Robert kipniss

Page 1

robert Kipniss Paintings and Poetry · 1950–1964

preface by

Robert Kipniss

introduction by e s s ay b y

Marshall N. Price

Robin Magowan

T h e A r t i s t B o o k F o u n d at i o n n e w y o r k    l o n d o n    h o n g k o n g

To the young man I was sixty-five years ago: struggling, solitary, confident.


Contents p r e fac e

Comments by the Artist and Poet Robert Kipniss



Ut Pictura Poesis: The Coming of Age of Robert Kipniss Marshall N. Price


Paintings & Drawings 19 Remembrance and Prophecy: The Journey of a Poet-Painter Robin Magowan


Poems 89 Selected Chronology


Collections, Exhibitions, and Awards


Acknowledgments 141 Photography Credits


p r efac e

Comments by the Artist and Poet


n late 1950, at the age of nineteen, I decided to make poetry and oil painting my life’s full-time pursuits. Over several months, I had become more and more deeply engaged in both of these arts, and I knew I had found a commitment that could fulfill me to an extent I had never expected. I was sure and comfortable in continuing these two passions, which I did with equal intensity until 1961, when circumstances compelled me to make the difficult choice of which art I would stay with and which I must abandon. In 1959, I worked as a night manager of a bookstore, and there was often time to write a few lines (after painting all day in my studio). But after a surprising success with an exhibition of my paintings, I left the bookstore. Sales of my work had become fairly steady and all was well for a while, but when my family started growing, my low prices —which had helped my work sell—now meant the income from these sales was no longer enough to support us. Getting another part-time job was unavoidable, and in 1961, with the job I found, there was not enough time for both painting and poetry. My third solo exhibition, which had been accompanied by good reviews, had made me known and respected as a young painter, but there had not been even a hint of success at publishing my poetry. It was also obvious that, while I had been tenacious in looking for a gallery for my paintings—knocking on gallery doors many, many hundreds of times over those six years between my second and third shows—I had made only one (unsuccessful) effort with my poems—sending a volume to a publisher in 1953—and had not tried since. In retrospect, it seems odd that for those next eight years, roughly 1953 to 1961, although I was writing every day, I never thought to let anyone read my poems. While I found the act of writing poetry painful—no doubt because I was writing about the anger and the darkness within me—I found only pleasure and excitement in painting. In the very act of putting paint on canvas I found an exuberant and unrestrained exploration of form, color, texture, and emotion—all of it intense and thrilling. Visual compositions


true as they were. When I stopped writing, my vision was no longer divided between word-thinking and picture-thinking: these approaches had merged, and in expressing myself I was more whole. Although the earliest poem that I saved dates from 1952, I began writing in earnest in 1950, the same year I began seriously painting; for that reason, this book begins with paintings from the first year of that decade, just before I turned twenty. My first paintings were abstract, like the first poems I threw away. The early paintings, purely of forms and colors, make more sense to me than those poems, which now seem to be just so many words. Although I stopped writing at the age of thirty, I am presenting paintings from three years later to show the effect on the paintings’ imagery of giving up the imagery of language. Later, by 1970, the lyricism that had been overwhelmed by the infusion of darkness began to show through again, and the work became a more complex amalgam of all my many phases. Perhaps they were more compelling, too, because my exhibitions at the time were becoming much more successful. The poems are presented almost chronologically, and they are not intended as illustrations for the paintings. Rather, they show how the two can both differ and complement.

Robert Kipniss

Sharon, Connecticut february 2013


i nt ro d uc t i o n

Ut Pictura Poesis The Coming of Age of Robert Kipniss Marshall N. Price


he early paintings of Robert Kipniss tell a visual story of transition and maturation by a developing artist who­, for the first decade or so of his professional life, was simultaneously pursuing the sister arts of painting and poetry. For the young Kipniss, the two endeavors were parallel ones not unrelated to each other. He found equal amounts of expressivity, solace, escape, and evocative imagery in the written page as in the painted surface—albeit in different ways and, ultimately, with divergent results. Kipniss had made a commitment to painting and poetry at age 19, and during the first decade of his adult life he developed, refined, and ultimately codified his artistic language in both arts. By 1961, he was married and beginning to earn some renown as a painter, having recently had his fourth solo exhibition in New York; however, the necessities of supporting a young family required him to get an evening job and relinquish one of his artistic pursuits. Deeply passionate about both endeavors, but having found some success with painting, Kipniss chose to give up poetry and follow a career as a painter.1 The early period of the artist’s life was a fruitful one for each medium and, in many ways, serves as a poignant coming-of-age story as told through the interconnectedness of his poetry and visual art. The historical link between painting and poetry stretches back to antiquity and includes some of the world’s greatest artistic movements, including Chinese wenrenhua (“literati painting”), Persian miniatures, and the Italian Renaissance. When the Greek poet Horace introduced the phrase ut pictura poesis—“as in painting, so in poetry”—in Ars Poetica, he was articulating an inherent connection between the two arts. Although the imagery, demeanor, and sensibility of Kipniss’s early paintings differ considerably from those of his poetry, clear connections may be drawn between them. That is not to suggest that Kipniss’s early paintings are visual representations of his poems. Their


While uncommon in his oeuvre, the figure was not entirely absent from Kipniss’s early works. The figural compositions tend to be much less lyrical than his landscapes and evince a somber, sometimes confrontational dynamic that is manifested in such paintings as The Ritz Brothers (p. 31) and Miss Rose (p. 33). Void of any rapport between the figures and, indeed, containing an almost aloofness among them, these works hint at the personal isolation the artist felt around this time.3 The most arresting of these figural compositions are Kipniss’s self-portraits. One of the earliest examples, painted when the artist was twenty-two years old, Self-Portrait (p. 27) shows the artist starkly illuminated and in a somber and confrontational pose. His gaze seems to teeter between a distant remove and a determined resolve. Over the next five years, these self-portraits would provide a fascinating look at the developing artist, culminating with several works late in the decade. In Self-Portrait: Petersburg, Virginia (facing page), Kipniss, at center, stands in shadow between the viewer and the landscape in the distance. As a young man, Kipniss would take nocturnal walks, observing and recording the nighttime scenery and relishing the solitude found therein. This self-portrait shows the artist alone in darkness, looking back along a small-town street as if he has been captured in the middle of one of these walks. The scene evokes Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem “Evening”: Slowly the evening draws on its coat Held out to it by a row of ancient trees: You gaze: and the landscape splits in two, One part lifting skywards, while one falls, Leaving you not quite part of anything, Not quite so dark as the house, the silent one, Not quite as surely invoking the eternal, As that which turns to star, each night, rising — Leaving you (indescribably, to unravel) Your anxious, immense, and ripening life: So that, now bounded, and now grasped, It becomes, in turn, stone in you, and star.4 Imagery from these nightly promenades would find its way into the artist’s work, and this particular painting was a harbinger of things to come as the artist stands as mediator between the viewer and the land. As the 1950s progressed, Kipniss captured the landscape with greater frequency and with an inclination toward exploring the subtleties of form and formal composition through an increasingly localized and specific palette of narrow colors. As he himself


Self-Portrait: Petersburg, Virginia, 1957. Oil on canvas, 24 × 24 in. (61 × 61 cm). Courtesy of the National Academy Museum, NY.


Mid-Country, 1950. Oil on panel, 36 × 24 in. (91.4 × 61 cm). Private collection.


Twin Derelicts, 1951. Oil on panel, 34 × 18 in. (86.4 × 45.7 cm). Collection of Mitch and CeCe Morken.


Red Shadows, 1957. Oil on panel, 7¾ × 10 in. (19.7 × 25.4 cm). Collection of Ruby Krajick.


Still Life with Apples and Green Glass, 1957. Oil on panel, 39¾ x 29¾ in. (101 × 75.6 cm). Collection of Max and Ivan Kipniss.


Twins Approaching, 1963. Oil on canvas, 40½ × 48 in. (102.9 × 121.9 cm). Collection of Peter and Trish Jones.


House and Trees, 1964. Oil on canvas, 30 × 36 in. (76.2 × 91.4 cm). Weinstein Gallery, San Francisco, CA.


Untitled drawing #58, 1963. Pencil on paper, 19¾ × 15 in. (50.2 × 38.1 cm). Weinstein Gallery, San Francisco, CA.


Remembrance and Prophecy The Journey of a Poet-Painter robin magowan


lthough painting and poetry can seem to some as wildly dissimilar arts, the boundaries between them are quite porous. That said, relatively few painters have produced memorable poetry and vice versa: Michelangelo, Edward Lear, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Donald Justice — the list is not long. In this collection of early poems and paintings, Robert Kipniss shows how a young journeyman artist chose different “voices” —  different media — to chart something hidden in him. Kipniss drew a parallel between the two arts in the lithographs he made to accompany the early C.F. MacIntyre translation of Rainer Maria Rilke’s poetry (The Limited Editions Club, New York, 1981), and the similarities in tone are indeed striking. Both Kipniss and Rilke are exponents of inwardness, creating meditative enigmas to which we can keep returning without quite piercing their mysteries. The works share a silence that carries something of the ascetic, a purging of excess and an attendant appreciation of a restraint that goes far beyond mere poetic concision. Giving in to the spell cast by this highly wrought silence, we find ourselves waking to realities normally hidden­ — even to what might be called the unknown, the abiding mystery of existence. At first glance, Kipniss’s poems and paintings from his first decade of serious work would seem to have nothing to do with one another — right hand and left hand — each the product of a different part of the same psyche. Kipniss’s artistic work is joyful; his poetry, fraught, troubled, and vexed. In retrospect, it may seem that Kipniss’s decade-long immersion in the creation of poetry allowed him to give his art the darkness it had previously lacked. We can even see a poem like “First Mornings at College” (p. 91) as a milestone on that route. In that poem, as in so many of his paintings, he is looking out of a window at the trees of a wooded cemetery:


A Forest Delirium Out on the unvaried ground of tree Where there are how many trees With the ground underneath Sucked and pulling, The weather a minor pathology Dependent upon the wind’s decisions, Spring to spring, summer to summer. The positions of a day, The time of tides and a spell In every moment For the cramped roots of trunks Tremendous in collapsed spaces; The positions of a day Make a crumbled environment, A roof letting in, keeping in. I remember too much. Brown and ruddy gray, the forest Says, “It is my right to push out of the earth.” Old leaves quiver and swirl on the ground, Hiding the earth As livelier leaves on the overhead limbs Circulate in the breeze, more or less. Apart from leaves on the ground There is in this underneath emptiness A disturbing vacancy forever drawing me Deeper, away from the sun, The empty spaces, compelling leftovers Of the once solid world. · · · · 1954


The Artist at Twenty-Three Once more obscurity brings relief. I settle into a contented comfort As if embraced in the sympathy Of long-gone hands Pushing from under the ground. My small exaggerated audience turns Elsewhere, and in my up and down life, (Such small ups and downs, Variations of almost nothing,) I am left again with only the work. Attention, ever suspect and disappointing, Stays remote from my words and images, As I struggle to take meaning From the glimpses I can find to my heart. Rejection reaffirms the confidence I have In bearing the winter cold without a roof, Secure in the warmth of labor, Undistracted, painlessly disciplined. It might occur to me someday I only fool myself, But now I laugh and breathe; The sky blows leaves along the ground, I pick them up and know mercy. · · · · 1954


Robert at the easel, Petersburg, VA, 1958.


Selected Chronology 1931 Born in Brooklyn, New York. 1936 Family moves to Laurelton, New York, where six-year-old Robert discovers the pleasure of being alone in the woods. 1941 Family moves to Forest Hills, New York. 1947 Begins Saturday classes at Art Students League of New York. 1948 Attends Wittenberg College (now University), in Springfield, Ohio, and starts writing poetry. 1950 Decides to become a poet and transfers to University of Iowa to major in literature. 1951 Has first solo show of paintings in a gallery on 57th Street, New York City. 1952 Graduates from University of Iowa and stays on in its Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program. 1953 Has second solo show at 57th Street gallery. 1954 Earns MFA from University of Iowa, marries Jean Prutton, and moves to New York City. 1956–1958  Drafted into U.S. Army and is stationed in Petersburg, Virginia, where he has a studio. 1958 Represented by The Contemporaries gallery at 77th Street and Madison Avenue, New York City. 1959 Moves to 97th Street near 5th Avenue and Central Park; works as evening manager of small paperback bookshop. 1961 Paints during the day and works at post office in the evening; is forced to choose between painting and poetry, and chooses painting. 1963 Leaves position at post office. 1964 Represented by FAR Gallery, New York City. 1966 Moves to Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. 1967 Begins making etchings and gains representation for them at Associated American Artists (AAA). 1968 Starts making lithographs at workshop of George C. Miller and deeply connects with this technique. 1970 Purchases home in Great Neck, New York. 1975 Moves to Tarrytown, New York.


1976 Represented by Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York City. 1979 Receives honorary doctorate from Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio. 1983 Marriage ends; moves to Ardsley-on-Hudson, New York. 1989 Receives honorary doctorate from Illinois College, Jacksonville, Illinois.

Marries Laurie Lisle.

1995 Represented by The Redfern Gallery, London, England. 1998 Represented by The Old Print Shop, New York City. 1999 Represented by Weinstein Gallery, San Francisco. 2000 Represented by Beadleston Gallery, New York City. 2004 Robert Kipniss: Intaglios, 1982–2004 is published by Hudson Hills Press. 2007 Robert Kipniss: Paintings, 1950–2005 is published by Hudson Hills Press. Receives Lifetime Achievement Award from Society of American Graphic Artists, New York City. 2010 Awarded medal for Lifetime Achievement in Art from The Artists’ Fellowship, New York City. 2011 Robert Kipniss: A Working Artist’s Life is published by University Press of New England. Encouraged by friends, rediscovers and revisits earlier poems. Represented by Franklin Riehlman Gallery, New York City. 2012 Represented by Alan Avery Art Company, Atlanta. 2013 Robert Kipniss: Paintings and Poetry, 1953–1964 is published by The Artist Book Foundation.


Collections, Exhibitions, and Awards Selected Public Collections Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, California, Palace of the Legion of Honor Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York Arkansas State University Permanent Collection, Jonesboro The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois Art Museum of Western Virginia, Roanoke Art Students League of New York, New York Bates College Museum of Art, Lewiston, Maine The Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, Massachusetts Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris The Boston Athenaeum, Massachusetts The British Museum, London Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio Canton Art Institute, Ohio Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania The Century Association, New York, New York The Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio De Cordova Museum and Sculpture Park, Lincoln, Massachusetts The Denver Art Museum, Colorado The Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan Dubuque Museum of Art, Iowa Elvehjem Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Wisconsin Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New York Federal Reserve Board Fine Arts Program, Washington, DC Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, England Flint Institute of Arts, Michigan Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Indiana Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York