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Paintings of Viva Hoffmann on exhibit at Thousand Islands Arts Center


CLAYTON — Whether it was as a member of Andy Warhol’s “Factory Gang,” making movies or writing books, Viva Hoffmannn has always savored a creative life.

An aspect of that creativity that she rediscovered as a young adult will be on display at the Thousand Islands Arts Center, 314 John St., beginning Thursday when the center hosts an opening reception for the exhibit “Viva, Viva! Landscapes and Seascapes East to West.”

Ms. Hoffmann, 75, was born in Syracuse and is noted for her landscape paintings, which can sell for several thousand dollars. Her family used to have an estate on Wellesley Island, where Ms. Hoffmann documented the natural world on and around the island with her vibrant paintings.That property was sold about seven years ago.

“It was the view from the dock, the reflections in the water, the trees like the white birch, the water lilies and the autumn leaves that helped to inspire me,” Ms. Hoffmann said last week in a phone interview from her Syracuse-area childhood home, now owned by one of her eight younger sisters.

Ms. Hoffmann now resides in Palm Springs, Calif., but is back in the area for the art exhibit and plans to be at Thursday’s opening reception.

She said she agreed to have her work exhibited at the arts center exhibit after several requests to do so were made by Steven Taylor, owner of Steve Taylor Builder Inc., Thousand Island Park. Mr. Taylor has been designing and building homes for nearly 40 years and owns several of Ms. Hoffmann’s paintings, which will be in the show.

“He kept begging me to do this, and I kept saying, ‘No, it’s too much of a hassle,’” Ms. Hoffmann said. “But finally, he hassled me into saying yes.”

“I pushed it because I felt that she was worthy of the attention the show will bring,” Mr. Taylor said. “And the larger community, not just a few collectors, should be aware of her talents as well.”

Nicole Heath, events coordinator at the arts center, said 30 pieces by Ms. Hoffmann have been loaned for the exhibit. It also will include a dozen of Ms. Hoffmann’s new paintings, which will be for sale.

Ms. Hoffmann said she has painted and drawn her entire life. She had an unconventional beginning in the craft at the age of 5 as a sketch artist.

“My father used to take me to the courthouse to draw everybody,” she said.

Her father, Wilfred E. Hoffmann, was a well-known criminal defense lawyer. She said he sent her to Everson Museum of Art School in Syracuse to study. She later studied art in New York City and Paris.

It was a passion that was sidelined for a while, due to Ms. Hoffmann’s association with artist and filmmaker Andy Warhol. His New York City studio, The Factory, became a hangout for artists interested in pushing creative boundaries. Ms. Hoffmann met Mr. Warhol in the mid-1960s and she performed in several of his movies.

She recalled a comment made to her by Paul Morrissey, a film director and another member of Mr. Warhol’s “Factory Gang,” that caused her to stop painting for years.

“He said, ‘Why are you painting? It’s a dead art. You are a performing genius.’ I was too dumb to say, ‘Why is Andy still painting if it’s so dead?”

Ms. Hoffmann, born Janet Susan Mary, credited Mr. Morrisey with dubbing her “Viva.”

“He said, ‘We’ve got to go to a party at Shelley Winters’s place and you need another name,” Ms. Hoffmann said. “So he came up with that name.”

Several years later, after she gave birth to two children and took up a writing career, she decided to return to painting when she saw someone exiting New York City’s Central Park.

“This guy was walking out of the park with one of those wooden easels on his back with a really nice painting of grass,” Ms. Hoffmann said. “I asked myself why I wasn’t painting; I can come right up here to the park. So I did.”

After moving to California, her favorite subjects were the coastline and the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve in Lancaster.

But it’s her paintings of the St. Lawrence that hold appeal to local art lovers.

“I don’t know of another painter that paints water as well as she does,” Mr. Taylor said. “It’s sort of alive with a sort of a dancing to it. It’s magic what she can do.”

Mr. Taylor said the late Paul H. Malo, architect, author and educator who researched and documented the region for over 50 years, also thought highly of Ms. Hoffmann’s works.

In the September 2008 edition of the online Thousand Islands Life, Mr. Malo wrote: “She is inspired not merely by the visual scene, but by the whole environmental quality — breeze, smell, the total river ambiance. Viva’s paintings seem alive, pulsating with her jazzy brush strokes. They are not mere pictures of attractive subjects — they are live music.”

The details

WHAT: “Viva, Viva! Landscapes, Seascapes East to West”

WHEN: Opening reception is 6 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the Thousand Islands Arts Center, 314 John St., Clayton. The exhibit runs through Aug. 29 during museum hours, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.

COST: $75 for the opening reception for Arts Center members and $100 for non-members. The reception will feature wine, and hors d’oeuvres by the Farm House Kitchen.

MORE INFO: Call the arts center at 686-4123 or visit its website at

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