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Brian Hoffman, Creative Time Bomb

By Ellen S. Pifer

It all started with the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Brian Hoffman was happy spending his days designing for Adobe, and his nights relaxing with his wife and two little boys in their Boston home. But the election changed everything. “I was on Facebook every night, bombarded by Trump this, Trump that,” Hoffman says. “I got all sucked up into it, and it started controlling me.”

When he’d finally had enough of getting worked up by his Facebook feed, he decided to refocus his energy. “I had to get the thoughts and demons out of my head. That was the catalyst for me to create art again, and it might be the only good thing that came out of the last election.”

RETURNING TO ART, FINDING BEAUTY IN IMPERFECTION

It had been 20 years since Hoffman had found refuge in making art. He’d flex his creative muscles doing graphic design by day and playing bass in a punk rock band by night, but he hadn’t focused on art since his days as an illustration major in art school. Back then, oil paint had been his medium of choice. “I loved Edward Hopper, and I wanted everything I did to look really tight. I drove myself crazy wanting it all to be perfect.” But with age comes changing perspective, and today Hoffman sees beauty in the imperfection he once struggled to avoid.

He describes his work as digital printmaking and his style as pop surrealism or new contemporary. “With printmaking, you learn that imperfections can make all the difference in a piece,” says Hoffman. “You can have scratches and splotches and plate mistakes. It’s the imperfections that give the finished piece its character.”

With digital printmaking, Hoffman has given himself permission to be imperfect. “I can just play and welcome the textures as character-building. I can keep layering and layering and get really strange.”

Clearly influenced by the Lowbrow movement of the late 1970s, his pieces are often infused with humor and sarcasm. Images are mixed and manipulated to tell a story and elicit a reaction. Expectations are turned on their heads—or heads are actually switched.

“I don’t intend to be political, just provocative,” says Hoffman. “I want to get people feeling intrigued and reacting.” That’s why his pieces often take the viewer back to a time and place they may remember fondly. His work frequently incorporates vintage cartoon characters and iconic photographs. But the work isn’t meant to simply give viewers the warm fuzzies. “I like to twist in some edgy piece of reality, a hint of darkness—a wink of realism,” he explains.

TRADITIONAL FORMS—WITH A SUBVERSIVE TWIST

The prints are familiar at a glance, but if you linger a bit, the subversive ironies reveal themselves. A familiar Winnie the Pooh lounges in a menacing bear trap, and instead of honey, he’s dripping with blood. A once harmless but now tatted-up Mr. Magoo brandishes an AK-47. Shirley Temple smiles as she tokes on a joint.

To create Dragging the Line, Hoffman took characters from the classic Dick and Jane children’s books and switched their heads. Dick also got a full-on makeover. “I didn’t know where it was headed. I just started putting pieces together. I like using insects with people because they have such a love-hate relationship. And I put cigarettes in his ice cream cone to create tension.”

MAKING THE MOST OF NEW TECHNOLOGY

Being a full-time art director, Hoffman just doesn't have the time to be rolling out prints, so the very products he promotes as an Adobe art director have been integral to his work. “It’s a time-saver to be able to do it all digitally,” he says. “I’d love to be in my basement at night rolling out prints and silkscreens, but being able to use Adobe Photoshop CC and Illustrator CC and get these results in a fraction of the time—without the chemicals or cleanup issues—is amazing. I have the control I need. I can get the exact effects I want with limited time. That helps me turn ideas around quickly, which is super satisfying—and the work is all scalable.” Hoffman brings his work into the physical world through giclée printing.

NEW CREATIVE ROUTINES

While he used to rely on a journal to record his ideas, now Hoffman keeps notes in his phone.

“Whether I’m thinking in bed or at the supermarket, I have an ever-growing list of ideas,” he says. Items in his latest note include abstraction of Taylor Swift’s face, cross your eyes and dot your T’s, Mike Tyson’s Punchout, and Blue Magic hair grease.

Creating art is addictive, but it’s an addiction that brings this artist peace and fulfillment. Hoffman has found that the daily creative exercise of coming up with an idea and shaping it has flooded creativity back into his life. “I see inspiration everywhere now,” he says. “I’m always looking for ideas for the next piece, the next idea. It consumes me. I don’t watch the news anymore and I stopped looking on Facebook. I just put 100 percent into my art.”

To see more of Brian Hoffman’s work, visit his website or follow him on Instagram.