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Wolf Kahn Light and Color


Wolf Kahn Light and Color

July 28 - September 10.2017

LewAllenGalleries Railyard Arts District | 1613 Paseo de Peralta | Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501 | tel 505.988.3250 |

cover: White House (detail), 2003, oil on canvas, 20 x 22 in

Wolf Kahn Light and Color Now in his 90th year, Wolf Kahn is a towering figure in American art history. His vibrant abstracted landscape paintings celebrate nature while quietly embedding within their beauty powerful ideas about the natural world and its transcendent connections to the spiritual. Kahn’s works are at once vivacious and pensive. They derive from keen skills of observation and eminent technical mastery, but, even more significantly, they make manifest on canvas profound feelings and intuitions welling inside an artist who is both delighted and possessed by the awesome beauty of nature. His paintings evince obvious joie de vivre but also quiet dignity, genial familiarity but also shrouds of mystery. It is in these counterpoints that Kahn’s work attains its artistic greatness, wide appreciation, and lasting importance. Kahn’s long painting career has brought him critical acclaim and an impressive resume of leading private and museum collections in the United States and abroad. Born in Germany in 1927, Kahn escaped the Nazis by emigrating first to England in 1939 and then to the United States in 1940. He studied with, and was studio assistant to, renowned color master and Abstract Expressionist painter Hans Hofmann, considered one of the most influential art teachers of the 20th century. In the 1950s, Kahn led a generation of artists in New York City whose goal was to reconcile the Abstract Expressionistand Color Field movements with representational art. In contrast to the then-prevailing art world view that subject matter was unimportant to a painting’s composition, Kahn sought to dispel the idea that subject, composition, and color were mutually exclusive. The genius of Kahn’s paintings resides in his ability to imbue his work with his deeply felt sensibilities. These he expresses in their facture: the brilliant interplay of color and light, realism and abstraction, contrast and composition Kahn combines them to evoke abiding ideas and feelings more than particular scenes. In his images — between the familiar and the ambiguous —Kahn masterfully blends beauty with the sublime, joyfulness with reverence. Luminous color enlivens the heart while the hum of light beckons the imagination. Kahn’s images attain their power from an exquisite tension between the familiar and the mysterious. The objects he references—landscapes, trees, hillsides, pastures, streams, barns, sky—are not represented for their own sake but rather, beneath the surface of their appearance, they contai resonance of larger ideas quietly implied by Kahn’s distinctive work. These transcend time and place and incite memory and imagination. Contemplation of a Kahn painting can easily move the eye and mind from the obvious pleasure implicit in his colors and compositions to deeper realms of thoughts and feeling; such ideas as: nature as the source and


sustainer of life; the land as that which is eternal, connecting past, present and future; and the world as a place full of beauty, no matter the turmoil otherwise existing. Beyond their visual excitement, it is the meditative capacity of Kahn’s compositions to arouse thoughts like these that infuses his distinctive imagery with its profound and enduring significance. There is no obvious polemic here, only ample impetus for reflection. In this regard, Kahn embodies what 19th century French poet and essayist Charles Baudelaire referred to as “the imaginative painter”: one who “wants to illumine things with his mind and project their reflection.” Rather than representing specificity or verisimilitude of place or object, Kahn’s work possesses its unique efficacy compassed through allusion and suggestion—the idea of nature and what the landscape represents, rather than their simulacrum. Through projection in his work of his personal visions of nature — interacting as they do between what he sees, what he feels, his keen mind, and a resolute dedication to formalist principles of picture-making— Kahn inspires others to evolve their own visions. Indeed, a large part of the charisma of a Kahn painting is its exquisite subtlety and indirection. There is enormous grace and solemnity in the way Kahn presents his artistic response to the beauty of nature. One senses that the overt would be repugnant to Kahn in his art—like “Clair de Lune” played fortissimo when its finesse depends on pianissimo. Kahn’s work depicts not the visible but what makes us see, and like Seurat and Monet he deftly uses color and form as ways to create perceptions and sensations. The work achieves its allure not so much for its subject matter but more for how Kahn depicts that subject. It is in Kahn’s way of painting that the work becomes remarkably different from landscape pictures by other artists, and it is from his unique artistic method, invested with the authenticity of passion and relentless dedication to the transcendent possibilities of paint on canvas, that the work attains an extraordinary power to captivate. The executancy of his hand is unmistakable in the distinctive mix of juxtaposed colors and brush strokes that play and merge together synergistically, imbued with light of diverse intensities. He creates from these elements areas of disparate hues, tones and weights orchestrated rhythmically in various shapes, lines and angles composed in harmonious relationships. It is the careful composition and evocative interaction of these areas of color, merged delicately one into the other, that radiates suffused light and suggests the objects Kahn observes in the landscape. What we sense as woods, streams or fields are exquisitely implied rather than literally depicted. In his process, there is a sense of fusion between intention


and execution, a fluidity that melds the observed with the expressed. Kahn’s paintings read now like brilliant shorthand, their colors, lines and luminosity being just exactly what is needed: they are consummate essences of being in the world, no more and no less. These seem inevitably to be the products of an artist intensely present and acutely aware. In each work there is both an electrifying feeling of spontaneity, simultaneously balanced with a clear sense of mindfulness—immediacy mixed with the eternal. From its various parts, Kahn constructs in a painting a mellifluous whole that seems literally to resonate both his felt experience and, beyond that, the shimmerance of the divine. Occasionally Kahn’s modulated color palette can be so exquisitely subtle that its beauty is nearly overwhelming. Like a poignant poem or a gripping song that becomes lodged immutably in memory and delectably torments the psyche forever, a Kahn painting can be moving and elicit emotions that are intensely affecting. In part, this makes his paintings unforgettable aesthetic experiences that stir the heart and vibrate the soul. In this way his paintings are timeless, their beauty indelible. They have a substantiality and presence that transcends even their most sumptuous colors and light. Indeed, one of the most alluring aspects of Kahn’s art is to function as antidote to the shock-and awe banality that masquerades as “cutting-edge” in much of the contemporary art world. In stark contrast to “art” that aspires to repulse rather than please, proselytize rather than inspire, or counterfeit detritus as high avant-garde, Kahn’s work steadfastly champions the value of the aesthetic, its only advocacy to allow beauty to enrich and ennoble lives. In a world too full of tragedy and pain, Kahn’s work has the needed capacity to pierce our disregard. It awakens a sense of joyfulness but also respectfulness. His paintings induce us to pay attention and to look at the world with a more considered way of seeing. One never tires of gazing at these works, and desires instead to return to them, over and over. In his landscapes there is delight of discovery, a sureness of stability, even serenity. They are revivifying and act as refuges that refresh and anchor our inflamed psyches with the reassurance of nature’s power to endure and comfort across time and adversity. Kahn uses in his work a formalist approach to manifesting desired artistic effects through the use of contrasts between color, line, form and texture. With them, he creates a unity of pictorial composition and a clarity of vision. His process becomes his means of converging technique with intuition and passion by which he infuses into


each painting its own sense of energy and vitality. With Kahn, little is predetermined and everything is allowed to evolve freely. It is as though he nurtures a painting more than makes it. Each work seems to have a life of its own and his role is to allow it to come into being. Every painting is his challenge, his struggle, his discovery, his joy, and the task ends only once he believes the work is what it needs to be. In the LewAllen exhibit, works such as Last Light Along the River painted in 1990, and Late Dusk from 1991, illustrate how just a few shaped areas of a few disparate colors,

Foliage 2, 2004, oil on canvas, 24 x 30 in

devoid of detail and applied with a variety of brush strokes and intensities of hue, stretch horizontally from one side of the canvas to the other and can accomplish in minimally essential ways the visual sensationof a day’s ebbing. Kahn’s teacher, Hofmann, once opined that “a painter must speak through paint, not through words.” Kahn’s work is quintessential proof of the truth of this admonition. In Blue Ground Fog painted in 2010, for example, that a simple vista can evoke tranquil serenity is conveyed elo quently from just four bands of different volumes and contrasting colors, each stretched across the length of the canvas, their edges softly interfacing. Barns and cabins are rendered as basic cubic forms, truncated often by the painting’s edge — just enough to evoke nostalgia for the simplicity of rural life, as with Spring Haze (1999) or White House (2003). Kahn uses the contrasts and unexpected congruities of color and space to connote depth and movement in his work, reminiscent of Hofmann’s “push and pull” theory of picture-making that Kahn experienced as the great teacher’s student and assistant. From these, he comprises both the subject matter of his painting and, more importantly, its visual impact and aesthetic allure. Arrangements of colors, line, and contrasts of forms within those arrangements evolve in Kahn’s paintings to create indistinct but unmistakable references to the subject matter and atmospheres of landscape. They unify his compositions and form the vocabulary of his remarkable visual language. Hofmann wrote that “the whole world, as we experience it visually, comes to us through the mystic realm of color.” No painter makes more effective application of this idea than Wolf Kahn. From amalgamations of wide chromatic


variety, Kahn evokes imagery that signifies, but does not replicate, objects and scenes that define being in nature. Freed from the constraints of conformity to verisimilitude, Kahn is able to use color to enchant, even to seduce.

Hofmann also taught that all art comes from nature and that the sense of movement in a painting was “the pulse of nature.” Kahn’s work emits its own “pulse” and suggestion of movement in a number of ways, sometimes from the sense of visual vibration that thrums from deft contrast of saturated colors, and other times from flurries of freely scumbled marks or ethereal calligraphic lines. Bright yellow and deep magenta vigorously interact in Fall Cattails (2005) energizing the bulrushes one can imagine waving in the autumn breeze. In Kahn’s Yellow Tangle (2005), jumbles of lacy graffiti-like marks suggest thick bramble and the arduous scurry required to journey through it. Graceful and whispy, horizontal gestural marks adjoin rhythmically with columnar tree trunks in Silvery Tree Trunks (2007) to resemble leafless branches swaying in the wind. In these works Kahn manifests his connoisseurship of the land, his extraordinary ability to decipher and intuit from its vastness that which is most meaningful, and to communicate with paint the enduring pulses of its essence. As marvelous imprints of the felt glory of the land, Kahn’s paintings are — and will remain — vivid icons of nature’s splendor. There is peace and sweet repose in the presence of a Kahn painting, a jewel-box reminder of the immortal majesty that adheres in the land. Kenneth R. Marvel


A Straight Line Amid Bent Trees, 2002, oil on canvas, 26 x 36 in 7

Wolf Kahn, Apaloosa, 2009, oil on canvas, 26 x 32 in 8

House in the Country, 2015, oil on canvas, 18 x 32 in


Lemon Yellow Corona, 2005, oil on canvas, 20 x 30 in


Barn on the Marlboro Campus, 2002, oil on canvas, 24 x 30 in 11

Deep Gap, 2003, oil on canvas, 22 x 26 in


Colorful Tangle, 2006, oil on canvas, 26 x 30 in


Blue Ground Fog, 2010, oil on linen, 12 x 20 in 14

Dense Trees on the Right, 2014, oil on canvas, 30 x 42 in


From Our Deck, 2004, oil on canvas, 20 x 24 in


Late Dusk, 1991, oil on canvas, 32 x 52 in



Fall Cattails, 2005, oil on canvas, 36 x 52 in


Inlet, 2016, oil on canvas, 16 x 26 in 20

Invented Foliage, 2004, oil on canvas, 24 x 26 in


Color Filled Tangle, 2005, oil on canvas, 22 x 24 in


Bold Color, 2011, oil on canvas, 28 x 26 in 23

Last Light Along the River, 1990, oil on canvas, 52 x 66 in


Silvery Tree Trunks, 2007, oil on canvas, 24 x 18 in 25

Purple Receding Trees, 2012, oil on canvas, 18 x 12 in


Predominantly Pines, 2003, oil on canvas, 36 x 52 in



Light Blue Sky, 2016, oil on canvas, 24 x 28 in


Spring Haze, 1999, oil on canvas, 16 x 24 in


Yellow Reflection, 2005, oil on canvas, 24 x 28 in


Through Trees, 2006, oil on canvas, 30 x 44 in


Spring in Kenya, 2016, oil on canvas, 44 x 30 in 33

Uncomfortable Color Landscape, 1993, oil on canvas, 38 x 52 in


Windbreak, 2016, oil on canvas, 28 x 32 in 35

Yellow Middle, 2007, oil on canvas, 44 x 52 in


Among Birches, 2015, oil on canvas, 68 x 68 in


Yellow Ridge, 2003, oil on canvas, 30 x 28 in


Trees Before a Beaver Pond, 2006, oil on canvas, 34 x 52 in 39

Silver Birches II, 2015, oil on canvas, 52 x 52 in


Yellow Tangle, 2005, oil on canvas, 20 x 28 in



On the Bank of the Gihon River, 2005, oil on canvas, 40 x 42 in 43

Wolf Kahn b. 1927 Stuttgart, Germany EDUCATION

1951 1947

Bachelor of Arts, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL Hans Hofmann School of Fine Art, New York, NY

SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS 2017 Light and Color, LewAllen Galleries, Santa Fe, NM 2016 Early Pastels, Jerald Melberg Gallery, Charlotte, NV Early Work, Acme Fine Art, Boston, MA Recent Paintings, Tayloe Piggott Gallery, Jackson, WI Jackson Galerie de Bellefeuille, Montreal, Canada 2015 paintings and pastels, Addison/Ripley Fine Art, Washington, DC Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe, New York, NY 2014 Six Decades, Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe, New York 2013 Recent Works, Addison/Ripley Fine Art, Washington, DC Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe, New York 2011 Color and Consequence, Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe, New York, NY 2010 Refractions of Light, Tayloe Piggott Gallery, Jackson, WY 2009 Pastels, Spartanburg Art Museum, Spartanburg, SC Toward The Larger View: A Painter's Process, Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe, New York, NY 2007 Sizing Up: Part II Pastels, Ameringer & Yohe Fine Art, New York, NY Celebrating 80 Years, Jerald Melberg Gallery, Charlotte, NC Sizing Up: Part I Paintings, Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe, New York, NY 2006 Color & Light, Gallery Camino Real, Boca Raton, FL Wolf Kahn's Barns, Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, SC 2005 Wolf Kahn, Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe , New York, NY Summertime Pastels, Jerald Melberg Gallery, Charlotte, NC 2004 Wolf Kahn's America: An Artist’s Travels, Jerald Melberg Gallery, Charlotte, NC 2003 Continuity & Change, Paintings & Works on Paper 1958-66, Ameringer & Yohe Fine Art, New York, NY 2002 Wolf Kahn at Seventy-Five, Jerald Melberg Gallery, Charlotte, NC Ogunquit Museum of American Art, Ogunquit, ME 2001 Invited! Works on Paper, First Street Gallery, New York, NY 2000 Fifty Years of Pastels, Jerald Melberg Gallery, Charlotte, NC 1999 Southern Landscapes, Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, GA 1997 Nevada Museum of Fine Art, Reno, NV 1996-98 Boca Raton Museum, Boca Raton, FL (travelling exhibition) 1994 Addison/Ripley Gallery, Washington, DC The Columbus Museum, Columbus, GA 1993 Grinnell College, Grinnell, IA Philharmonic Center for the Arts, Naples, FL 1990-91 Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 1990 Nina Freudenheim, Buffalo, NY 1989-92 Associated American Artists, New York, NY 1987 Barbara Kornblatt Gallery, Washington, DC 1985 Meredith Long Gallery, Houston, TX 1983 San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, CA 1982 Schenectady Museum, Schenectady, NY 44

1981 The Arts Club of Chicago, IL 1979 Walker-Kornbluth Gallery, Fair Lawn, NJ 1978 Fontana Gallery, Philadelphia, PA 1975 Princeton Gallery of Fine Art, Princeton, NJ David Barnett Gallery, Milwaukee, WI 1972 Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA 1971 Meredith Long Gallery, Houston, TX 1966 Grace Borgenicht Gallery, New York, NY 1965 Carlton Gallery, New York, NY 1963 Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, MO 1960 University of California, Berkeley, CA 1953, 55 Hansa Gallery, New York, NY SELECTED PUBLIC COLLECTIONS American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, NY Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock, AR Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL Asheville Art Museum, Asheville, NC Boca Raton Museum of Art, Boca Raton, FL Boston Museum of Fine arts, Boston, MA The Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX Dartmouth College Hood Museum, Hanover, NH Daum Museum of Contemporary Art, Sedalia, MO El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso, TX Fort Worth Art Center, Fort Worth, TX Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI Minnesota Museum of American Art, St. Paul, MN Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, NC Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY National Academy of Design Museum, New York, NY National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA The Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, NY Springfield Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, MA Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY AWARDS 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award, National Academy of Design 1998 Lifetime Achievement Award, Vermont Council on the Arts 1966-67 Received a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship 1962 Received a Fulbright Scholarship to Italy


Railyard Arts District | 1613 Paseo de Peralta | Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501 | tel 505.988.3250 | Š 2017 LewAllen Contemporary LLC Artwork Š Wolf Kahn

Wolf Kahn: Light and Color  
Wolf Kahn: Light and Color