Monday, May 17, 2010

Painting with Fire: In Reilly Hoffman’s volcano

Reilly Hoffman paints with fire. He also cuts, polishes, presses, shapes, welds, bends, experiments with metal fabric, dips hot things in hot stuff, and reads a great deal. He has no earthly idea what he’s doing except the insight that he contributes to taking materials to states unknown. To clarify that, Reilly does not transport goods from the State of Missouri to Kansas but rather, with fire, takes man made metals back to states closer to the dirt from which they came and in so doing creates beautiful objects which he names like children. Welcome to the volcano.

When first encountering Reilly’s studio, a garage-like warehouse on Charlotte Street between 18th and 19th, I felt frightened. So much stuff in there that looks dangerous. Sharp objects, a huge metal press like the one I first encountered in an engineering lab, bottles of gas, cutting tools, sheets of metal, sculpted forms, large tables strewn with things screaming chaos, and the firepit at the back; firepit where he paints.

You may enjoy burning things. I played with matches as a kid, burning Mrs. Cardwell’s hedge a bit once. If you’ve burnt something, like toast, you know about smoke, blackness, aroma, destruction that’s transformation. Reilly knows metals like painters know their palette. His palette consists of metals…he knows how to mix them…his brush is a torch. He knows how to apply it but knows he’s totally out of control. He respects the process, the danger of it as well as the beauty.

He respects the fire and has all of his fingers to prove it.

Back to the scary studio which after ten minutes made perfect sense to me…

Between the leather couch and the firepit out back resides a logical, chaotic looking assembly line of huge work tables, from the place of contemplation to the volcano, and back. Reilly’s process appears to be that movement from dreaming, a nap perhaps, to reading, thinking, gathering, getting filled up with ideas…and then, as he explains, an empty feeling of helplessness as he lights the torch, and enters the fire. To fill is to be emptied. To burn is to solidify. To polish is to see yourself a bit more clearly than the first trip to the volcano. To intercede is to observe.

He gives his pieces names which he considers to be gentle, suggestive nudges to the people who wish to give homes to his children, I mean art.

We discussed using the first and third person as most people do. I think this, I feel this, I made this, I read this… It weighs a ton. The table sits in a hole. The metal fabric doesn’t melt quickly. The leather jacket serves as a canvas for metal sculpture.

The more we talked, the more we drifted into the second person. You paint with fire. What do you mean by that? You walk in this studio and immediately smell the volcano. Why do you feel that you’re out of control when you’re burning something? How did you get that humungous metal press in your studio?

Second person appears to be Reilly’s linguistic river. He engages with his materials and communicates with them: addresses them not like an envelope, but with his gestures and hands.

Think some about all of this metal around us. How did we take it from dirt to shiny sheet? Wipe the dirt off your feet and consider the minerals on the floor? How did this molten planet of ours become so cool and green? Fire needs oxygen and so do we. How does that make us alike?

What’s your favorite piece of art?

Mine’s “Distant Thunder” by Andrew Wyeth…

Reilly’s is the PietĂ  by Michelangelo…

Visit here and see works from his volcano

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