Paula Hocks



An Extraordinary Life: In Memory of Paula Hocks

1916 – 2003  Paula Hocks, an American photographer and book artist, first embarked on her artistic career in Denver during the early 1940s. Though her major work would evolve into photomontage and the artist’s book, her first art was sculpture. From Colorado, she soon relocated to a more developed art environment in La Jolla, California. The new surroundings nurtured her work of the 1950s and she began to create the figurative stone carvings and wood sculptures which were akin to those of Gaudier-Brezeska and Constantine Brancusi whom she greatly admired. Even as she continued her interest in sculpture, she began to explore abstract form through painting and collage. Throughout the next two decades she balanced her interest in visual art with a world of words found in poetry, language, and philosophy.

Largely a self taught artist, Hocks studied the work of Jean Arp, Barbara Hepworth, and the constructions of Kurt Schwitters and Joseph Cornell. She immersed herself in the contemporary religious philosophy of Thomas Merton, forming a life-long friendship with him and his close friend, poet Robert Lax. Hocks recognized the kinship between her art and Surrealist and Dadaist art, gleefully joining in actualizing the possibilities of chance and playful realities. Most importantly, she looked to the writings and friendship of George Steiner for her life-long inspiration and counsel. These advanced thinkers would serve as her panel of experts for life and art. From the earliest work at the Denver Art Museum, Hocks’ works have found their way to such locales as Paris, Budapest, Salerno, Barcelona, and London, as well as major American cities. Bookworks, usually appearing under the umbrella of her own the running women press, can be found in many permanent collections, including those of the International Concrete Poetry Archive at Oxford, The Getty Contemporary Collection in California, the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewit Museum, the Houghton Library at Harvard, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Tate Gallery Special Collections Library in London, University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections of Rare Books, as well as UNM’s [University of New Mexico] Jonson Gallery and Zimmerman Library Special Collections.

In 1977 Hocks merged all of her interests in the medium of the book. Book works were sculptural, three-dimensional form to be handled and held. A book work included personal visual language and texts of poetry and essays. In this art format, Hocks could convey her own unique and perceptive views in dialogue with the written word of revered others. In the name of collage she practiced great license to borrow and bring together image and written word from the minds and visions of others to exist in relationship with her own. Hocks’ photomontage images are a melding of her personal insights, wit and visual harmonies to establish an art unique to the field of photography.You are invited to enter a place of neglected worlds, witty and brilliant perceptions — a place of poetic interpretation and joyous celebration. Behold her art — you are entering the mind and heart of Paula Hocks.

Tiska Blankenship, June 2003 Guest Curator
Jonson Gallery, University of New Mexico

Paula Hocks’ Running Women Press

Paula Hocks Silver print her from Perspectives series

Sacred Stitches: Running Women Press

Elizabeth Cook-Romero/ Santa Fe New Mexican Pasatiempo ~ February 18-24, 2005

Paula Hocks, artist and founder of Running Women Press, made books printed on copy machines. Her books’ bindings often consisted of a few stitches, yet, in spite of their ephemeral look, they are complex works of art.Material printed on copy machines has a disposable feel, but Hocks wasn’t trying to make affordable, throwaway art, said bookbinder Priscilla Spitler, a longtime friend of Hocks and now executor of the deceased artist’s works. “She viewed her works as precious even in the chapbook form. They were almost sacred to her. For Paula it was the whole piece, not just the binding. It was the text, the image, and how it all worked together.”

“I would say there was a resurgence in handmade books in the ‘70s. Paula was experimenting with new printing technology,” Spitler said. “From the ‘70s until her death in 2003, you can see the whole history of photocopy technology in her work. As her work matured, the photocopy technology matured.”Hocks’ favorite medium was collage, and most of her books were photocopied from collages. Occasionally she would reissue a book after the technology had changed enough to give the new edition a different feel from the first one, Spitler said. At other times, Hocks issued books in two editions, a chapbook using simple homemade construction and a deluxe edition that might be sent out for professional binding.Hocks and Spitler met at book fair at the Santa Fe Bookseller store in 1979. “I purchased one of her books for $50,” Spitler recalled. “Little did I know that was an investment in a lifetime of friendship and collaboration.” An elaborate binding Spitler made for Running Women Press is included in Lasting Impressions: The Private Presses of New Mexico.

Tiska Blankenship, former director of the Jonson Gallery at the University of New Mexico, has curated two shows of Hocks’ collages and books. Hocks, who grew up in Oklahoma, dropped out of high school to take care of her sick mother, Blankenship said. “She always maintained that Oklahoma way of being a lady. She had a photographic memory and read everything, encyclopedias and everything.”Hocks kept every aspect of her technique simple and straightforward. Many of the images in Hocks’ collages were taken with her point-and-shoot camera. “It proves it’s all in the eye,” Blankenship said. “She loved the personal, homemade quality. She used always the same typewriter and her own handwriting.“I know a lot of people in the field worried about whether her materials would hold up. In the earliest black-and-white xerox there was texture in the ink. I called George Eastman House, and they said xerox would last as long as anything.”

 Fred Hocks, Artist (1886-1981)

 Photo of the artist by Stephen Wells, from a brochure of Hocks’ retrospective show at the Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego, October 2-31, 1976.

Fred Hocks Oil on Paper ca. 1960

Fred Hocks Oil on Paper ca. 1960


Born in Aachen, Germany in October 1886, Fred Hocks immigrated to the US in 1902 and resided in San Francisco where his older brother had already established himself as a successful businessman. Despite his brother’s objections, Hocks chose to study art at the Hopkins Institute, later known as the California School of Fine Art. Only 16, he was deemed too young to attend the nude drawing classes. His study in San Francisco abruptly ended when the great earthquake hit in 1906 and flattened the art institute. As a refugee, Hocks was sent, at no cost, to New York to study at the Art Students League. There, he supported himself usually working in hotel kitchens.Fred Hocks left NYC before the great Armory Show of 1913, famous for the controversy caused by Cubist and other avant-garde works, but he was able to see some of the paintings at the 1915 Exposition in San Francisco. While his early works reflected more classical training, Hocks was seized by the new movement and became know for his modern abstractions in paint and in printmaking, particularly in the latter years of his art career. 

Always committed to art, Hocks returned to Europe for periods of time, but centered his activities around the artist community in La Jolla and San Diego, California, when he took a position teaching at the school of the Los Angeles Country Art Museum in the 1920s. During W.W.II, he was one of the artists who actually lived and painted in studios on the grounds of Balboa Park, home of the Pan American exposition in 1915. He continued to teach and exhibit in the area until his death at age 95 in 1981. The San Diego Museum of Fine Arts held a retrospective of his works in 1976.


H-IP:2B H-IP:2B detail
In 1952, in Ensenada, Mexico, Fred Hocks wed Paula Rohrer, 30 years younger, a La Jolla art critic and sculptress who had come to California in the late 1940s from Denver, Colorado. Though the marriage lasted only one decade, through periods of living in Europe and Mexico, the couple always returned to the San Diego area. Paula retained the surname of Hocks professionally for the rest of her life. A studio fire in a 1940s on a ranch outside of San Diego claimed 300 of Fred Hocks’ paintings, so not many of the earliest of his art remain. The largest gathering of his works on paper were part of the Paula Hocks archive, held in New Mexico, until a major gallery sale in San Diego in 2010 returned many works to California, where Fred Hocks is known as a regional artist. It included charcoal drawings, abstract watercolors and oil paint on heavy paper; as well as brayer prints and monoprints. Vibrant in color, they rare still vital today. A few works remain in New Mexico, still available for purchase. 

If you are interested in purchasing an original Fred Hocks’ work of art from the archive, contact Priscilla Spitler. Serious inquiries only. Examples of the works appear on this page




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