Artist of the Week

Kay Hofmann

December 4, 2019

KAY HOFMANN (b. 1932, Green Bay WI) received her B.F.A at the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago IL and studied with Ossip Zadkine at the Academia de Grande Chaumiere, Paris FR. Her work has been featured in exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago IL; Lakeview Museum, Peoria, IL; Illinois State Museum, Springfield, IL; Foothill Art Center, Golden, CO; Raher-West Museum, Manitowoc, WI; Ballarmine College, Louisville, KY; Suburban Fine Arts Center, Highland Park, IL; Alverno College, Milwaukee WI; Peoria Art Guild, Peoria, IL; Chicago Public Library, Chicago IL; and Illinois Institute of Art, Chicago IL. Her work is in the permanent collections of Michael Jordan Collection, Borg Warner Corporation, Hugh Hefner, Continental Hotel, Gonstead Medical Center, Mt. Horeb, WI, Arthur Answerson Associates, and Henry Marcus Collection among many other private and corporate collections.

Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?

I am Kay Hofmann and I have had a lifetime of making sculpture.

What kinds of subjects do you like to portray in your work?

My work is always of a figure, however, I’ve also incorporated many of my animals into my work. I’ve had snakes, iguanas, turtles and cats – today, I have a pair of boy turtles that I have had for 39 years and “Sweetie,” is my 21 year old dove. She always looks into my studio and watches me work. She can be found in several of my works: sitting on my shoulder, next to my feet or even in a figure holding a dove.

Kay Hofmann with “Isla Mujeres” during the opening reception of Lasting Impressions at LVL3
Kay Hofmann, Isla Mujeres, 2019. Hand Carved Colorado Alabaster. 13 1/2″ x 17″ x 51/4″. Courtesy of the artist and PATRON Gallery. Photo Credit: LVL3 Official

What’s your favorite material to work with?

Certainly stone is my favorite. In the 1970’s, I worked in fiberglass and resin for a few years because I wanted to do larger, outdoor pieces. At first, they were very abstract and gradually became more figurative. However, when I think of it now, I don’t think I ever enjoyed doing them. In the early 1980s, I had a commission for Hugh Hefner for his new mansion in LA. It was a 4 foot female figure and her hair was carved to follow into the banister of this hand built winding staircase in his bedroom that led into his erotica group of Picasso’s.  At the top of the staircase was a smaller piece with two figures which I did quite abstract.  This commission was the first wood carving I did since the fifties. I enjoyed doing it so much, but Hefner would see photos of the process and I had to make her thinner than I wanted it to be. Regardless, I enjoyed every bit of doing the commission, and afterwards, I had so much energy and new ideas.  I decided to buy a black walnut tree and ended up with a huge supply of wood. The first piece I made was over five feet. What a joy – I only have 2 pieces of that wood left in my garage. But regardless, I still love stone more.

Has your father’s work as a sculptor influenced you?

My father was a stone cutter for tombstones, so since I was young, I have always been around stone and wood.  As a young kid, I spent many hours watching him carve his duck decoys, I would marvel at the ease with which he took a cedar log and shaped it into the most beautiful mallards and bluegills, but he wouldn’t let me do it because the blades he used were so sharp. He often gardened in the spring and when my dad turned the soil, he would get so excited to find a batch of Wisconsin clay – he always had a bucket ready to fill it and using it in the basement for me. I still remember the tan clay that was so smooth and ready and so wonderful to shape into anything I wanted. I made every dog in the neighborhood and horses galloping – everyone I knew got a dog or horse for Christmas or on their birthday. It would be great to see what they really looked like, but I thought they were great. And so did my dad.

Installation view of pour toujours. KAY HOFMANN, January 26 – March 9, 2019 Courtesy of the artist and PATRON Gallery. Photo Credit: Aron Gent
Installation view of pour toujours. KAY HOFMANN, January 26 – March 9, 2019 Courtesy of the artist and PATRON Gallery. Photo Credit: Aron Gent

How has your artwork or perspective as an artist changed over the years?

My artwork has definitely changed from abstracted planes and the breakup of form to a softer more flowing form. As for my perspective as an artist, I’ve always been the same person, always desperate to do it faster and better and always eager to get the ideas in my head into the material.

What’s it like living and working in Rockford, IL?

It has never mattered where I lived, I have always felt the same about carving and I get lost in the process. I think my best pieces were carved when I would to spend weeks in December at the Blackhawk Mountain School of Art in Colorado. My worktable was set up next to a running creek and it was so easy to work for hours and never get tired. In Rockford, whether inside my studio or in my backyard – just working is always a joy.

Can you tell us about your studio?

I’ve had many different studios, both large and small.  I probably prefer a smaller space – carving is messy and the chips fly. My work doesn’t need much space because you don’t move it around.  I’ve only been in Rockford less than 2 years. Inside the house, my living room is my gallery and the front enclosed porch is one of my studios. The other, “outdoor” studios are in my two garages where I keep my raw materials, my tools and my lift.

Kay Hofmann, Into the Breeze III, 2004. Hand carved Black African Stone. 19” x 16” x 17” Courtesy of the artist and PATRON Gallery. Photo Credit: PATRON Gallery

Who are some of your favorite artists or inspirations?

From a very young age, I have always been fascinated with artists like Vincent Van Gogh – how desperate he was and how he loved what he had and was so passionate about it. I was also so amazed at Michelangelo and what he did in his lifetime. No one today has that energy or determination. I don’t know of many artists who enjoy hard work.

Can you tell us about the shop you used to own, Forever Young?

Forever Young – a wonderful venture that my daughter and I started when she was figuring out her next step, six months after the birth of her son. In 1990, we were walking through an antique mall, and thought “we both had lots of stuff, let’s get a booth.”  Even though we had only planned to have the booth for a month, we participated in the antiques mall every Sunday for the next 2 years. It wasn’t toys until, one day someone brought in a 60’s boxed Barbie and wanted $50 for it. It was the same Barbie my daughter had in 1960 that she gave away to her boyfriend’s little sister. The fellow in the booth next to us – motioned us to buy it. We did and the next weekend, we sold it for $200- that started us on toys. A wonderful journey with Barbies, GI Joes, Star Wars and any toy collectible. The mall closed after 2 years and we had all these wonderful toys – so we opened our first Forever Young. Nothing at that time was called Forever Young (being a big fan of Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart). Today everyone puts Forever Young in their name.

What do you like to do when not making art?

I love tending to my yard. I bought the house mostly for the huge trees and garden. I dislike grass – everything on the ground is covered with ivy, plans and trees – no grass. So, I have always had neat gardens.

Kay Hofmann, The Swimmers, 2000’s. Hand carved Colorado Beige Alabaster. 10″ x 21″ x 15” Courtesy of the artist and PATRON Gallery. Photo Credit: PATRON Gallery
Kay Hofmann, Resting, 2018. Hand-carved French Honey Alabaster. 9″ x 18″ x 9″. Courtesy of the artist and PATRON Gallery. Photo Credit: LVL3 Official