Geoff Hippenstiel

Geoff Hippenstiel

(1974 - )

 

Geoff Hippenstiel is a Houston-based painter whose work was featured in a solo exhibition at Devin Borden Gallery two years after receiving his MFA from the University of Houston. 

 

The US, especially New York city, endures as a central point that has played a significant role in developing modern and contemporary art in the twentieth century. The idea of New York as a new cosmopolitan and highly powerful art hub appeared in the post war era, and the city succeeded in asserting its dominance over Paris, which used to be considered as the most powerful international art capital. 

 

Geoff Hippenstiel was predominantly influenced by the 1990s growing up. A collective of artists working in the United Kingdom, who came to be known as the YBAs, or Young British Artists, defined the artistic culture of the 1990s. Affiliated loosely by their age and nationality, they were a diverse group of practitioners. A number of the YBAs attended the Royal College of Art and Goldsmiths in London and were favored by the ‘super collector’ of the time, Charles Saatchi. The most well-known member of the group is Damien Hirst. Other members included Chris Ofili, Tracey Emin, Marc Quinn, Gavin Turk, Sarah Lucas and Sam Taylor-Johnson. The YBAs became famous for their use of shock tactics and sensationalism, alongside their use of throwaway materials, wild lifestyles and an outlook that was defiant yet enterprising. 

 

Hippenstiel spends his time layering paint onto canvas in a 1200-square-foot studio in downtown Houston.

 

The smell of oil paint and turpentine fill Hippenstiel’s studio space, his newest series of paintings hang on the fifteen-foot walls. Immersive and consuming, they offer a glimpse of sublimity, the coveted and invisible quality that so many painters strive for but fail to reach. Philosopher Jacques Derrida described the sublime as akin to the “abyss,” a state beyond aesthetic satisfaction and bordering on complete negation. Similarly, Hippenstiel’s paintings are conceived through the negation of subject matter by abstraction.

“The paintings create another space, where you’re looking up at these things and it’s a sort of, a perfect space,” Hippenstiel says about his works in progress. 

The paintings hanging in his studio are abstractions of 17th century frescoes—gods and angels looking up toward the heavens. The centers of these works are thinly painted in lighter colors, implying the clear skies of the beyond. Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas comes to mind, as does the more culturally significant Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. Hippenstiel’s new paintings capture the moment of realization—a sky becomes a painted sky; a plane becomes a painted plane. Hippenstiel’s perspective overrides the original subject matter while retaining the feeling of peering into the beyond.

 

Although brushwork is evident on close inspection of Hippenstiel’s work -something these paintings brazenly solicit - Hippenstiel's tool of choice is the palette knife, supplemented to great effect with the unlikely method of spray gun. Spray paint isn't often favored by artists who revel in the materiality of oil paint the way Hippenstiel does when he lays on heavy impasto, scrapes through to rich underpainting, or generously distributes dollops of brightly-colored pigment as if the canvas were a palette. Generally, painters who work like this eschew spray paint, with its disembodied presence and industrial associations. Hippenstiel knows how to make sumptuous, easy-to-love abstractions.

 

Geoff Hippenstiel does not want to be labeled. Influenced by the first German expressionists as well as contemporary painters, one of Hippenstiel’s favorite artists, Gerhard Richter said, “One has to believe in what one is doing; one has to commit oneself inwardly, in order to do painting.” Richter’s words apply to Hippenstiel’s artistic convictions. Hippenstiel says of his work: “You must keep growing, you have to keep moving. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

Hippenstiel maintains what is important; he paints what makes one see, not what is visible. Standing in front of layers of encaustic, a vast array of color from gold to cosmic black and canvases ranging in scale from six feet to ten inches, Hippenstiel affirms: “I don’t think labels fit but I’m pretty sure I can say I’m a painter, I’m pretty sure about that.”

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