Friday, March 30, 2012

Goodbye, Christopher Hoff

I'm still a stranger to death and when it comes, it catches me off guard. Tonight as I walked home I just started bawling when I reached the crest of Capitol Hill. I've been pretty down lately but it's almost impossible to get to me to actually sob. And then it hit me (because the brain is pretty amazing)...this was the exact spot where I had my first encounter with Christopher Hoff. I immediately looked up and the first thing I noticed was a small white orb in the sky. Of course this is Venus (or Jupiter?) but seeing it up there between the towers just made me cry harder. All day, the news of Christopher floated out there, nebulous and unfixed. But as soon as I could locate him in the twilight, it made it real.

Towers by Christopher Hoff
I remember the first time I saw him. It was a beautiful (Spring?) evening and I was walking home from work and passed by this young man making a painting at 17th and Madison. He was deep in concentration (I know because I walked by several times, trying to catch his eye). He was working plein air on an amazing painting of these towers at the top of the Capitol Hill. It was the first time I recall seeing someone being so public about their artistic practice. Just having had my first show myself (so this would be 2006?), I wanted to talk to him, to make a connection. I was also completely naive and thought, "Look at this savant, desperately making a painting in public. He must need rent money or why else would he paint in front of an audience?" Flush at the time, I walked back and forth, so tempted to disturb him and offer him $500 cash for the painting he was working on. (I had never purchased art but Christ! - can you imagine offering Christopher $500 for a painting?! What an idiot I was! Thank gawd civility prevailed and I left him alone.) But his painting haunted me.

Chris in action (photo by Renee Krulich)
That's what Christopher did. To hundreds of us who would see him painting throughout the city. It was always so magical when I'd turn a corner and see him there, maybe with an umbrella over his canvas, maybe just painting there in the sun, oblivious to onlookers. Or actually, even when he was hyper-focused on the canvas, it still felt like he knew you were there. And would happily say hello, if only this amazing piece he was working on wasn't grabbing 90% of his attention. But the 10% I got, it always made me happy. And it was always enough.

WTC Project 3 by Christopher Hoff
This morning, I woke up and saw the news. That moment when you realize something has happened but it doesn't make sense. Christopher was here yesterday, how can he not be here today? I expect that's how it felt to be in New York in 2011, at least that's what friends have said. Christopher was deeply affected by 9/11. I'm not sure if he was there (gawd, I never asked him...why wouldn't I have asked him?) or what his connection was, but it obviously moved him and he went back there to document the rebuilding.

Totem 3: Owl by Christpher Hoff
His series of 11 paintings will be, according to his website, "...exhibited to the public at non-commercial spaces in Seattle, New York, and other cities across the country after 2014. Working in collaboration with several key organizations at the site including: The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, The Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, and Silverstein Properties, the WTC Project explores links between the building process and the creative process, adding a new and hopeful chapter to the broader story of this tragic site."

Christopher Hoff by Daniel Carrillo
The world lost a good one in Christopher. He lived such a beautiful life that it will be hard to mourn him, but don't blame us if we try.
My daily practice as an urban plein-air painter is the means by which I uncover meaning in the world around me. For the past fifteen years my work has explored the poetic stillness of the mundane through the lens of observational painting. Working on location, sometimes for more than a year at a single site, my brush both documents and revises with each passing day. Paying witness to this change, translating the cyclical ebb and flow of nature, culture, and commerce into paint compels me to go back outside each day. My intention is not to create something removed from experience, but rather to weave the shared experiences of hundreds of these moments back into one resonant and handmade surface.
There will be a memorial to the beautiful spirit of Christopher Hoff this Monday (April 2nd) at 10:30 am at the shelters at Gasworks Park.


printzero2 said...

well said Joey. I've been trying to wrap my head around it for the last 8 hours. so young, so talented, so sincere, such a kind soul, and so, so very sad that he is gone.

Anonymous said...

His work always grabbed me.. how could it do that when it was just a painting of a construction site? It held meaning somehow. I had a postcard of his work that I kept on my desk for a very long time. Perhaps it's still here somewhere. This is the first I heard that Christoper is gone. I'm so sorry to hear the news. D Budd

Lucas Deon Spivey said...

This is really a sad loss. He was so young and so kind.

Anonymous said...

A tragedy. He was one in a million.

JAA said...

We have learned that Christopher's death was caused by an undiagnosed heart condition. He was an amazing person and an amazing artist. It's so touching to his friends and family to see how much has been written about this tragic loss. His family and friends are collecting for a memorial bench at his high school.

Wes Freese said...

Thank you for your heartfelt testimonial, Joey. I met Chris on Madison Street, right next to the Central Co-Op, when coincidentally he was working on the painting of the towers you posted. I did the same thing you did, walking by a couple of times to see the painting he was working on. It was late afternoon and he was just finishing for the day, so I had a chance to chat with him. He was very kind and ever since that day I've made a point to follow the work he's done. I was saddened to hear of his passing last week.