Michael Hofmann (sumi-e)

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Michael Hofmann is an artist and teacher. He has been an active sumi-e painter since moving from the United States to Japan in 1972. For 33 years Hofmann worked closely with Jikihara Gyokusei [ja] (1904-2005), the prominent sumi-e painter, Abbot of Kokusei-ji Temple, Awajishima and Director of Japan's National Association of Nanga Painters. Hofmann has taught sumi-e ink painting at universities, museums and cultural institutions in both Japan and the United States. He has illustrated numerous books and his work has been exhibited extensively in galleries and museums.

Michael Hofmann teaching at San Francisco Asian Art Museum (2006)
Born July 4, 1948

Oakland, California

Nationality American
Field Artist, Teacher
Education 1970 BA UC Santa Barbara

Studied (Buddhist Sculpture) with Ratna Kaji Sakya, Kathmandu, Nepal 1970-71

33 Year Apprenticeship to Sumi Painter, Abbot Jikihara Gyokusei (1972-2005)

Website official website


While completing his degree in Asian Studies with a focus on eastern religions, Hofmann met Zen priest and calligrapher Shibayama Zenkei Roshi (1894-1974), Abbot of the Nanzen-ji Temple. The Abbot inspired him to visit the East and Hofmann soon embarked on an overland voyage through central Asia to Nepal, stopping in Kathmandu for five months where he studied Buddhist sculpture. After returning to the U.S. Hofmann worked as a museum guard in San Francisco to earn money for his passage to Japan where Shibayama Zenkei introduced him to his friend, painting master and poet Jikihara Gyokusei.[1] Hofmann worked, and traveled with Jikihara until the master’s death in 2005.[2] Shibayama also introduced him to Antaiji, a Zen temple where he was allowed to join the monks in their meditation practice. Hofmann’s rigorous Zen practice quickly became integral to the "sincerity’ and "honesty" of his sumi-e painting style.[3] He periodically left Japan to travel through villages and cities in Asia, Latin America, and Europe, capturing what he saw with brush and ink.


Michael Hofmann, "Deep Silence" (1998), calligraphy by Fukushima Keido Roshi

Hofmann’s worldwide wanderings reminded Jikihara of the mendicant, eccentric, sake-loving Zen monk Santoka Taneda (1882-1940) and he suggested they do a series of works based on the monk’s haiku. The 1988 Osaka exhibition of Hofmann’s 30 brush paintings, with Jikihara’s calligraphic rendering of the haiku interwoven into them was the first collaborative exhibition by master and student.[4] They later exhibited work together at the Gyokusei Museum, Awajishima[5] and at the Hakusa Sonso Villa in Kyoto. Toward the end of Jikihara’s life, Hofmann worked with him on large murals, often painting areas toward the top that his elderly teacher could no longer reach.[6] Hofmann also collaborated and exhibited Shigajiku, with Fukushima Keido,[7] the abbot of Kyoto’s Tofukuji Temple[8]


Unlike traditional apprenticeships in China and Japan, Jikihara encouraged Hofmann to create his own compositions and develop his own style. "Even while his drawings are so much imbued with Japanese style, they have a vivacity of line, stroke and expression which is very personal."[9] With time, Hofmann’s work branched out into oils and other media and his brushwork began to push traditional limits. He also introduced "subjects not common to the sumi-e genre, like erotic nudes and urban landscapes."[3] His paintings’ "bold strokes, forceful gestures and energy… catch a moment or a mood undistracted" making "emotions palpable."[10]


As a teacher, Hofmann has pointed to similarities between brush painting and the action painting of American Abstract Expressionists. In workshops and lectures, including those at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Brown University, and the San Francisco Zen Center, Hofmann has emphasized the use of upper body movement to augment expressiveness. In 2011 Hofmann moved back to the United States and settled in Sonoma County, California where he paints, teaches "Breakaway Sumi-e", and continues his Zen practice at the Pacific Zen Institute.[2]

Notable Exhibitions[edit]


  • 1988 Renshouji Zen Temple, Nara, Japan Making the Zen Mind in Light and Dark Patterns: American Sumi-e Painter tackles the wall painting at Nara’s Renshouji Temple Yomiuri Newspaper evening edition, August 10, 1988
  • 1998 Reiganji Zen Temple, Toyota City, Japan
  • 1998 Seitai-an Zen Temple, Kyoto, Japan
  • 2005 Folding screens, Daishu-in West Renzai Zen Temple, Garberville, California
  • 2006 Sowing the Moon Teahouse, San Francisco Zen Center, Green Gulch Farm, Muir Beach, California

Book and Magazine Illustrations[edit]

  • San Francisco, Urban Interludes, Mainichi Daily News, November 6, 1987, p. 9
  • The Song in the Dream of the Hermit, by David Jenkins, Kyoto Journal, No. 24, 1993, pp. 40–45.
  • Hojoki, Visions of a Torn World translated by Yasuhiko Moriguchi & David Jenkins, Stone Bridge Press (1996) ISBN 9780893469856 .
  • Simmering Away, Songs from the Kanginshu translated by Yasuhiko Moriguchi & David Jenkins, White Pine Press (2006) ISBN 9781893996496.
  • Hidden Buddhas, a Novel of Karma & Chaos by Liza Dalby, Stonebridge Press (2009) ISBN 978-1-933330-85-3.
  • The Sayings of Layman P'ang, a Zen Classic of China translated by James Green, Shambhala Publications (2009) ISBN 978-1-59030-630-7.
  • The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo, by Kosho Uchiyama and Shohaku Okumura, Wisdom Publications (2014) ISBN 978-1-61429-048-3.
  • Deepest Practice, Deepest Wisdom: Three Fascicles from Shobogenzo with Commentaries, by Kosho Uchiyama, translated by Daitsu Tom Wright and Shohaku Okumura, Wisdom Publications (2018) ISBN 978-1-61429-302-6.
  • About a Poem, by Pico Iyer, Shambhala Sun, September, 2009, p. 104
  • Michael's Muse, by Pico Iyer, Kyoto Journal no. 41, 1999, p. 21
  • The Lady and the Monk, Four Seasons in Kyoto, review by Paul Wadden,Kyoto Journal no. 20, 1992, pp. 64–65
  • Blue-eyed Kyotoite: Michael Hofmann, Kyoto Monthly, November, 1988, pp.32-33
  • Michael D. Hofmann, Nanga painter living in a community rich with a sense of seasons, by Miyuki Kurata, Kyoto Monthly, June, 1999, p.60
  • Going Beyond Cultural Borders: Michael Hofmann: Pursuing both Sumi-e and Sculpture, by Kazuko Tazaki, Visiting the Beauty of Japan, February 4, 2003, p.41
  • Sumi-e Painter Michael Hofmann, reviving the way to live in an old traditional house, by Akira Fujita, writer and illustrator Nishijin Graph, July 2000 Vol. 518, pp. 12–13

Classes and Workshops[edit]


Michael Hofmann, "Akiba" (2010), calligraphy by Yoko Nishina "The Father lures his children from a house burning with the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion, and into a world of spiritual wealth and freedom" Lotus Sutra
Michael Hofmann, "Embrace" (1998)
Michael Hofmann, "Fox Wedding," oil on paper (2005)
Michael Hofmann, "From Mother's window - San Francisco - Embraced in mist" (1988) poem and calligraphy by Jikihara Gyokusei
Michael Hofmann, "Manjushri" (2014), ceramic, fired at Joel Bennett Studio, Forestville, CA
Michael Hofmann, "Riding the Ox, Returning Home" (2001), Calligraphy by Fukushima Keido Roshi
Michael Hofmann, "Rio Darro, Granada" (1986)
Michael Hofmann, "Sawaki Kodo Roshi," from The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo, Wisdom Publications (2014)
Michael Hofmann, "Snow falls--in my hut - I kindle a fire for one" (1988), poem by Taneda Santoka, calligraphy by Jikihara Gyokusei
Michael Hofmann, "Yosemite Falls" (1998)


  1. ^ Takahashi, Yoshiaki (1994). "Michael Hofmann: Sharing the beauty of Zen through modern style sumi-e". Kansai Forum: 40–41.
  2. ^ a b Weed, Laurie. "Transplanted artist settles in". Press Democrat. Retrieved March 27, 2001.
  3. ^ a b Pawasarat, Catherine (April 15, 2000). "Paintings with lives of their own". Japan Times: 15.
  4. ^ Wachs, Stewart (April 20, 1988). "Homage to a sake-loving poet". The Japan Times.
  5. ^ "Visual Arts". Kansai Time Out: 31. May 2004.
  6. ^ Braverman, Arthur (2003). Living and Dying in Zazen, Five Zen Masters of Modern Japan. Weatherhill. p. 12.
  7. ^ "Overview of Painting of The Muromachi Period (1333-1568)". Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  8. ^ Stephens, Christopher (September 2002). "Art Focus". Kansai Time Out: 35–36.
  9. ^ Fried, Alexander (November 26, 1975). "In the style of Japan's literati". San Francisco Examiner: 17.
  10. ^ Iyer, Pico (January 1983). "Michael Hofmann: A Music of the Unexpected". Kansai Time Out: 24.
  11. ^ "Poems of wandering and impressions of life, American artist Michael Hofmann haiga exhibition". Zen Graphic Autumn: 42–43. 1988.
  12. ^ "Exhibitions: Michael Hofmann". Daily Yomiuri: 10. November 10, 1997.
  13. ^ "American Paints the Culture of the East, Gyokusei Museum in West Awajishima". Kobe Newspaper: 24. May 5, 2004.
  14. ^ "A Sumie Painter Remembers His Journey, American Painter's One Man Show". Yomiuri Newspaper: 33. September 26, 2008.

External links[edit]