason
I wonder if the wild rat he fed nightly in his kitchen
missed the cheese or him as much as I still do.