“Attracted To Darkness” – An American Punk Surrealist
by Mia Makila
Ever since I first discovered the dark and – almost ‘loud’ – surrealism of American artist Richard Hoefle (b. 1954), I have been addicted to the sport of always discovering new details in his multi-layered and intensely detailed paper cut-out collages. Richard Hoefle does not like talking about himself – but he generously agreed to sit down to have a little online chat with me.
This will be his very first interview. Ever.
Like an explorer on a foreign continent, I enter his visual world, knowing almost nothing about the artist behind it. His art is mysterious and draws me right into a myriad of surreal details. Hoefle mixes absurd and poetic imagery with uncomfortable elements. The compositions are something of a balanced chaos – both hiding and revealing things. The collages are charged with dark energy and they are intensified by Hoefle’s signature technique of “shadowing” (adding a physical depth to the flatness of cut out forms). But where do these dark, surreal and complex images come from?
[Richard Hoefle]: I have to credit my father for the attention to detail. He was a brilliant artist who used scratchboard to laboriously render his drawings. And while I use a different medium, the need to layer the collages comes from him.
As for the dark energy – I’ve always been attracted to darkness. When I was a kid my teachers often called my parents in to discuss the dark nature of my drawings of monsters, violence and acts of dismemberment. I think that there is nothing wrong with comparing darkness with humor. If I had to make a guess about why I like darkness, I think it’s because I have had depression most of my life. Therefore, darkness just seems natural to me.
That IS intense! What would make you throw things across the room – not finding the right details? Glue incidents?
Yes! Glue, or cutting something incorrectly. Small things, but when I am in that zone they really infuriate me. I am ordinarily a pretty laid back guy – but not when I work.
What is your favorite part of the creative process?
I think it’s the discovery – when one element magically alters the piece and it’s a complete surprise. I think the collage artist relies on the subconscious much more than any other artist. Also, finding the exact right detail. For an analog collage artist it is hot or miss finding great source materials and when I do I get very energized. I listen to music while working, it keeps me energized. I have my earbuds in deep and the volume as loud as it will go. I am a diehard punk so I almost always listen to 70’s punk. I started out making flyer art for pink clubs. (Autocorrect mistake, sorry I obviously meant ‘punk clubs’).
And I was getting curious about these ‘pink clubs’! You seem to be producing new pieces every day?
Yes. I make at least one piece per day. I don’t know how long that will last, but so far so good. I started making these collages about 35 years ago. But it was on again, off again as far as working every day. There were huge stretches in my life when I made no art whatsoever, but thank god that changed. It is only in the past 3 years that I have a set schedule of work time.
Wow, one piece a day for 3 years equals 1095 collages! That’s a massive body of work right there. Wait – you have a schedule?
Yes, I start early in the morning by picking out backgrounds and mounting the cut pieces. In the process of picking backgrounds I look for contrasts – more than the actual image which tends to get lost once I start adding details. Then I start putting the collages together and it takes about 3 hours.
I know you write poetry and your collages also have surreal and poetic titles (adding yet another ‘layer’ to the multi-layered cut-outs). This title really grabbed my attention: “Butter is for the table, dear, not my ass” – it’s so bizarre! Do you come up with the titles before or after creating the collages?
Always after. And it requires shutting off my artist’s mind and going into the fugue state in which I write poetry. And that title came from having just watched the Marlon Brando movie “Last Tango in Paris”.
As a dark surrealist myself, I know the importance of finding precise details for the storytelling or to create tension. Some recurring details also play an essential part in the artist’s own mythology. These recurring details can be something of an ‘obsession’ – do you have any ‘detail obsessions’?
Animal heads! I also often use anatomical images, because taken out of context they have a powerful, visceral symbolic power. When I first started making collages I used body parts much more often, the bloodier the better! I still like them but for now it’s more for a symbolic aspect. I also use objects to hide any eyes. I cover or remove eyes from the original image because they kind of ground that image to the artist’s intent. I want them reflect something different; mystery, uncertainty and ambiguity. I am not looking for a positive or negative reaction, but an internal examination on the part of the viewer.
Ok, last question – what’s up with the letter ‘F’? (It appears in all of your work).
The letter F is for FIAT which is how I have signed my work since I started making collages.
And I am guessing you are not sponsored by the car company?
No! I chose that name because I saw an illustration from an Italian Sunday school book of God after creation, saying: “FIAT!” It means something like “I did it”!
And with that, we ended our little chat. Richard Hoefle can now also add the letter “F” to our little moment together, because he “did it” – he opened up about himself in an interview for the very first time. Aren’t we lucky.
– Interview by Mia Makila