In a bit of a continued interest with New York artists, we look at the painter and photographer Curt Hoppe. We were taken by his large canvas hyper-realistic images of a plethora of artist who were significant to the rather special New York scene circa 1970’s. Importantly Curt Hoppe captures these ‘influencers’ not how they were but how they are. And while they have changed, they remain significant to that time and of course to ‘now’.
Paintings would it be possible to first detail how a young Curt Hoppe found art, photography and sculpture-what attracted you to these forms?
I never had an affinity for the 3 r’s-hated sports, I was always a visual and a senses person. Consequently, I was always drawn to art and music. I also played guitar but gave it up realizing I could never be another Mike Bloomfield.
Is there a piece of art you can name which helped that curiosity grow?
Two paintings come to mind. Chuck Closes’ self-portrait and a painting by Minnesota artist Jerry Ott, titled Carol and the Paradise Wall (1972). They are both in the collection of the Walker in Minneapolis Minnesota.
Talk to us about your relationship with Marc H Miller (who we featured). How was that an important phase in your journey as an artist?
I met Marc H Miller and Bettie Ringman when I moved into 98 Bowery in 1976. They were my upstairs neighbors. I was trying to get a footing in the art world upon my return to New York. It was in 1968 whne I first moved to New York but the summers of love took their toll on me and I had to return to Minnesota in 73, but I knew I would return to New York. I was captivated by what they were doing with Paparazzi Self-Portraits but I thought they could take it to another level with my paintings of them.
I chose my subjects not simply for their kudos, but primarily for their relevance as peers and sources of inspiration during my own coming of age.
How did the paintings help if they did?
It gave us more access because they were impressive paintings. I mean who would spend that much time painting what was basically an early selfie? The big paintings gave us credibility. Had I not done the Bettie and the Ramones painting I honestly doubt Marc would have ever curated the Ramones exhibit a few years ago at the Queens Museum and I would have never become friends with Arturo Vega their art director. Then there was my portrait of Al Goldstein. We ended up working for Screw Magazine. My centerfolds from Screw would have never made it into Diego Cortez’s New York /No Wave Exhibition and PS 1 in 1981.
You exhibited Punk Art in 1979. What made punk and its sub-cultures so important then and still now?
It was rock n roll. We were all rockers, and had real live bands on stage singing their own original songs. Not the studio produced Disco crap. I mean come on I Belong to the Blank Generation (1976) vs I Will Survive (1978) not even a contest.
Building on the previous question art at that time appeared to have a real voice. What are your thoughts on art currently?
I liked the art world more when there were less art fairs and more gallery hopping. When Soho was loaded with galleries back in the day you could start at Houston Street and West Broadway and just work your way down through all the galleries and finish on Grand Street.
Your latest series. Can you talk about the inspiration for the pieces and when you decided to create this series?
For the past five years, I have been painting monumental portraits of the artists, writers, and musicians who shaped downtown New York in the 1970’s and 1980’s. I chose my subjects not simply for their kudos, but primarily for their relevance as peers and sources of inspiration during my own coming of age. They are depicted not in their youth, but as they live today, their idealism (like mine) tempered by hard-won wisdom and maturity.
And the practical aspects to create the series.
Downtown Portraits comprises twenty-four photorealist paintings and a collection of photographs. I begun the process by photographing each subject against a plain white backdrop. I then used an airbrush to enlarge selected photographs as black-and-white paintings. The absence of color and setting effectively accents the subjects’ natural charisma and creative personae through details of posture, dress, and facial expression. The towering canvases permanently enshrine them in the grand tradition of American portraiture.
Arturo was a really good friend. I loved the guy he was one of the kindest most generous person I’ve ever met.
Talk about the need to paint the artists as opposed to taking images of these characters from the 70’s and 80’s-does this bring about a natural intimacy?
Not really, they are all intimate. What is special are all the wonderful conversations I have had with them all before, during and after the photo shoot. It’s a shame they were not recorded or on video. It’s so Anthony Bourdain, parts unknown all we needed was some food. But I make a mean cup of coffee.
And what about the subjects-talk about them more?
The portrait subjects; painters, sculptors, photographers, performers, filmmakers, writers, musicians, curators—are not all superstars. But they are all known and respected for contributing to the cross-pollination of ideas that animated the 1970’s and ’80s- punk, graffiti, new wave, and a bunch of new art world “isms.” From my loft at 98 Bowery, I have witnessed and participated in these culture-changing events. In my Downtown Portraits, I take stock of my own life and put forth my circle of contemporaries for public consideration.
The pieces evidently immortalize these figures and ensure these names are not forgotten-why was and is it important that these names are immortalized?
I am only really doing this because there came a point in my life that I felt that I wanted to give something back to the people that made and still make my life enjoyable. These paintings and photographs deny a historical narrative that relies only on the most famous names; instead, they insist we recognize a more complex network of personal relationships.
Arturo Vega is present in the series talk about his impact and the need to feature him.
He was a really good friend. I loved the guy he was one of the kindest most generous person I’ve ever met. He made everyone around him feel special. If it wasn’t for him, I would have never done this series. He was over at my loft just after I had a disastrous opening that came in February 2007 with the stock market economy crash and my dad’s death. I was in a funk. So we were sitting in my studio when I got the idea to do a photoshoot with him. At any rate I decided to turn one of the photos into a large portrait of him and thus the series was born. The concept evolved over the years to where it is now. He encouraged me all along the way and still does. I miss the guy and wish he were here to see the final exhibit.
Lastly where will the images be on display?
These portraits and photographs will be exhibited next April. Downtown Portraits will be shown in two consecutive shows at Bernarducci Gallery and Howl Happening an Arturo Vega Project. There will also be accompanied but a book of all the photographs and paintings published by HOWL. A yearbook of sorts of a lot of the folks 1976-1983 that brought the world a lot of great art.
Featured image of Robin-Winter and Arto-Lindsay