Geoff Hippenstiel's solo exhibition at Devin Borden Gallery in January received several thumb-ups from critics, ranging from a write-up in Art in America to a positive takeaway in this very publication.
It's not hard to see why. Hippenstiel's curious oils were stacked with paint layer after paint layer, obscuring the original shape, image or construction underneath.
Along with a professional art career, the MFA graduate of the University of Houston teaches at UH and Houston Community College. Somehow, the father of four -- who didn't sit down one day and proclaim, "I will be an artist!" -- is able to maintain a daily studio practice in his Warehouse District digs.
What he does? The prolific output has an improvisational flair. "I am not engineering paintings. I don't have an idea that I am then trying to execute," says Hippenstiel. "I have to be surprised during the process to get to something unexpected.
"I work with multiple paintings at a time because each painting has a way of informing the next. I try to coordinate seemingly opposing forces into a cohesive whole: representation and abstraction, material and idea, real space and illusionistic, traditional painting material with industrial paint and tools, etc."
Why he likes it? Geoff fell into the process of drawing and painting naturally, not really putting a lot of thought into the why of it. When he first attempted to devote himself full-time to art, he says that he failed. "Making paintings that simply demonstrated technical proficiency was not enough of a catalyst to keep me in the studio," remembers Hippenstiel.
"The real turning point for me came with the realization that art and painting can be an arena where one can explore any idea without coming to any sort of definitive conclusion. Art works for me because it seems to generate great questions instead of providing authoritative answers. It is very serious play."
What inspires him? Hippenstiel lists five very interesting things that are worth posting verbatim.
"My unsatisfactory relationship to mass-produced objects and images in relationship to the great satisfaction derived from being in the presence of Frank Stella's black paintings or Robert Ryman's white paintings."
"The seemingly enormous distance between the interior of the Rothko Chapel and my life outside of it."
"The potential of raw material in the studio."
"The pain and uncertainty of a work in progress."
"The audience. Paintings are given special privilege in the hierarchy of visual experiences. I feel a great amount of responsibility to take advantage of the opportunities that come along with that."
If not this, then what? Geoff says that he has "no idea" because he never made a conscious choice to become an artist.
"I knew at the age of 21 that I couldn't give tennis lessons for the rest of my life. I became a painter out of default because nothing else was working out for me," says Hippenstiel.
"I am sometimes envious of truckers when I see them on the highway. I seriously think I would like doing that for a while. I would satisfy my need for personal expression with customized mud flaps, or maybe I would go the traditional Yosemite Sam route: 'Back off, or I will pee on your hood.'"
If not here, then where? Geoff first says New York City -- "I consider it the epicenter due to the concentration of museums, galleries and great artists" -- and adds that it's important to be part of the NYC conversation in the near future.
But Hippenstiel is way thankful and stoked to be creating in Houston.
"We have world-class artists, curators and educators that are accessible at various stages in one's development. There is the potential for a more intimate relationship here," he says. "I also have the means to work in a large studio and make big paintings. I feel like I have the freedom to take more chances in Houston and make mistakes."
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What's next? Hippenstiel is in the process of finishing up some small and mid-sized works for a solo booth at Devin Borden in conjunction with the Houston Fine Arts Fair, scheduled to take place from September 14 through September 16.
More Creatives for 2012 (In order of most recently published; click here for the full page).
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