TRANSPLANTED ARTIST SETTLES IN:AFTER DECADES IN JAPAN, PAINTERMOVES TO FORESTVILLE, PREPARES FOR EXHIBIT OF SUMI-E
Artist Michael Hofmann spent nearly 40 years living in Japan before settling in Forestville.
Citing the need for "a major change, a new challenge," he returned to the U.S. last year, choosing Sonoma County because a local friend helped him find a place to live. After a long re-entry period, Hofmann will have his Sonoma County debut April 2-16, showing his work for the first time since returning to the U.S. His upcoming show at Backstreet Gallery in Santa Rosa's South of A arts district will be a retrospective, featuring paintings and collages from the different artistic periods and exotic locales of his life.
Along with the gallery show, a reception, a "meet the artist" discussion and a sumi-e workshop are scheduled.
Readjusting to life here caused some reverse culture shock, Hofmann said. "It was actually much harder to come back than it was to go to Japan," he said.
"Japan is a very harmonious society, a relaxing place for me. Here, things are more challenging. It can be stressful."
Hofmann said he misses his life and friends in Kyoto, but soon realized that Forestville was a good choice.
"It's quiet here, very pretty, and there are all different kinds of people," he said. "There are some good Zen groups, a strong Buddhist community. That's important to me, and I also like to go swimming in the river."
The painting technique he prefers, called sumi-e (pronounced soo-mee AY), is a traditional and expressionistic style of Asian brush painting using ground ink. He has used the technique to illustrate essays by Pico Iyer and books by Liza Dalby and James Green.
Hoffman grew up in Berkeley, and his fascination with Asian art and culture began while he was still in grammar school. "My aunt and uncle were living in Japan, and they would send me great gifts," he remembers. "They lived over there for seven years, and when they returned, they brought back a lot of wonderful artifacts." As a young Asian Studies student at UC Santa Barbara, Hofmann heard a Zen priest lecture and was inspired to visit him in Japan. After graduating, he went to Asia and,like many others of his generation, followed the Overland Trail.
He wound up apprenticed to a Buddhist sculptor for six months in Kathmandu, Nepal, and returned to San Francisco just long enough to earn his freighter passage to Japan by working as a museum guard at the Legion of Honor.
Once there, he settled in Kyoto to study with Zen priest and master sumi-e painter Jikihara Gyokusei, a colleague of the priest Hofmann met at UCSB.
He spent the next 38 years based there, working and traveling with his teacher until Gyokusei's death in 2005 at the age of 101.