Tacoma artist Mark Hoppmann is a visual bard, a chronicler who keeps tabs on the individual essence of Tacoma as it exists at this particular period of its life as a civic entity. Hoppmann reads the city as if it is poem without an ending. He is particularly tuned into the fact that a city is not simply a cluster of buildings connected by streets and electrical circuits. A city is also the contours of the land on which it sits, the climate in which it exists and the people, animals and plants – both wild and domestic – that happen to share this particular time and this particular space. Nature is not separate from civilization. Civilization is more like something crystalized from natural forces. Hoppmann quietly observes all of this, absorbs it and then records it through his art: his sketchbooks and his artist books and his larger compositions.
A generous sampling of these are currently on display in the central space of University of Puget Sound’s Collins Memorial Library. Called “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” the exhibit features nine artist books and 20 sketchbooks full of Hoppmann’s finely drawn and well-crafted work. The show takes its title from one of Hoppmann’s art books in which the artist imagines what Hieronymus Bosch might have done in his painting of the same title had he lived in the present day Pacific Northwest. The sketches in this book show surreal, nightmare visions utilizing imagery inspired by our locality. Crows watch ominously as a parade of slender figures passes by – the daily press of people on promenade along that scenic passage at the edge of the city. Drift logs morph into monsters. Couples huddle together as seaside rock formations leer with cold eyes.
One of my favorites is “Tacoma Codex,” an accordion stylebook filled with rune like picture writing. Each letter of the alphabet is represented by an illustrated configuration of illustration of boards and pilings that were inspired by the remains of old wharves, which are visible along the Ruston Way Waterfront. This peculiar alphabet is used to write out the whole of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”
The work in the exhibit is contained in a half dozen glass cases. Books and sketchbooks are open to especially interesting pages. The exhibit includes many of the objects that Hoppmann collects, like interesting pieces of driftwood, antique inkwells and vintage printmaking gear. There are also a few reconstructed skeletons from UPS’s Slater Museum of Natural History. The museum hosts sketch nights, allowing artists to come and make drawings of specimens from the museum’s collections. Hoppmann is a veteran of these special nights at the Slater. The skeleton of a heron holding the skeleton of a frog is a favorite.
Hoppmann’s art, done primarily in graphite, watercolor and India ink, exhibits patience, careful study and deftness of hand. Precise marks are laid down, one by one, like the notes of a musical composition that form into a spellbinding song.
Originally from Nebraska, Hoppmann graduated from Drake University with a BFA in graphic design and commercial art. Prior to that, he’d spent a year studying art in Florence Italy, a city full of the legacy of the Renaissance. After college, Hoppmann spent 20 years in industry as an offset pressman, prepress and bindery operator. After an industrial career, he became free to reemerge himself into a life lived in art, right here in the City of Destiny.
In conjunction with the exhibit, there will be an Open Case Presentation of the work Sept. 23, 2-4 p.m. and an Artist’s Demonstration on Oct. 3, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. During the later event, Hoppmann will be sketching and visitors can watch his process.
“The Garden of Earthly Delights” runs through Oct. 14. For more on Hoppmann, visit markhoppmannart.com. For more on the exhibit, visit www.pugetsound.edu/academics/academic-resources/collins-memorial-library/about-collins/artwork-exhibits-in-the-library.