Born in New York I was never far from the influence of some of the greatest museums in the world. The Museum of Modern Art in particular would have a lasting effect on my work affect my sensibilities and perceptions of the world from an early age. Two works in particular would be instrumental in my formation as an artist and humanist. “ Guernica ”   which was hung so as to greet you as you mounted the stairs to the second floor and “Hide and Seek” by Tchelitchew . Guernica certainly as the antithesis to war and all its horrors was a peek into politics and the courage of people who were brave enough to lay down their lives against the crushing tide of fascism that was sweeping across Europe . Thus could art be narrative in its nature and yet move you in ways that are almost beyond the scope of words in its imagery. And at the other end of the spectrum Hide and Seek which could speak of the fantastic nature of the universe. The hidden and the beautiful, sublime and terrible, this painting can teach us that that which is not immediately obvious can be so much more important then the superficial aspects of the world.


            So though there were long periods of very little artistic activity I eventually found myself in Avni Institute of the Arts in Tel-Aviv where though never mastering the language was able to avail myself of a classical education in the arts with a great emphasis on the basic skills of drawing and composition, color and space. The good fortune to be introduced to painting through the medium of egg tempera has served especially well over the years and is to this day my medium of choice. After Tel-Aviv I moved to Geneva in Switzerland where I served first an apprenticeship with a group of International artists called Group Vaisseau under the tutelage of Antoine Meyer and Anne Monnier, and then continued to work with them until my return to New York . The synchronicity of events and the real world experience of working on these murals could have led easily to a commercial take on the relationship with my art but because of the sensibilities of the artists in Group Vaisseau the level of quality and their commitment to art there was never a painting realized that wasn't undeniably of the highest order. This commitment to quality is true whether a canvas sold to a collector or a mural in a commercial enterprise. One of the serendipitous events of this second period of “schooling” was that the medium used in the vast majority of works was once again egg tempera.


            On returning to New York the art world did not fall at my feet and that sobering fact may have been in fact one of the more fortunate events in the development of my style. Not able to secure mural commissions and not yet having developed a unique style I was forced to make ends meet in some of the more clichéd modes that we have all come to expect from any similar story. That is bartending and waiting tables, perhaps not the most glamorous of professions but one that allows time to be creative and find the core of the artistic soul. There is one anecdote that is revealing and insightful. During this period of struggle to define myself as an artist there was a particular dream that occurred that ended the internal debate as to the appropriateness of my path as an artist. On working on a painting I somehow managed to wound myself very deeply in the palm of the left hand. Rushing to the bathroom in the studio I turned on the cold water, there was no hot, and letting the water flow over my hand I realized that the wound was indeed very profound, so profound in fact that it seemed quite impossible! And from this impossibly deep wound gushed blood, blood of the very deepest alizarin hues, and as the coldness of the water began to ache and the volume of the flowing blood only increased fear began to invade my thoughts. Fear that this wound would be my end and bleeding to death in the lonely garret would be my destiny. And then to my amazement the blood began to change color and the colors became impossibly brilliant and then with the sudden realization that the blood wasn't blood at all but paint I awoke with a start. Sitting up and looking about the moonlit studio my gaze fell upon the painting that just been completed the night before. An untypical painting in that it had been painted in one drunken session. And that it was figurative, a disfigured tortured character that as I watched started to move about in the painting and then came forward out of the painting and started menacingly forwards. On that I awoke, this time for real and in a cold sweat realized that I really was an artist and all I had to do now was develop a style. And so the hard work began.


            It wasn't a decision to develop a style as much as a realization that one just didn't exist. Historically there may have been a place for any artist of sufficient talent who had the right education and right training. One of the tests of a true artist is longevity. Stay around long enough and few will deny you the tag, artist; but that in itself is far from a guarantee of success. In watching my style metamorphose over the years into the unique vision it has become has been an amazing process. Never considering myself a realist or expressionist or any other imposing stylistic description, I just painted. A landscape, or figurative, a relationship began to develop, a relationship with the “material” of the painted layers. Painting with egg tempera lends itself to a succession of transparent layers and in those layers is a depth of material that is very hard to duplicate in any other medium. It was in those depths of material that I began to find elements and patterns that soon began to develop into individualized birds, flowers, eggs, angels, whatever my imagination found in the layered material of the paint. Soon it wasn't just elements in the paintings that developed from this material but complete paintings. Just as a child finds images hidden in the clouds as he watches them in the summer sky, I began to find all manner of hidden characters and worlds. And so began what can only be described as the awakening of a surrealist soul.

Jay Hoffman