link to University of Utah Home link to Marriott Library Home
Off Campus Access - Log In

Utah Artists Project Logo

Tom Hoffman

Thomas S. Hoffman was born in Madison, Wisconsin in 1952. He is a realist painter whose work has evolved from autobiographical to social commentary to still life. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.

After learning all that he could on his own, Hoffman earned a BFA from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1989, and an MFA from Northwestern University in 1991. While at Northwestern he studied with James Valerio, a realist painter. Hoffman is an associate instructor in painting and drawing at the University of Utah and was an associate instructor at Westminster College.

His paintings have been exhibited at the Spring Salon at the Springville Museum of Art where Crush (2000) is featured in its permanent collection. Oil on Linen is another example of his still life painting. His work was also featured in national juried exhibitions, Contemporary Realism '96 and Contemporary Realism III in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 'A' Gallery in Salt Lake City represents his work.

Biography adapted from material supplied by the artist.

Thomas Hoffman was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin and was a self-taught artist until the age of thirty-five when he chose to return to school and study art formally. “I began to feel my limitations as an artist at the same time I realized that no endeavor held for me the value that art did. So I knew that I had to expand, my art had to expand to remain viable.“ He moved to Chicago and received his B.F.A. from the Art Institute and M.F.A. from Northwestern University were he received a fellowship and studied with the realist painter James Valerio. He was represented immediately out of school by the J. Rosenthal Gallery in Chicago and a year later moved to New York where his work was represented by the Steibel Modern Gallery.

Over the years the focus of his work has changed. “As an artist you search for relevancy, as a representational painter you look at the world as a source and that includes the art world. Your work has to be informed by art, historical and contemporary. And you have to grapple with the schism between the commercial and the personal.“ This search has led Hoffman to still life. This change was precipitated in many ways by a realization that beauty by itself was a valid aesthetic, a valid concern for painting. He views a painting purely formally, that is, he chooses objects with consideration of color, texture and composition and the qualities that the objects will have as paint. “I realize that in representational you are burdened, in a sense, with the subject matter. It is what the viewer sees first and is either engaged by or rejects. But I want to engage them one step further in the arena of paint. I think of these paintings, in many ways, as abstractions. At the same time the vocabulary of still-life is beginning to unfold for me, to deepen, the longer I work in it. The symbolic content some objects can hold as well as the psychological (talisman) and narrative aspects that can be implied/inferred by the placement of objects is becoming apparent to me. What I strive for in the paintings is a sense of intimacy, virtuosity, complexity, balance and beauty.“

Hoffman is currently an adjunct professor at the University of Utah. He has received numerous awards for his work and is represented in many collections, private and public, including the Springville Museum of Art, the Mary and Leigh Block Museum at Northwestern University, the Richard Davidson Collection, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Review by Mary Francey, Phd.

Thomas Hoffman defines himself as a realist painter, but realism in art has, historically, defied definition. Most of us are content to think of a realist painting as accurate depiction of recognizable themes and subjects that are neither abstracted nor distorted. As a distinct movement in nineteenth century France, realism was a reaction to the dominant standards of the French Academy that favored idealized paintings of historical subjects. Instead of referring to historical, biblical, or mythological themes, realist painters chose their subjects from everyday life, and simply painted what they saw. Like his predecessors, Hoffman's work is straightforward, without pretension, and his images are easily read as literal transcriptions of still life objects, landscapes, or figures. Nevertheless, his paintings do not look back to earlier developments, but are genuine expressions of current ideas.

But what is it that makes us see Hoffman's work as a relevant response to his own time? And what is it that connects his still life paintings to our view of today's world? As a realist, he focuses on the objective social forces that shape both external reality, and our perception of it. He can, and does, depict contemporary reality in all its complexity while relying on the familiar language of literal representation. Some of his recent work owes a debt to the sharp focus realism of the 1970's, yet it reveals an obvious understanding of the developments of the past thirty years.

Having earned a B.F.A. from the Art Institute of Chicago, and an M.F.A. from Northwest University, there is no doubt that Hoffman absorbed the directions of post-modernism and its aftermath. Having done that, he inevitably invests his paintings with an awareness of how visual forms are revised and re-stated within each historical period. His most recent still life paintings have undertones of our shared post 9-11 apprehensions. Somewhere on the Road to Oz juxtaposes the innocence we ascribed to earlier times with the worldly and jaded outlook that characterizes today's society.

Keeping the tradition of realism alive with still life painting, Hoffman's work bridges past and present. Still life, by definition, cannot convey a story line; still life paintings can often be read for allegorical messages. If realism is defined as painting from direct observation of nature, and still-life paintings are faithful depictions of inanimate objects, the question of content remains. Hoffman's paintings go beyond definitions to explore a world of ideas with ordinary objects that connect with today's experiences. He chooses objects by considering color and texture, and creates compositions of uncontrived arrangements with Red: A Hidden Valentine he explores ways of conveying a sense of harmony and restraint with a color known for its strong expressive properties. Another goal, that of conveying a feeling of intimacy, is evident in the small flowers in Orchid Dynasty I and II.

Hoffman continues to investigate the language of still life as it expands his identification of a realist painter. His work continues to evolve into complex forms and compositions that are rarely disconcertingly unbalanced or distorted. He remains an enigma in his insistence that his compositions are, in his words, “purely formal“ and that he considers “beauty a valid esthetic in itself“ while investing his work with unmistakable references to today's anxieties.

Mary Francey PhD. 
Curator of American Art 
Professor of Art History 
Utah Museum of Art 
University of Utah

Education

  • M.F.A. Northwestern University (Fellowship, Teaching Assistantship)
  • B.F.A. School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Teaching Experience

  • Adjunct Professor, University of Utah 2000-Current
  • Associate Professor, Westminster College 2001

Gallery Affiliations

  • A Gallery, Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Madelyn Jordan Fine Art, Scarsdale, New York

Selected Exhibitions

  • 2005 - Still Life: One Person exhibition, Madelyn Jordan Fine Art, Scarsdale, New York
  • 2004 - Utah Museum of Fine Art: University of Utah, Faculty Exhibition
  • 2004 - 80th Springville Salon, Springville Museum of Art, Springville, Utah (catalog)
  • 2003 - 79th Springville Salon, Springville Museum of Art, Springville, Utah (catalog)
  • 2002 - The Regional 2002, St. George Art Museum (Best of Show)
  • 2002 - Utah Art/Utah Artists Cultural Olympiad, Springville Museum of Art
  • 2001 - Artist/Alumni, Block Museum, Northwestern University (catalog)
  • 2001 - 77th Springville Salon, Springville Museum of Art, Springville, Utah (catalog)
  • 1998 - Contemporary Realism III,National Juried Exhibition, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • 1996 - Contemporary Realism '96, National Juried Exhibition, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • 1994-96 - affiliated with: Creative Artist Network, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • 1995 - Group Exhibition, Wayne Art Center, Wayne, Pennsylvania
  • 1993-95 - represented by Stiebel Modern Gallery, New York, New York
  • 1994 - New Body Images: The Male Figure, Doshi Center for Contemporary Art, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
  • 1994 - Eye-to-Eye: The Painted Portrait, traveling exhibition, Laurel, Maryland and Washington D.C. (Honorable Mention)
  • 1992 - Small, Really Small, Tiny, Stiebel Modern Gallery, New York New York
  • 1992 - From America's Studios: Drawing New Conclusions, 150th Anniversary Exhibition, School of Art Institute of Chicago, Betty Rymer Gallery, Chicago, Illinois, Invitational (catalog)
  • 1990 - Black and White, Sazamas Gallery, Chicago, Illinois
  • 1990 - Art of the Big 10: Painting and Drawing, Mary and Leigh Block Gallery, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois

Collections

  • Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
  • Springville Museum of Art, Springville, Utah
  • Richard Davidson, Philadelphia, PA
  • Mary and Leigh Block Gallery, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois

For more information on the artist contact: chinesetakeoutc@hotmail.com

Biography courtesy of the artist.

Newspaper Article

"Dreaming Big: Artistic Visions for the Country." New York Times, February 27, 2005.

Book

Swanson, Vern G., Robert S. Olpin, Donna Poulton, and Janie L. Rogers. 150 Years Survey Utah Arts and Artists. Salt Lake City, UT: Gibbs Smith Publisher, 2002.

Periodical

Condon, Elisabeth. "Small, really small, tiny (Stiebel Modern, New York)." New Art Examiner, v. 20 (March 1993): 32-33.

 Last Modified 8/28/13