April 13, 2007

Home is where the head is.

Home is where the head is
National Post

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Viewing the works of Lethbridge’s David Hoffos requires a bit more courage than the typical art experience. Where a status quo exhibition is brightly lit with assuringly visible white walls and neatly contained still images, a gallery of Hoffos’s work is often a dark, slightly eerie environment with projected figures looming in and out of undefined spaces and pacing nervously within small dioramas. While speaking with Hoffos on the telephone (from the safe confines of a reassuringly illuminated desk, of course), Leah Sandals discovers that courage is also key to the artist when he manifests a different kind of darkness in his works: namely, his personal experiences of depression and anxiety.

Q Your current show at Calgary’s Trepanier Baer Gallery, Scenes from the House Dream: Phase 5, is the latest instalment of a project that has stretched over the past four years. How did it begin?

A Well, it wasn’t totally planned out; I couldn’t have told you three years ago what I’d be working on now. The idea was to keep a recurring dream about a house as the working principle and then create a world around that idea. Not every scene takes place in the house, and it’s not a linear progression; it’s more intuitive. But when I see it together, I can see I began with a Jungian idea with a dream about a house, and how personally revealing that is.

Q How is the dream house personal?

A The house represents the self. When I started the series I was deliberately moving away from genre or technical issues to personal subjects, scenes and imagery. I really see the whole thing now as kind of an elegy to depression, anxiety and stress, which I suffer from.

Q Can you give me an example of anxiety reflected in your work?

A I think if you look at the kitchen scene with just the curtains moving and the snow coming in, there’s something of it there. There should be a figure there, and there is really a feeling of something missing. It’s like the moment after somebody has left and there’s a sense of loss.
There’s a work from last year that comes to mind; it’s now at Hart House in Toronto for a group show called Projections. It’s of a sort of lonely figure who’s a bit drunk and throwing rocks off a cliff into the ocean. That one people really seem to respond to — these are, after all, quintessentially contemporary mental conditions. And I’ve been there. I’ve driven out late at night to these kinds of places to think about my troubles.

Q Was there ever a temptation to disguise the emotional roots of your work in aesthetic or theoretical jargon?

A In the past, I wasn’t so aware of what I was doing, but I have a feeling that I’m moving towards things that feel more real to me. For example, Catastrophe, created in 1998, was a scene of apocalyptic warfare and strife. It was intentionally about millennial anxiety, as well as functioning as a spoof on Hollywood disaster movies. But I was also making that when my marriage was falling apart. And I think with most artists there is some kind of personalization that happens, however buried it is. I guess in Scenes From the House Dream it’s kind of laying it all out there.
Also now, I think people need to talk about this stuff more. There’s still social stigma around any kind of mental illness. But they are things that a large percentage of the population deals with.

Q There’s many things–themes, rationales, awareness — in your work that have changed. What hasn’t?

A My work also deals with issues of childhood, and I don’t think that’s something I would ever get away from. Aside from emotions, there’s a kind of aesthetic that’s built at a very young age. I look around my house and I can say the biggest influence on me was The Brady Bunch. You know, the whole aesthetic of suburbia, Danish modern furniture, wide lawns. That’s all in my work, too. It’s amazing how much something sticks at a young age.

– Scenes from the House Dream: Phase 5 is at Trepanier Baer Gallery in Calgary until April 21. Visit www.trepanierbaer.com for details.
Hoffos’s work in Projections is also at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery in Toronto until June 17. For more information, visit www.utoronto.ca/ gallery.

© National Post 2007