Artist: Ian Hornak (1944-2002)
Title: Figure, Volcano (John Huszar)
Year: June 1971
Medium: Acrylic, Pen & Ink on Canvas
Size: 72 x 48 inches
Inscription: Signed, dated, and titled by the artist, verso.
Provenance: Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York, NY; Estate of Ian Hornak, East Hampton, NY.
Notes: A seminal example of Hornak’s Photorealist figurative series which served as an inspiration to Robert Longo.
Ian Hornak (January 9, 1944 – December 9, 2002) was an American draughtsman, painter and printmaker. He was one of the founding artists of the Hyperrealist and Photorealist fine art movements.
Hornak was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to parents who immigrated from Slovakia. The Hornak family relocated to Brooklyn, New York, when Ian Hornak was age 3 and the family then relocated again to Mount Clemens, Michigan, when he was age 8. At age 9 Hornak received a set of oil paints and a book of important Renaissance paintings from his mother as a gift. From the book he began credibly interpreting the works of Michelangelo Buonarroti, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael Sanzio. During an interview with the 57th Street Review in 1976, Hornak remarked "I picked up my technique as a child through my interest in art and copying paintings I liked. I especially loved Renaissance painting, because it had clarity and simplification of form and great organization". Upon graduating from high school in New Haven as an honors student, Hornak attended University of Michigan–Dearborn before transferring to Wayne State University in Detroit where he earned bachelor of fine arts and master of fine arts degrees. Between 1966 and 1968 he taught studio art courses at Henry Ford Community College, and Wayne State University.
Hornak produced Hyperrealist and Photorealist artwork in the midst of the Pop Art movement. He was introduced in 1968 by art dealer Gertrude Kasle to Pop Artist, Lowell Blair Nesbitt. Hornak sublet one of Nesbitt’s large studios on West 14th Street in the Meatpacking District, they developed a friendship, and Nesbitt in-turn introduced Hornak into the New York City art scene.
Hornak acquired a home and studio in East Hampton, New York which he used as his primary residence until his death in 2002. While living in East Hampton, Hornak befriended art world figures, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning, Robert Indiana, Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and Fairfield Porter. From 1969 until 1985 he had a secondary penthouse studio on New York City’s Upper East Side near the intersection of East 73rd Street and Park Avenue.
Upon the recommendation of Robert Indiana, and Lowell Nesbitt, Eleanor Ward included Hornak’s artwork in his first New York City group exhibitions at the Stable Gallery between 1968 and 1969. In 1970, Lee Krasner, the widow of Jackson Pollock, introduced Hornak to Pollock’s nephew, Jason McCoy who was the assistant director of the Tibor de Nagy Gallery on West 57th Street (Manhattan) in New York City. McCoy signed Hornak to an exclusive contract with the gallery, where he had sold out solo exhibitions each year from 1971-1977. A. Aladar Marberger, director of the Fischbach Gallery on West 57th Street, signed Hornak to an exclusive contract in 1977, where Hornak had sold out solo exhibitions in 1977, 1979, 1981, and 1983. The son of Max Ernst, and stepson of Peggy Guggenheim, Jimmy Ernst recommended Hornak to the Armstrong Gallery on West 57th Street where he had a single solo exhibition in 1985. Whereas Hornak had exhibited paintings from his photorealist and hyperrealist multiple exposure and single exposure series, as well as select figurative paintings at Tibor de Nagy, and Fischbach, he chose to debut a series of Expressionistic landscape paintings at Armstrong. In contrast to the financial success and critical acclaim of all of his previous solo exhibitions, the Armstrong gallery exhibition went nearly unnoticed by the critics and was financially unsuccessful.
The Katharina Rich Perlow Gallery of SoHo, Manhattan and later the Fuller Building on East 57th Street (Manhattan) signed Hornak to an exclusive contract in 1986. He debuted a series of floral and still life paintings inspired by the Dutch Golden Age which led to nine critically acclaimed, and financially successful solo exhibitions for the artist between 1986 and the artist’s death in 2002.
Hornak often cited the Hudson River School artists as major influences, especially Martin Johnson Heade and Frederic Edwin Church in addition to Nineteenth-Century German Romantic Artist, Caspar David Friedrich. Additionally the artist commented on his influences, "What I so like about Poussin and Cézanne is their sense of organization. I like the way in which they develop space and shape in architectural continuity - the rhythm across their paintings. When I paint a landscape, I get the greatest pleasure out of composing it. As I paint, I try to work out a visual sonata form or a fugue, with realistic images.”
When Hornak began his career in New York in 1968, he created artworks that were pen & ink drawings, often erotic in subject matter. Many of Hornak’s paintings on canvas from 1968-1971 depicted human figures suspended surrealistically in space, clothed and nude, rendered with photorealistic precision in the medium of pen & ink on stark white painted acrylic backgrounds. These paintings were exhibited in group exhibitions at Eleanor Ward’s Stable Gallery.
When Hornak was given his first New York solo exhibition in 1971 at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, the gallery requested that Hornak attempt to approach a new series of work that would be more accessible to the mainstream New York art market. In response Hornak began produce multiple exposure landscape paintings as well as traditional landscape paintings.
In 1985, Jimmy Ernst encouraged Hornak to create a new series of paintings, more expressionistic in technique. The result was a small series of paintings more abstract in technique, depicting apocalyptic landscapes. The paintings were the subject of Hornak’s 1985 solo exhibition at the New York City 57th Street, Armstrong Gallery.
From 1986 until his death in 2002 Hornak produced Dutch & Flemish-inspired botanical and still life paintings with four to six inch painted borders, where the artist expanded the imagery of the primary painting onto the border. Hornak said of the development and creation of those paintings, "I begin with one flower, then add and subtract, balance and counterbalance. The finesse of the surface, the sensual appeal of the subject matter are there but the beauty lies deeper in the content. My flower pieces derive less from 19th century realists and/or impressionists, with their literal depiction of color, texture and form, and more from the 17th century Flemish painters whose flowers give visual pleasure, and imply a more generalized reality and symbolism".
Although Hornak's earliest paintings from 1954-1969 were created using a traditional, brush application of oil paint on canvas, from 1970-1996 the artist chose to use acrylic paint before returning to oil from 1996-2002.
Hornak said of his own artistic vision, "While I know that the beautiful, the spiritual and the sublime are today suspect, I have begun to stop resisting the constant urge to deny that beauty has a valid right to exist in contemporary art.”
In 1974 John Canaday wrote in the New York Times, "Mr. Hornak is right at the top of the list of romantically descriptive painters today". As Hornak was nearing the end of the landscape series, Art Critic, Marcia Corbino wrote, "Not since the Hudson River School glorified the grandiose panorama of the natural world in meticulous detail has an American artist embraced landscape painting with the artistic totality of Ian Hornak". Henry wrote of these works, "Hornak is a rather self-explanatory if not wholly tautological postmodernism. Perhaps, though, his excesses ring true for the approaching millennium: this is 'end-time' painting that exercises its romantic license to the fullest in its presentation of multiple styles of the last fin de siècle - naturalist, symbolist, allegorical, apocalyptic.”
—Personal life and art collection—
Ian Hornak was gay, and his life partner from 1970 to 1976 was Julius Rosenthal Wolf, who was a prominent American casting director, producer, theatrical agent, art collector, art dealer, and the vice president of General Amusement Corporation, then the second largest talent management company in the world. During the 1950s and 1960s, Wolf had been the assistant director of Edith Halpert's Downtown Gallery in New York City where he became a champion of American Modernism in the visual arts. Together, Wolf and Hornak lived at their homes in New York City's Upper East Side and at their weekend home in East Hampton, New York where Hornak continued to live until his own death in 2002. Following Wolf's death in 1976, Frank Burton was Hornak's life partner until Burton's death in 1996.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Wolf dedicated himself to the collection of American Modernist and African American art, which he had developed a professional knowledge of during his time as assistant director of The Downtown Gallery. Later Hornak introduced Wolf to the contemporary art scene in New York City and educated him on the current trends in visual culture. Together Wolf and Hornak assembled a large collection of artwork and upon Wolf's death in 1976, per Wolf and Hornak's wishes, John G. Heimann, Wolf's estate executor, delivered a bequest of 95 artworks to the Hood Museum of Art and the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Wolf's alma mater Dartmouth College. Among the artists whose original artworks are in the collection are David Burliuk, Willard Metcalf, Louis Eilshemius, Arthur Dove, John Marin, Philip Evergood, Marc Chagall, Ben Shahn, Pat Steir, José Luis Cuevas, Philomé Obin, Larry Rivers, Paul Jenkins, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Motherwell, Ellsworth Kelly, Leonard Baskin, Robert Indiana, Lee Bontecou, Ad Reinhardt, Jack Youngerman, Stuart Davis, Larry Poons, Lowell Nesbitt, Jacob Lawrence, Marisol, Joe Brainard and Fairfield Porter. The collection also houses a small collection of intimate paintings and drawings by Ian Hornak that Hornak gifted to Wolf including a large portrait of Wolf, titled "Jay Wolf" that Dartmouth College often uses to display Wolf's likeness. The overall collection of artwork which has been dubbed "The Jay Wolf Bequest of Contemporary Art" by the college was exhibited at the Beaumont-May Gallery in The Hopkins Center, Dartmouth College, June 24 to August 28, 1977, and is recognized as the most significant bequest of artwork to Dartmouth College during the 1970s.
—Death and legacy—
Hornak suffered an aortic aneurysm on November 17, 2002, while painting in his studio in East Hampton, New York. Though he was immediately rushed to the Southampton Hospital in New York and surgery was performed to repair the aorta, he died on December 9, 2002, as a result of complications from the surgery. He was 58 years old.
On January 21, 2011, Hornak was buried in a private section of the Great Mausoleum in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, in California. A traveling retrospective exhibition, Transparent Barricades: Ian Hornak, A Retrospective, co-sponsored by the Ian Hornak Foundation, began traveling to museums throughout the United States in 2011 and was scheduled to continue through 2016. Hornak's artwork was the subject of a solo exhibition, on display during the 2013 Presidential Inauguration at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System in the Eccles Building in Washington D.C. under the sponsorship of the Ben Bernanke Administration.
—Museum and public collections—
Hornak's personal papers and effects entered into the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art in 2007. His artwork is owned by the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American Art; the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History; the Library of Congress; the Corcoran Gallery of Art; the Detroit Institute of Arts; the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art; the Allen Memorial Art Museum; the Austin Museum of Art; the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute; the Canton Museum of Art; the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia; the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College; the Detroit Historical Museum; the Flint Institute of Arts; the Forest Lawn Museum; Galleria Internazionale; The George Washington University Art Galleries; Guild Hall; the Children's Hospital Boston (Harvard Medical School affiliate); the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction; the Long Island Museum of American Art, History, and Carriages; the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library; the National Hellenic Museum; the Ringling College of Art and Design; the Rockford Art Museum; the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University; the Florida State Capital; St. Mary's University, Texas; The Art Gallery at the University of Maryland; the University of Texas at San Antonio; the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College; the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts; and Wayne State University. In 2012, an additional portion of Hornak's papers and personal effects entered the permanent collection of Dartmouth College's Rauner Special Collections Library.