June 22- August 4, 2019
When I think of LA, my mind goes first to the Hollywood machine. To that worn out story of somebody getting on a bus from some small town going to the city to become a star. It is either a romance with making it big and happily ever after in the hills, or a cautionary tale if things don’t go right and the person ends up ruined and dying some ghastly way. My work thrives on that idealism and contradiction.
Peter Hoffman’s oil portraits, modeled after entertainment industry headshots, capture the romanticism and disenchantment of the city’s promise of fame and fortune. Rendered in seemingly effortless strokes and nuanced hues, Hoffman’s push and pull of descriptive and destructive marks summon both the artifice and humanity of their subject with an empathetic eye. The palette is both bright and subdued, and the brushwork is meticulously controlled while at times harshly disruptive. The surface is highly textured, preserving a visible index of its material history, and yet seductively smooth and glossy. These layers of paint can be understood as cosmetic stages of “hair and makeup,” as the performers age, mutate and transform to fit the role for which they’re auditioning.
Before flying out for the show’s installation, Hoffman had never been to Los Angeles. His conception of the city was formed by movies, television, and books that illustrate both the fantasy and veritable tragedy of the pursuit of the Hollywood dream. One may think of Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon, which details a plethora of celebrity scandals, including the sexual exploits of Fatty Arbuckle, a disturbingly ubiquitous precursor to Harvey Weinstein's assaults on aspiring actresses. The writings of Eve Babitz (Sex and Rage, Eve’s Hollywood) charmingly recount the author’s simultaneous enchantment and skepticism growing up just blocks from the Walk of Fame in the 1950’s; this famous stretch sidewalk emblazoned with thousands of brass stars continues to draw mobs of tourists despite the utter filth and disparity under which its seediest corners flourish. The two-faced beast of Hollywood is perhaps most inventively portrayed in David Lynch’s film Mulholland Drive, which was a primary source of inspiration for Hoffman while making the portraits. The dual narrative of ambition and horror propels its surrealist character doubles on a grueling journey as the purity and hope of a youthful dream devolves into a sordid nightmare.
One can only imagine what Hoffman’s ladies have endured, on the way to or from the casting couch or on the sound stage. The source images for the portraits are vintage, ranging from a post-WWII Sears catalog to digitally archived dusty glamour shots of aspiring stars now long forgotten. If portrait photography can be regarded as an immortalization of a subject, Hoffman’s paintings go further in cementing these wanna-be starlets, all likely now departed, in a visual mythology of Hollywood. The paintings give his models agency, a life and audience beyond their failed attempts at success on the silver screen. Revealing more than the dead flatness of a photo (or a Warhol celebrity screen print, for that matter), Hoffman’s care and commitment to rendering each subject’s expressive style and personality bestows upon them the power to return our gaze. These beauties have taken their own notes and are perhaps casting judgement through their tired but surreptitiously cultivated eyes.