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Abstract paintings evoke urban Europe

Abstract paintings have to grab you by painterly means. Ira Hoffecker's do.

Abstract paintings have to grab you by painterly means. Ira Hoffecker's do.

Recently, she was an award winner at the Community Arts Council of Greater Victoria's annual show, she took the Juror's Award at the Sooke Fine Art Show and won a $1,000 prize from Opus Framing at the vast Painting on the Edge show in Vancouver. How does she do it?

From across the room, her colours speak with authority. In the past, she has favoured a palette of orange and pink with accents of chartreuse green. Her current show at the McPherson Playhouse has a suite of silver and grey paintings in which a dark turquoise sets the right note. Many of her works seem almost monochrome, though, on closer inspection, the greys are a blend of many different hues. These are not the organic colours of nature but something she picks from the zeitgeist of urban life.

Approaching Hoffecker's canvases - which are not large - you find much more going on at the mark-making level. She is quick to note that she doesn't use brushes but applies her colours with metal spatulas, scraping through the painted layers as she goes. This results in incisive lines at the border of each shape, a neat play between flat planes of colour and their shimmering and decisive edges. Her scraping constantly reveals what has gone before, calling up the poetry of time passing and the interaction of forms.

Gazing into the depths of her Berlin Alexanderplatz series, I could almost hear the drone of bombers flying over the city. Its streets and squares seemed to shift beneath me as I gazed at a circular target below. Hoffecker, who grew up in Munich, would not disagree, but her own view goes much deeper. Her paintings evoke centuries of lives lived in European cities, marks of habitations written over the ever-erased and rewritten palimpsest which is the city.

The artist told me about Potz-dammerplatz in Berlin. It was once a thriving city square that was flattened during the Second World War. Next, it became a "dead zone" when the Berlin Wall passed directly over it. And with the reunification of Germany, it is once again a bustling marketplace. Hoffecker thinks of this as she paints, adjusting the formal principles of her work - the size and shape and colour of each component - while enjoying the play between process and concept.

Hoffecker had another life before coming to Victoria. As a young woman, she worked as a translator near Paris and looked at a lot of art. Then she became a publicist, first as head of marketing for Warner Bros. Germany GMBH and then for other filmmakers in Europe. After 17 years, she was head of a company with 49 employees. When she became a mother, she and her husband made a huge change.

"Being a mother means to be there," she told me. The biggest change was not moving to Victoria but becoming a stay-at-home mom. Then, eight years ago, she decided to make something of her passion for looking at art. To her great good fortune, she found the Vancouver Island School of Art.

The training and challenges provided by Wendy Welch, John Luna and Xane St. Phillip were the making of her, an excellent example of what that school can achieve.

For the past four years, Hof-fecker has worked alone and diligently, putting in days in her studio while the children are at school. By now, she has sold more than 100 paintings and is represented by five galleries outside Victoria. But that's really beside the point. "I paint. I don't market," she reminded me.

Hoffecker is not an emotive "action painter." Her work entails about 80 per cent looking. "I take time to look, stepping back and thinking about it. This shape has to be there - sometimes it takes an hour to make that decision. I take this decision very consciously."

After the paint is applied and scraped, she adds layers of print and even pieces of metal. She is likely to flood this over with pools of crystal-clear acrylic resin. The resin adds depth and transparency, and upon it she can paint further shapes that actually float above the canvas. You seem to be peering into deep realms of memory and imagination, whether or not you know what she was thinking about.

Hoffecker and I spent a long time talking about things, but her paintings speak for themselves. Confident and decisive, they are both decorative and contemplative and can be assumed to refer to a number of things. For now, I'll leave it to you to see why so many people find them deeply satisfying.

Ira Hoffecker's paintings are on show in the lower foyer of the McPherson Theatre, #3 Centennial Square, until Dec. 17 during performances. For an appointment, call 361-0800, ext. 3806 On Saturday, from 12 to 5 p.m., Hoffecker opens her studio at Gallery 1580, 1580 Cook St.

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