I first knew Tom Hofer as “one of the handsome Hofer brothers.” He and his brother Manfred played in bands, lived in Pacific Palisades, and tons of girls had mad crushes on them–how I escaped his bass-playing charms in my youth is still beyond me, but I have been madly charmed by his collage art, replicating vintage matchboooks form our shared childhood in Los Angeles since running into him again at Tiki Oasis a couple years ago.
“Paper View” Tom’s gargantuan matchbooks other collage works, opens this Friday, September 26, 2014 at the Archangel Gallery in Palm Springs, in the former location of the Palm Springs Don the Beachcomber (the old tiki torches are still in place on top of the building, fitting for a show of this retro-themed art) I’d been curious about the why and how of his art work, so I emailed him some questions:
How long have you been doing this?
I started in 2003. I’d just put out a solo music CD the previous year, doing nearly everything myself, from writing the songs, to designing the artwork, to creating my own record label and website to promote it … Exhilarated as I was to produce it, once I did that I was looking for a new challenge. I happened to be at my parents’ house and saw a matchbook from the House of Lee, a Chinese restaurant that used to be in my hometown of Pacific Palisades and which had the best burgers in town. Though I’d probably seen this matchbook many times before, this time, for the first time, the graphic design on the matchbook stood out to me; a gnarled black tree on a red background, with bright yellow text in a stereotypical “Asian” font. I wanted that image hanging on my apartment living room wall. But … scan it and blow it up and print it? It was kind of beat-up and would require a lot of Photoshopping … Paint it? That’s definitely not something I could pull off. How about reproducing it with colored paper? Now THAT I can do!
Much of your first work involved matchbooks. Did you collect matchbooks?
I didn’t. My dad did, always making sure to take one from the establishment when we went out for dinner or stopped anywhere on vacation, or any other business that offered them, for that matter. He still has hundreds of them tucked away in the garage. I think I’ve pretty much stolen all the graphically interesting ones.
Your work has has nostalgia for lost places. What do you miss about our ever changing landscape in LA?
I’m having a hard time answering this question succinctly. I basically wish I never had to grow up. I miss Marineland, I miss Busch Gardens, I miss my hometown dime store and Mexican restaurant, I miss the strangely quasi-sterile office interiors and apartment lobbies of the 1960s. There doesn’t seem to be much room for “fun” in the structures around us. It’s all about packing the most economy-resistant lowest-common-denominated businesses into every possible inch of one’s usable square footage. Of course it’s the result of non-stop population growth. I realize that. And I miss driving on the freeway and never having to touch the brake pedal. Often, when I work on a matchbook collage and spend hours immersed in the artwork of the 30s or 40s, it’s easy to be transported to that era and idealize it. Men always wore hats, women and cars had curves, and steak dinners were CHEAP!
How did you figure out your method and process?
It was a by-product of my day job as a graphic designer at the Palisadian-Post, the weekly newspaper in Pacific Palisades. For years there I used Xacto knives to trim out editorial copy and photos, and stick them down on large layout sheets. So once I decided to recreate that initial matchbook, it was kinda obvious: I wasn’t a painter or illustrator, but I DID know my way around paper, knives and glue-like substances. I got what I needed from an art store and went at it, scanning the matchbook, printing out an enlarged version and using that as a stencil. But once I’d finished recreating the image, that wasn’t enough. It needed to look as much like a matchbook as possible. I snipped, flattened and glued a sanding belt to a smaller piece of the red matte board “canvas” to create the “striker” on the “lip” of the matchbook, added a metal “staple” and there it was — my matchbook from the land of the giants!
Did you study art in school?
Only one class, at Santa Monica College, in 1981. – “Art 10 Design A,” I think it was called, but I didn’t like it much. The design part was fun, but I wasn’t a big fan of the gouache we were required to use on every project. Give me colored pens any day! Come to think of it, though, I did have several drafting classes in junior high and high school that I loved. I was always drawn to optical illusions as a kid and I think the notion of creating all sorts of geometric shapes and images with mainly straight lines stayed with me all these years.
How long does a piece usually take you to make?
Some of the simpler matchbook-based collages can take as little as 3 or 4 hours, whereas the more complicated photo-based ones take over 24 hours. Though that’s only a guess – I haven’t kept track, lately.
Are you going to start using your own photos of LA landmarks?
I don’t have too many personal photos of LA landmarks, but yes – there are some great buildings downtown that I’ve photographed that I’d like to turn into collages — most notably the Eastern building and some West LA apartment buildings — but I don’t know if they’re considered landmarks. I also have some touristy old family photos where we’re on Hollywood Blvd. and at the Music Center, etc., that have a great vintage LA feel. But I’m not just LA-focused. I’ve done a few collages for my upcoming exhibit of some older structures (for lack of a better word) in Palm Springs.
Will you move to vintage photpostcards? In some of your work you are also stepping back from LA (the “Absinthe” piece, for example).
As far as the “Absinthe ” collage goes, it’s related to the first non-matchbook collages I did, taking models I photographed and turning the images into ads for non-existent products, movie posters or book covers.
There are all kinds of collage-able images I haven’t even tapped into yet that I want to take a stab at: postcards, yes – but also postage stamps, pulp paperback covers, stills from movies, as well as whatever comes to mind on any given day. Nowadays I tend to look at everything around me in terms of collage-ability. I’d also love to get involved in doing some stop-motion animation using paper ingredients if anyone in “the business” is reading this.
Do you take commissions?
I do commissions fairly often – both matchbook collages and portraits – even a couple of urban/architectural scenes. Mainly the requests are for tiki-themed matchbooks since I’ve been an art vendor for Tiki Oasis and the bi-monthly International Tiki Marketplace in Huntington Beach. The tiki crowd has really taken to them. And I’m talking with someone now about starting a photo-based one in early October. They’re a nice reality-check, taking me out of my comfort zone, as well as reminding me that everyone has their own aesthetic.
I still do matchbook collages on occasion but lately I’m having a blast translating photo images into collages; seeing how closely I can get colored paper to mimic reality. It’s that decades-old fascination with optical illusion I have — I’m finally creating my own! My “Paper View” show is about 2 to 1, matchbooks to photo-based collages – and I’m obviously really excited. I can’t wait for people to see them!
“Paper View” opens Friday, September 26, 2014 from 5pm to 8pm, at Archangel Gallery, 1103 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262.