Artist Richard Hoffman loves to laugh, dance, and express himself in words and images. “I love life,” said the 73-year-old.
In that spirit, on a recent trip to Israel, he gladly accepted an invitation to adorn the walls of a senior day care center near Sde Nahum, a kibbutz in northern Israel near the Jordanian border.
It was his second trip to Israel; the first was in 2013, when he went with a group of active retirees on a trip run by the Jewish National Fund. This time, Hoffman, who lives in Somerset, was traveling with his girlfriend, Rina Shack, a Pennington resident. She has friends who live in the region, whom they went to visit for a week.
When those in charge of the day care center heard their guest was an artist who has done numerous murals in his long career, they asked if he could do one to brighten up the residents’ lounge.
Much of Hoffman’s focus has been on cartooning — for comic strips he has published in various venues, or giant replicas of cartoon characters that he has painted to delight children. What the director had in mind was more in the fine art direction — a copy of Austrian painter Gustav Klimt’s famous image The Kiss.
“I told her, ‘If I can see it, I can do it!’ She showed me a wall, and I said, ‘OK.’ The rest is history,” said Hoffman.
Shack, though not an artist herself, helped with the painting. “I wanted her to be part of it and to feel good, and she was delighted with it,” he said.
He also added a humorous touch to a nearby wall, with an original drawing of two dancing rabbis, drawn with a big black marker. “I think they were very pleased,” he reported. “Everyone was so friendly to us; it felt great to do something for them.”
Hoffman was born and brought up in Newark. At Seton Hall University in South Orange, he became the school’s first student to graduate with an art minor. He went on to become a social studies teacher and a teacher of driver education — working in particular with people with disabilities. He continued studying art, and teaching it to grade school and middle school kids in Matawan, Syracuse, NY, and in other settings.
One of his comic strips, Tippy & Rachel, ran for a while in the Setonian; he did murals in a children’s hospital in Hamburg, Pa., and sets for theatrical production, and he has shown his fine art in one-man and group shows. He has also done four books, including a kids’ story, A Turtle Named Harry.
For all his joie de vivre, life hasn’t all been a laugh. Hoffman has a son who lives in California, but he lost his beloved wife 15 years ago, and many years before that they lost a baby daughter at three months old — two heartbreaks clearly still etched in his mind. But Shack, he said, has brought a whole new pleasure into his life — not least this most recent art adventure. “It’s great to be alive,” he declared.