Josef Hofer is speech impaired but he speaks loud and clear. His language is so intelligible that these bodies that struggle, that brush past each other and touch each other end up being suprisingly familiar. But it’s a strange familiarity, like when a smell suddenly awakens in us a childhood that was locked away.
Is this like the dominant yellows and oranges that we use as children to make the incandescence of the sun perceptible ? Is it this way of representing the body, between juvenile awkwardness and highly inventive maturity ? Is this the elementarity of pencil coupled with the transgressive nature of the themes ? Yes, Hofer excels at creating a field of immediately perceptible, instantly recognizable perturbances. Nonetheless, in more than a decade, his style, however identifiable it may be, has gone through profound mutations and developments. The proof, if it were necessary, that these artists – contrary to the common belief – are not condemned to sterile repetitions.
If Josef devises polyptychs from which nothing escapes – thus circumscribing pains and pleasures in the enclosure of the frame – one must not forget that he began by allowing characters and objects to float weightlessly on the blank page. The bodies, formerly whole and constrained by the frame, are now frequently replaced by studies of languid, reframed nudes. This doesn’t account for the letters contaminating the background and that get substituted more and more often by his famous signature in which the letters for Pepi – his affectionate nickname – form random sequences.
And as for the mirror stage that was thought to limit him, he passes through it happily by reinterpreting Egon Schiele just as well as Helmut Newton. From intimate clamors to miniscule disarrays, from subtle observations to profound deconstructions, Hofer invents constantly. As one would in order to make his way through his emotions. With humility and mastery.
Josef Hofer, at over 70 years old, is already considered a “great” of Art Brut by collectors and institutions. The two monographic exhibitions that were dedicated to him at the Art Brut collection in Lausanne or the numerous publications about him attest to this. And this is without taking into account the fact that collectors of contemporary art flock to him as much, if not even more, than the connoisseurs of Art Brut. A sign of the universality of a set of works that must invite reconciliation as much as it does excess.
Josef Hofer, who has been a resident of an Austrian institution for more than 30 years, does not speak, he draws instead. Tirelessly. In the mirror that he uses and hands us, individuals try to take their rise in the straitjacket of the frame with an eroticized grace, untamed. His productions - to which Michel Thévoz has devoted several essays - depict a founding duality between the body and the psyche. Present in many museum collections, he is also part of great private collections: Antoine de Galbert (France), Amr Shaker (Switzerland) or even of the collection of Arnulf Rainer (Austria), who considers him “the greatest of the brut artists.”