In this video, I discuss the painting that hangs in my office, and the Houston artist who made it, Ron Hoover. Hoover died in 2008 without ever having achieved the recognition he deserved, but he left a legacy of a singular, combative body of work that was celebrated in a 2010 retrospective at the Art Car Museum.
The following is a slightly edited transcript of the video.
Hi there, I’m Rainey Knudson. I’m the founder and publisher of Glasstire. Today I wanted to talk about this painting behind me, by Ron Hoover. Ron Hoover was a Houston painter, and this painting hangs in my office here at the Glasstire headquarters. From time to time, we’ll shoot our Top 5 videos and I’ll sit here at my desk with the painting visible behind me, and people have written in asking about this painting, and who was the painter. This painting is titled Modern Business Shadows. It’s from 1983, which was the beginning of the height of Ron Hoover’s career, such as it was.
By all accounts, Ron Hoover was an obsessive workaholic painter, and he was a recluse. He did not get out much, he struggled, he lived in poverty. He was just passionately dedicated to his painting, and that’s what he wanted to spend his time doing — and so he did, to the detriment of his health, his environment, everything else that comes with living a life. He was singlemindedly focused on making work and developing his craft, and you can see that level of technique and dedication in his paintings. Which are great.
Ron Hoover was born in Liberty, Texas, and he came to Houston to get his BFA at the University of Houston, which he did in 1975. He was a part of the famous 1985 exhibition Fresh Paint at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which was a survey of Houston painters. He showed with Bill Graham, who was an extremely important dealer in Houston in the 80s, who had a very interesting stable of local artists. Graham died of AIDS in 1992, sadly, and it was a blow to a lot of Houston artists whom he represented, including Ron Hoover.
Almost all of Ron’s work explores a darker side of human society, oftentimes through the dark side of the business world, the dark side of free market capitalism. Environmental damage was a big concern of his. Much of it was an expression of a big, powerful unknown force that’s suddenly invading the ancient, pastoral peacefulness of the environment. If you think about it, in the 1970s, that’s really what was happening in Houston, as suddenly out of the swamp these crystalline, manmade structures came up in downtown Houston out of nowhere, as an expression of enormous wealth and power.
Hoover’s early works from the 1970s are great. They’re oil paintings on translucent paper, and they owe a debt to Francis Bacon, whom he said was one of his big influences. By the 1980s he evolved towards the style he’s most well-known for. Many people call it pointillism, and sometimes you do see the individual dots of a Seurat-like painting in his work, but oftentimes he was splattering the oil paint on the surface with a toothbrush. And that’s the case in this work here.
Densely layered, the many layers create vague shadowy effects with background shapes. Crosses painted in multiple shades of gray and black, and then overlaying on top of that the spattering, in a bright assortment of colors that, when you step back from them, achieve this muted, gloomy, gray-green.
It’s interesting that Ron Hoover made this painting in 1983 because the year before, the film Koyaanisqatsi, the famous Phillip Glass film, came out. And you can see a kind of a parallel: it’s life out of balance, it feels out of control, and these little figures that are scattered throughout this painting in some ways echo those Hopi figures, the rock paintings, that appear at the very end of the film Koyaanisqatsi. It’s this general sense of a loss of control, of helplessness in society.
I’ve known this painting since I was an adolescent, and I’ve always felt that the shadowy figure behind the smiling, scary, suited man in the front had a certain apelike quality. But that might just be my interpretation.
My husband pointed out a parallel between Ron Hoover and the painter Chaim Soutine, the Russian Expressionist painter. Both Hoover and Soutine achieved a signature style that was certainly informed by the people who came before them but was completely distinctive unto itself, and immediately identifiable if you know their work. Chaim Soutine was also a very difficult person who couldn’t really manage his life, couldn’t manage money… he was famously irascible, as was Ron Hoover. Both Soutine and Hoover struggled, they never achieved the fame of their contemporaries, and I think both of them are artists’ artists. They are recognized amongst the people who make the stuff as the real deal.
In his artist’s statement in the Fresh Paint catalog, Ron Hoover said, “I like dedication—it’s too bad there is so little of it. My painting has evolved to increased confidence and belief in myself that I have something to give—all it takes is very hard work. My current concern is to do the best painting that I can.”
I’m glad to be able to talk about Ron Hoover a little bit. I’m glad people have called and written in and asked about this painting. It’s a wonderful painting and I’m lucky to be able to spend time with it every single day.
Thanks for watching. Go see some art.