Jennifer L. Hoffman | A Leap of Faith

Jennifer L. Hoffman’s journey into the quiet West

by Elizabeth L. Delaney

Jennifer L. Hoffman, Eternal Valley, pastel, 24 x 36.

Jennifer L. Hoffman, Eternal Valley, pastel, 24 x 36.

This story was featured in the June 2017 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art  June 2017 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

Jennifer L. Hoffman spent the first two decades of her life in Pennsylvania and points east. So it was quite a surprise—both to her family and to herself—when she pulled up stakes and moved to Wyoming after college, in pursuit of a dream long imagined: painting the landscape of the American West. Armed with very few possessions and her painting degree from the University of Delaware, Hoffman set off for new horizons. What began as a whim turned out to be the first step in a journey toward finding her creative and spiritual place in the world—the place where she belongs. “It felt like the craziest thing I had ever done,” says Hoffman. “It was kind of scary, but also really exciting.”

Though she had never visited Wyoming, or been out West at all, she had been intrigued all her life by the wide-open spaces, dazzling light, and natural forms of the region. She had never done anything of the sort before (nor has she since), and she doesn’t necessarily consider herself an adventurer. However, when Hoffman felt the calling, she trusted it enough to follow it. Two decades later, she remains confident that she made the right decision. “It’s the perfect place if you love nature and you love art,” she says of Wyoming. “It’s just such a wonderful place to find your way in that world.”

Long interested in landscape painting, Hoffman arrived out West without knowing any local artists in the genre. Neither had she attempted to add landscapes to her repertoire of figurative and abstract work. Surely, then, it was serendipity that led her to a yard sale at noted landscape painter Scott Christensen’s house soon after she landed in the town of Jackson. Christensen hired her as his studio assistant, and she spent the next year learning both the creative and business aspects of the art world from him. He introduced her to a number of other artists as well. “That was my doorway,” she says. “I think I learned more from painting with artists who do it every day than I did in art school. It was like on-the-job training.”

Along the way, Hoffman also studied with Greg McHuron, whom she credits with encouraging her to discover and hone her individual style and approach to painting. Other teachers and mentors have included Ned Jacob, Hollis Williford, Kathy Wipfler, and Skip Whitcomb. Throughout her career, Hoffman has won a number of awards and is a signature member of the Pastel Society of America, as well as a member of the Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters, the Oil Painters of America, and
the American Impressionist Society.

Hoffman has been fortunate to spend her entire professional life in the art world, working first as a studio assistant, then at the National Museum of Wildlife Art. Today, she paints full time and, along with colleagues Bill Sawczuk and Kathryn Mapes Turner, owns Trio Fine Art in Jackson. Being involved in the day-to-day operations of the gallery facilitates close relationships with her collectors, as well as direct interaction with the community at large. It also gives her the freedom to create work on her own schedule as the subjects speak to her.

“There’s something about nature that feels comfortable to me,” says Hoffman, who found herself drawn to landscape paintings long before she painted them. She surrounds herself with nature in her personal and working life, and she resides with her family outside of Jackson, away from the larger human population and near two rivers. She shares her property with a variety of wildlife, which appear more and more frequently in her work. Including them in her oeuvre felt like a natural progression, as the indigenous animals reflect not only her space but also her life. “You get to know them,” she says of the animals. “You start to recognize individuals. I feel like they’re as much my neighbors as my [human] neighbors.”

Hoffman spends about half of her creative time outside, working en plein air to capture the natural light, hues, and feeling of her subjects. She most often works close to home, mining the rich natural beauty of her surroundings and, ultimately, developing an intimate relationship with them. “I’m going deeper instead of broader as far as subject matter goes,” she explains. She paints or draws some places repeatedly to become expertly acquainted with them and to explore how each place’s unique ambiance changes with the light or through the seasons.

“I really get a lot of inspiration and energy from painting outside. Then I take that into the studio, where it morphs and grows,” says Hoffman. Her process involves a thoughtful progression, both physically and intellectually. She often starts a piece and then puts it aside to “live with it for a while,” so she can consider both its visual and emotional impact. She explains that this distance frequently provides resolution for lingering stylistic or compositional questions or helps identify missing elements.

Hoffman works in oil, pastel, and charcoal. The concept for any given piece, in concert with her mood and intuition, dictate which medium she chooses. Lately, she has gone back to her drawing roots, turning most often to pastels. She appreciates their soft, translucent quality, as well as the ability to build deep and intense, yet diaphanous, layers throughout a composition. Extending these features into her oil paintings, Hoffman has begun adding a cold-wax medium to the pigment—a treatment that produces the smooth, rich, transparent effects of encaustic without the toxicity. Additionally, the wax medium dries quickly, allowing her to build layers of texture onto the canvas.

Eschewing high-contrast pigmentation, Hoffman focuses on the subtleties of her materials. Her pieces offer a quiet distillation of the subject matter down to its most intriguing features: pure shapes and colors that overlap and coalesce to form an image that is cohesive while retaining the individuality of its elements.

Consisting of intricately layered lines, shapes, and swaths of color that fuse together to portray a quiet essence, Hoffman’s paintings call viewers to slow down and contemplate the subject matter. And the longer one engages with one of her works, the more there is to see. Layers are slowly revealed, and visual as well as emotional elements are unveiled. “I’m trying to paint things where there’s as much about the connection I feel with an image as there is about the image itself,” says Hoffman. “That’s what I want to communicate in my work.” Likewise, she strives to expand that connection outward, to evoke a sense of connectedness between viewer and painting. “It’s about a meditation on nature and beauty and the things that I love,” she explains. “I love the times of day when things are more mysterious or quiet. I’m drawn to more meditative images and moments.”

When asked how her work has changed over time, Hoffman responds, “I feel like I’ve settled into my voice.” Early on, she focused on the technical side of painting in the interest of finding her signature style and offering something unique to viewers. Now, as she becomes more confident in her technique and process, she feels free to respond to creative inspiration (or impediments) from a deeper place within herself. “Now it’s more visceral,” she explains. “My response to an image or a desire to paint something is more of a gut feeling.” Such an approach allows Hoffman to operate on a more instinctual level so she can concentrate on the sensation, the nuance, and the journey that go into creating each painting.

Hoffman relishes her multifaceted life, defining herself first as a mother, then as an artist and gallery owner. Having a child has led her to think more about our place in the world, how we are all connected to one another, and about the legacy she will leave. “I feel like that has played a big role in my development as an artist,” she says. Concurrently, she realizes the importance of striking a balance between her personal life and a career driven by creativity and passion. “It’s important for me to find a way to keep creating and expressing that part of myself because I want my daughter to be empowered to do that as well,” she explains.

Hoffman’s passion for her family is rivaled only by her deep love of making art and her love for the natural world. It’s been that way since she was a small child, drawing as soon as she could master a pencil and spending long days exploring the woods near her grandparents’ cabin in the mountains. “It didn’t really feel like a stretch to move West, it was just bigger,” she says, considering her life-changing move to Wyoming. “It felt like a natural extension of my childhood.” Perhaps, deep down, she knew something she had yet to realize when she made that first, impulsive leap in search of her dream.

Trio Fine Art, Jackson, WY.

This story was featured in the June 2017 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art  June 2017 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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