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.
Thank you, thank you!
Yes, thanks for writing about Ron, and about Bill Graham, too. Ron was a painter’s painter indeed.
Very nice, Rainey, thank you. Hoover was motivated by the world’s injustice. I know he was often angry, and that energy drove his work. I wish he had been able to be kinder to himself.
Thankyou so much for this. Hoover would be glad to know that he’s not forgotten. His work will always be relevant and hopefully will continue to be recognized for its importance and skill.
Thank you for this Rainey, Mary Forbes and I produced what we believe to be the primary document available on Hoover’s work and life. That exhibition catalog is still available at the Art Car Museum. Jim Hatchett former curator.
Thanks Jim. I’m guessing that would be the catalog Noah gave me, from Ron’s 2010 show.
rainey, lovely and poignant essay for ron. this brings back some memories. i miss that era in houston dearly. bill was going to start representing me right before he died. i felt like i was going to be joining a family of some of the best artists in texas. william farr was one of my faves there, wish he’d start painting again. (right andy?!) i think there was a lot of pain coming from many of those he’s showed that seemed to spur some fantastic work. id love to see a presentation on bill. ok lets all cheer up here now! thanks luv. id be honored if you found a sec to send that pic to me of that crowd of artists you showed. everyone looks like little kids!
Steve, thanks for the comment. I scanned that image out of the Fresh Paint catalog; couldn’t find a version online anywhere. There’s more of it visible in the book but that was all I could capture on a flatbed scanner — I had to do this old school. I suspect (I would hope) the original is in the MFAH archives. FYI they have the Graham Gallery archive: http://fa.mfah.org/main.asp?target=eadidlist&id=58&action=5
Here’s a link to the scan: https://glasstire.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/fresh-paint-artists.jpg
I owe Richard Stout a piece about Bill Graham. Doing this reminded me to get working on it. I’ve heard from quite a few people today; it’s been very nice to hear some of the stories about Ron. I’m sorry I never met him.
What a wonderful surprise to see this video this morning. Ron and I were best friends at U of H. We graduated the same semester as painting majors. He was a very significant influence on my early development as an artist. Not that we worked in any way similar but enjoyed each other’s work ethic and aesthetic interests. We spent many hours in and out of the studio with John Alexander, James Surls and Benito Huerta. He was a very shy individual that later become the recluse that everyone came to know about.
His first paining series was taking images from the daily news papers of the atrocities in Vietnam and rendering them in that Bacon-esque style of paint that you referenced. He then moved to the oil on paper studies in graduate school because he had no money for canvas.
Interesting story is that I used to borrow money from Ron. He had a full time job in the printing department at the Chronicle while at U of H and lived with his father in Daton. Ironically he was financially better off than most of us at that time. When he returned from graduate school he did find a job calibrating pressure gauges. When he lost that job he started to become more disillusioned with society and started to withdraw into his own world of poverty and reclusiveness.
Thanks so much for bringing attention to him and his work. We all knew he was a special individual and one hell of an artist.
Just a little correction on the provenance of Koyaanisqatsi. It is part of film maker Godfrey Reggio’s Qatsi Trilogy with score by his friend, Philip Glass. A favored piece of Ron’s–The Art Collector.
I was lucky to hang out with Ron drinking coffee and smoking weed, Bill once had to start doling money out to Ron because he would give all he had to KPFT during a fund drive and keep nothing for himself! He will be missed.Such a talent who saw the truth through the bullshit.
I saw Hoovers work at the Graham Gallery in the early 90′ after a decades absence from home. His portrait of Ronald Reagan captured my feelings about the man. The paintings were truly unforgettable and I’ve periodically searched on line for his work over the last few decades just to catch a glimpse of that memory. Thank you for this piece about him and Bill Graham. Also thanks for drawing the relationship between Hoover and Koyaanisqatsi. I felt a similar attraction to the film as to the paintings – it gives me a greater sense of the connectedness of things.
Thanks Rainey for this…it had been too long since I really thought about Ron.
I remember him often riding his bicycle around Montrose and stopping in to visit at KPFT on Lovett Blvd…must have been 1987 or 88 or so…he was a special presence, personable but rather self-effacing, a gentle thoughtful creative being.
I appreciate your bringing him back into my memories.
Thanks for this Rainey. I think about Ron and Bill alot these days.
I spent years, 1975-1978 as a friend with Ron as well as Richard Wood, both deceased and both very solid painters brought down by drink. I watched Ron drink his first drinks that became his downfall. I logged on just to remember the past for a few minutes this morning. Student Joe Andoe made it. Too many gone, too many forgotten.
My brother was loved by his family. I have a few of his works. I do not know what to do with them
Ronnal Adam Hoover was born in Liberty Texas but we lived in Dayton, Texas.
Thank you for the thoughtful words about my uncle. I have fond memories of visit his apartment in Houston or him visiting us (which was a rarity) in Dayton. My mother has an oil portrait of their father meticulously painted by Uncle Ronnie. I have one of the paintings you showed. It’s quite a lovely piece.
Furthermore, I have sent this link to my mother. She states that she misses her brother so very much. Thank you!