Source Audio Guide

Hans Hokanson

American, born in Sweden, 1925–1997


98 × 20 × 25 inches

Photography not permitted
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Friends of the Artist Gifts, 1978

Location: FNT Rotunda
GPS: 30.287948,-97.738321
Audio file


Valerie Fletcher: Hans Hokanson was born in Sweden and came to the United States in 1951. In New York, he studied drawing and painting, but unable to support himself through his art, he became a master cabinetmaker and furniture designer. In the 1960s, he turned to carving directly in wood, continuing a tradition of direct carving that had originated early in the century, partly as a reaction to the increasing industrialization of modern life.

Hokanson’s approach to abstract forms in his carvings was influenced to some degree by the fact that he worked as an assistant in the Museum of Primitive Art in New York in the late 1950s. There he saw first hand how native carvers from Africa to Oceania created forms usually for ritual and symbolic purposes, but visually fascinating as abstract constructions, at least in the eyes of the modern sculptor that Hokanson was. He moved to the Hamptons area of Long Island and spent the rest of his life there living in rustic simplicity. He was a practitioner of Zen Buddhism and his sculptures reflect that direct connection with the natural materials he used and focusing on bringing out their intrinsic qualities.

Source, this sculpture from 1977 was carved from cherry wood. It, like the sculptures of Raoul Hague, was predicated on using a single massive segment from a tree trunk; and this was from an exceptionally large cherry tree. What Hokanson did, unlike Raoul Hague, was he liked to articulate the wood into swerving, rising forms that suggest the movement of perhaps water and the idea of a very active growth in the wood or in life in general. He also articulated the surface creating a kind of rippling effect. This indeed he got from the direct carvings of certain West African sculptors. But his effect here in this wood is to suggest perhaps the rippling of the surface of water or the rippling of small leaves in a light breeze; the idea that even though that this is a massive piece of wood, it has a lightness and a delicacy and a variability that we would associate with living itself and not simply with the remnant of life.