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An Interview with Local Artist George Van Hook

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George Van HookBy Cora Sugarman

George Van Hook is an American Impressionist painter from Cambridge, NY. He is internationally recognized for his colorful and evocative oil paintings, which he creates ‘en plein air.’ Inspired by his natural surroundings, Van Hook is a master of light and atmosphere and works directly from his own visual life. Van Hook would often paint his daughters reading outdoors when they were younger, and continues to draw inspiration from the figure as well as the rural landscape. His energetic yet delicate approach to form, color and light make his paintings unique and exciting to look at. Van Hook earned his B.A. in Art from Humboldt State University in California and has painted throughout France and Italy. The recipient of many awards, his paintings are in numerous collections, both public and private, throughout the United States and abroad.

The Free George: I read that you spent about a year studying paintings at the Louvre when you were younger, and I was wondering which artists or paintings particularly inspired you?
George Van Hook:
Well, after we finished college, we took a year and just worked really hard—I painted really hard—and my wife Susie was going to get her doctorate at the University of Paris. We were living outside the city in Poissy, and I’d take the train in. Back then, you could get a permit that let you get to the Louvre early, about 8am, and they only gave out a certain number of them. It meant that you could get in for about 3 francs, and basically copy all day. So I spent about eight months copying there, usually 4-5 days a week. In terms of favorite artists, what I was trying to do—as you know I consider myself principally a figurative artist, particularly at that time—was fully immerse myself in the history of Western figurative art from the Renaissance. I copied pretty much everything from Da Vinci—I actually got to sit there in front of the Mona Lisa without anyone around at the time—and just did several copies of the Mona Lisa, a lot of copies of the Da Vinci’s, the Titians and the Raphaels, and then I sort of worked my way through the 17th century. There’s that grand Rubens room, the Marie De’ Medici room. I spent a long time working in there. There were many evenings that I sat in that room, which was the size of a football field, working by myself. There was not another soul in the entire room. So, in terms of an actual favorite artist, I don’t think I had a particular favorite, just because what I enjoyed doing was sort of working my way through, period by period, Western art through about the nineteenth century. It was wonderful.

A Painting by George Van HookTFG: How would you describe your most recent work?
GVH:
Well, talking about the figurative work—this is a nice segue-way from talking about copying work at the Louvre—I like to think of my work as Childe Hassam combined with Veronese. And in that same core area of the Louvre as the Mona Lisa is that enormous Feast at Cana by Veronese. He’s one of my favorite Italian artists of the seventeenth century; he has a really beautiful sense of form. Hassam had the beautiful color and the broken form, and everything was light. And with Veronese, and that period in general, it was about form. And so I like to say “Childe Hassam combined with Veronese” because I like the sense of form but I also really like there to be really good color and light.

TFG: What medium(s) do you most enjoy working with?
GVH:
Principally oils, although I do a lot of watercolor as well.

TFG: When did you start painting?
GVH:
Rumor has it about three. I’ve been painting all my life. It’s just something I did early on and it’s something I’ve done ever since.

TFG: Which artists had the biggest influence on your aesthetic when you were younger and still developing your style?
GVH:
I like to say sort of all western art since the Renaissance, really. From the Renaissance up through Hans Hoffman, even. I was very influenced when I was in junior high school by color field painting and the abstract expressionists. You know, it was the sixties, they were painting then, and I was involved in painting then too. More and more I’m influenced by, and appreciative of, Greek and Roman art prior to Renaissance art, and very much non-European cultures as well; I’m often looking at Asian art, which had a strong influence on the French Impressionists.

TFG: How do the local scenery and your natural surroundings affect the work you create?
GVH:
Well, we could’ve chosen to live wherever we wanted to, but we really wanted to be in the Northeast, just because I think it’s still America’s cultural capital, and we wanted to be surrounded by that. We just looked all over, and we found this [Cambridge, NY] to be one of the most beautiful places. It’s got a lot of different variations. It’s just spectacular here…we’re so lucky. You know, we grew up in Philadelphia, so we pinch ourselves!

TFG: What’s your biggest challenge when you’re starting a new painting?
GVH:
I know this sounds funny, but starting the painting is rarely the problem. It’s usually halfway or two thirds of the way through when you’re making sure that you’ve tied it together. And making sure that the end of the painting still has the same energy and excitement that the beginning did.

TFG: Do any of your daughters paint?
GVH:
No. They all told me when they were little that they would never want to be an artist, because I work too hard. [laughs] And now that they’re grown up, they go “Wow, Dad, you have the greatest life of anybody we know!” Now they realize “Oh, you do have to do something…and you do this because you love it.” They all love art and have a very good sense of aesthetics.

TFG: How do you hope people will feel when they look at your paintings?
GVH:
Rich. [laughs] No, I mean, I never think of the audience when I’m working, really—the audience is simply myself. But I honestly hope that they just appreciate it for what it is…I’ve been very fortunate—somehow I can do what I want, but I recognize it’s within the zone of what people appreciate.

George Van Hook’s work can currently be seen at the Harrison Gallery in Williamstown, MA; the Gallery of CNY in Cazenovia, NY; The Manchester Fine Art Gallery in Manchester, VT; The J.M. Stringer Gallery of Fine Art in Bernardsville, NJ; McCartee’s Fine Art and Antique Barn in Salem, NY; and the Carolina Galleries in Charleston, SC.

Cora Sugarman is an Assistant Editor of The Free George.

Short URL: http://thefreegeorge.com/thefreegeorge/?p=5780

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