Page 1

Wolf Kahn




Wolf Kahn Pastoral Reflections

July 26 - August 25, 2019

Railyard Arts District | 1613 Paseo de Peralta | Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501 | tel 505.988.3250 | cover: Dip to the Valley of the Connecticut (detail), 2018, oil on canvas, 22 x 30 inches

WOLF KAHN: Pastoral Reflections Wolf Kahn is widely regarded today as one of the leading figures of American contemporary art. He is famed for a virtuosic use of color, light, texture and calligraphic mark-making that he combines to form enduringly beautiful abstracted landscape paintings. For more than 65 years, Kahn has not only defied norms of the art world but has relentlessly created works that express his very individual response to the places in nature that for him epitomize the ideal of the beautiful. Kahn is thought of as one of the most poetic and fearless living interpreters of the American landscape, whose rhapsodic paintings emanate intensity of feeling about the beauty that is in nature. In this current LewAllen exhibition entitled Pastoral Reflections – consisting primarily of new late-career work – Kahn has created glowing paintings that exemplify his remarkable ability to evoke an enduring sense of nostalgia, fantasy, and wonder that combine to make his work unique and unforgettable. As with much of his oeuvre, these works manifest an expressionistic enthusiasm for paint and gesture, and exemplify Kahn’s signature use of unexpected color contrasts, paint intensities, compositional rhythms and tenebrous lines that combine to allude to place without verisimilitude. Indeed, the ability of Kahn’s work to elevate the spirit resides largely in its innate capacity to suggest vastly more than it describes. In his images – between the familiar and the indistinct – Kahn blends beauty with the sublime. Indeed, one senses in the elegantly balanced facture generally evident in Kahn’s work what seems to be influences of his training as a philosopher as well as an artist. Kahn received a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Chicago in 1951 and in these paintings one senses the echoes of Aristotle and his idea that “to be beautiful … every whole must … present a certain order in its arrangement of parts,” and that “the chief forms of beauty are order and symmetry and definiteness…” Kahn’s work has always reflected a kind of formalist and disciplined spontaneity that accords with this classical notion and it may well play a key role in explaining why viewers are so taken with the work. Kahn once described himself as a Platonist and, alluding to the ancient philosopher’s Theory of Forms, said, “I have a taste for absolutes … everyone’s mind contains a category for beauty. In painting, each individual painting has its own requirements. When I’m working on a painting, I keep going until I meet its requirements. Then I stop.” Kahn’s expressions on canvas proceed in accordance with his long-held formalist principles of 2

picture-making but always evolve with new answers to the challenges presented with each painting. He has become in American art history the master of navigating within the realm of representational and non-representational counterpoints to create vivacious and thoughtful works that take observations of a scene and, with his extraordinary technical and painterly skills, transmogrifies them into enduring emblems of the beauty of nature. Kahn has a deep commitment to the value of aesthetics and no measure of art world trend or fashion has ever dissuaded him from this resolute fidelity. The paintings in this exhibition illustrate these notions of beauty and they also vividly exemplify Kahn at his most daring, reductive, and evocative. Together they provide testament to the artist’s truly remarkable ability to conjure the beauty of nature in the interstices between the familiar and the ambiguous in his paintings. They demonstrate the culmination and refinement of his extraordinary craft evolved over the course of a seven-decade career to produce paintings that enliven the emotions and capture the imagination. The more than thirty works presented here are quintessential Kahn tour-de-forces in oil paint (supplemented with oil stick for the drawn linear forms) that fuse abstraction with representation. There is something distinctly warm and soothing about these landscapes, as if they together provide a glimpse into a special place that lies just around the bend, or is only accessible through dreams. Equally vivacious and pensive, mysterious and familiar, these vibrant paintings celebrate nature, while in their out-of-focus tonality they subtly evoke memory and imagination. As with much of his work, Kahn evinces a joi de vivre in these paintings while also suggesting a quiet dignity befitting the reverence he holds for the majesty of the land. In a 1996 monograph for Kahn, art writer Justin Spring writes, “Kahn has charted his own course as a painter of landscape, drawing upon the techniques and concerns of abstract expressionism. By doing so he has remained true to an essential impulse: to create work that revitalizes the 500-year-old tradition of landscape painting, incorporating the artistic concerns, techniques, and materials of the immediate present.” The works in this exhibition quintessentially illustrate Kahn’s unique way of doing that. They demonstrate his sense of relaxed authority with which he confidently departs from visual fact and steadfastly applies paint to canvas in order to adduce a felt sense of experience that also conveys 3

an aura of the beauty of the landscape around us. These works also exhibit Kahn’s adeptness at merging the details of what he observes – trees, meadows, structures, water, hills, sky, foreground and background – into distilled impressions, and concentrating those impressions into visual records of what he feels essential to relate. In this way, Kahn paints a gestalt of his experience of a place. His manner of doing this assures a constant freshness for each painting irrespective of place and scene. Over the course of his long career, Kahn’s work has delightfully teetered on the fulcrum between realism and abstraction – sometimes tilting more in one direction and other times in the other. Always, though, Kahn has made brilliant use of the expressive possibilities that his unique facility with color, light and texture allow him in expressing this potent combination. His work often includes just enough reference to the objects he sees to provide some iota of familiarity, while simultaneously reducing the scene he paints on the canvas to what he perceives as its essential elements. His approach accords with Picasso’s famous view that the value of the painting lies precisely in what is left out. In this way, Kahn is a master of reduction, of letting the essences of a scene emerge and, in his words, doing “what the painting tells me.” Each of his works reflects this aspect of spontaneity in deriving the minimally essential. He simplifies to strengthen. His work attains its power through allusion and suggestion rather than verisimilitude of place or object. There is left enough mystery to entice the imagination. These works are magnificent reconciliations, balancing paint as subject matter and the marks and forms that allude vaguely to the essentials of natural forms observed. Critics have noted how, as he has gotten older, Kahn has only become more daring: “Kahn’s use of outrageously artificial color schemes in the late paintings have appealed to critics who understand his use of them as the continuing innovation of a restless spirit,” writes Louis Finklestein in a recent essay on Kahn’s artistic evolution. The works included in Pastoral Reflections illustrate Kahn’s intrepid approach; their visual language has less to do with traditional landscape and increasingly more in common with the art of Mark Rothko and even Jackson Pollock. “Kahn is an artist concerned primarily with the direct, sensual experience of color – in the tradition of Bonnard more than of Monet.” Peter Schjedahl for the New York Times wrote in 1972; “[His] are not colors that sunlight finds in nature; they are colors that an aroused sensibility finds, with joy, in the act of painting.” 4

Though he implements a traditional subject matter, Kahn ignites the centuries-old genre with daring plays of compositional balance and a bold color sensibility. For Kahn, risks are opportunities. Kahn treats his paintings like expeditions to the edges of the acceptable in terms of color and form. At this stage in his career, Kahn’s art maintains a vitality that does not rest on platitudes or pictorial habits. He explicitly poses challenges for himself each time he picks up the brush, setting up questions of balance or complex puzzles of density or color. Though Kahn may see his paintings as investigations into matters of control, discomfort, organization, and surprise, the effect of his scenes is one of a heightened experience of a landscape that lives between the real and the imagined. A former student and studio assistant of Hans Hofmann, the legendary color master and Abstract Expressionist, Kahn is a German-born painter with a love of the American countryside whose painting career has brought him critical acclaim and an impressive resume of museum collections in the United States and abroad. Around the same time that art critic Clement Greenberg famously declared in the early 1950s that abstract art was the major contemporary mode of expression in art, Kahn led a generation of artists in New York City that sought to reconcile the Abstract Expressionist and Color Field movements with representational art. Just as the artists of the abstract zeitgeist were concerned with non-objectivity and in the total integration of form into a painting’s composition, so did Kahn seek to break down the idea that subject, composition, and color were, as a rule, separate. Throughout his career, Kahn has allowed form, subject matter, and color each to play the lead role, often blurring the lines between them. Kahn is the master of employing subtlety and indirection as efficacious tools to arouse passion. These he uses, as few artists can, to adduce a sense of grace and joyful reverence for the beauty of nature. He is a maestro of the essential. Kahn’s work attains it extraordinary power from his ability to intuit and decipher from the myriad details he sees in a vista those aspects that resonate the atmosphere, the feeling, and what Hans Hofmann, called the “pulse of nature.” In his work, the artist distills the essences of his observation into images created from contrasts and unexpected congruities of a wide chromatic range, vaguely suggestive calligraphic lines, and wispy scumbled marks. Kahn’s use of color is legendary for its uncanny ability to enchant, even seduce. It is remarkable that, at age 92, Wolf Kahn, titan of American landscape abstraction, is still producing work that continues to make significant contribution to the evolution of modernist painting. But more importantly, it is the aesthetic and conceptual aspects of this body of work 5

that create their enchantment. Kahn’s work speaks of both the universal and the eternal: the omnipresence of beauty in nature and its timelessness. These works give comfort therefore; they are totems of life around us and reminders of the preciousness of that beauty. These works are also iterations of genuine artistic freedom, expressions entirely unique and devoid of conformity, formed from a nearly magical interplay between seeing, intuiting, and mastery of the technical aspects of painting. These works are the imprints of an artist’s soul rejoicing in the beautiful world around him. They become, therefore, enduring gifts to a world that urgently needs them. Kenneth R Marvel

Ten Trees, 2019, oil on canvas, 11 x 16 inches 6

Red Surrounded by Green, 2018, oil on canvas, 22 x 28 inches 7

Before Dark Woods, 2018, oil on canvas, 22 x 18 inches 8

Farmhouse in the Distance, 2018, oil on canvas, 24 x 26 inches 9

Celebrating Ochre, 2019, oil on canvas, 14 x 22 inches


Dromedary Horizon, 2018, oil on canvas, 12 x 22 inches


8am, 2019, oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches


Dip to the Valley of the Connecticut, 2018, oil on canvas, 22 x 30 inches 13

Dense Green, 2019, oil on canvas, 19 x 19 inches 14

First Red of Sunrise, 2019, oil on canvas, 12 x 16 inches 15

Blue Over Yellow/Orange, 2018, oil on canvas, 14 x 16 inches


Caribbean, 2016, oil on canvas, 10 x 18 inches 17

Young Pines, 2019 acrylic on canvas, 12 x 12 inches 18

Moore's Orchard, 2019 oil on canvas, 10 x 16 inches 19

Florida Pines, 2019 oil on canvas, 22 x 24 inches 20

Apple Orchard, No Apples, 2018 oil on canvas, 12 x 24 inches 21

Celebrating Purple, 2019 oil on canvas, 22 x 28 inches 22

Bushes Among Trees, 2018 oil on canvas, 14 x 26 inches 23

Five Birches, 2018, oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches 24

8pm, 2019, oil on canvas, 16 x 19 inches 25

Pink Distant, 2019 oil on canvas, 16 x 19 inches


Pink Landscape, 2018 oil on canvas, 14 x 18 inches 27

Against Ochre and Blue, 2018 oil on canvas, 14 x 16 inches


Trees Against a Deep Blue Sky, 2019, oil on canvas, 10 x 16 inches 29

Last Sunlight, 2019, oil canvas, 18 x 18 inches


Yellow, Pink, and Green, 2019, oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches 31

6am, 2019, oil on canvas, 22 x 28 inches


Bright Green Band, 2019, oil on canvas, 12 x 20 inches 33

Cadmium Orange Backlit, 2019, oil on canvas, 30 x 52 inches


Color Filled Tangle, 2005, oil on canvas, 22 x 24 inches 35

Under a White Sky, 2014, oil on canvas, 30 x 52 inches


Across the Marsh, 2015, oil on canvas, 32 x 44 inches 37

Blue Ground Fog, 2010, oil on canvas, 12 x 20 inches


Unpainted Sky, 2019, oil on canvas, 42 x 50 inches 39

Blue Slope, 2018 oil on canvas, 12 x 14 inches 40

Wolf Kahn b. 1927, Stuttgart, Germany EDUCATION 1951 Bachelor of Arts, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 1947 Hans Hofmann School of Fine Art

SELECTED PUBLIC COLLECTIONS American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, NY Arts Club of Chicago, Chicago, IL Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS Asheville Art Museum, Asheville, NC 2019 Pastoral Reflections, LewAllen Galleries, Santa Fe, NM Boca Raton Museum of Art, Boca Raton, FL 2018 Reaching Up and Bearing Down, LewAllen Galleries, Boston Museum of Fine arts, Boston, MA Santa Fe, NM Brandeis University, Waltham, MA 2017 Light and Color, LewAllen Galleries, Santa Fe, NM The Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe, New York, NY; also 2015, Carnegie Mellon Institute, Pittsburgh, PA 2014, 2013, 2011, 2009, 2007, 2005, 2003 Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH 2016 Jerald Melberg Gallery, Charlotte, NC; also Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH 2007, 2005, 2004, 2002, 2000 Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX Early Work, Acme Fine Art, Boston Dartmouth College Hood Museum, Hanover, NH Recent Paintings, Tayloe Piggott Gallery, Jackson, WI Wolf Kahn: Solo Exhibition, Jackson Galerie de Bellefeuille, El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso, TX Fort Worth Art Center, Fort Worth, TX Montreal 2015 Addison/Ripley Fine Art, Washington, DC; also 2013, 2009, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 1994 2010 Tayloe Piggott Gallery, Jackson, WY Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO 2009 Pastels, Spartanburg Art Museum, Spartanburg, SC Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA 2006 Color & Light, Gallery Camino Real, Boca Raton, FL Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY Wolf Kahn's Barns, Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, SC Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI 2004 Ogunquit Museum of American Art, Ogunquit, ME Minnesota Museum of American Art, St. Paul, MN 2001 Invited! Works on Paper, First Street Gallery, New York, NY Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, NC 1999 Southern Landscapes, Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, GA Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA 1997 Nevada Museum of Fine Art, Reno, NV Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX 1996-98 Boca Raton Museum, Boca Raton, FL (travelling exhibition) The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY 1994 The Columbus Museum, Columbus, GA National Academy of Design Museum, New York, NY 1993 Grinnell College, Grinnell, IA National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC Philharmonic Center for the Arts, Naples, FL National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 1990-91 Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, Ft. Lauderdale, FL Washington, DC 1990 Nina Freudenheim, Buffalo, NY New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA 1989-92 Associated American Artists, New York, NY The Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, NY 1987 Barbara Kornblatt Gallery, Washington, DC Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA 1985 Meredith Long Gallery, Houston, TX; also 1971 Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA 1983 San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, CA 1982 Schenectady Museum, Schenectady, NY Springfield Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, MA 1981 The Arts Club of Chicago, IL State University of New York, Neuberger Museum of Art, 1979 Walker-Kornbluth Gallery, Fair Lawn, NJ Purchase, NY 1978 Fontana Gallery, Philadelphia, PA Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY 1975 Princeton Gallery of Fine Art, Princeton, NJ David Barnett Gallery, Milwaukee, WI AWARDS 1972 Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award, National Academy of Design 1966 Grace Borgenicht Gallery, New York, NY 1998 Lifetime Achievement Award, Vermont Council on the 1965 Carlton Gallery, New York, NY Arts 1963 Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, MO 1966-67 Received a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship 1960 University of California, Berkeley, CA 1962 Received a Fulbright Scholarship to Italy 1953, 55 Hansa Gallery, New York, NY 41


43 43

Railyard Arts District | 1613 Paseo de Peralta | Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501 | tel 505.988.3250 | Š 2019 LewAllen Contemporary, LLC 44 Artwork Š Wolf Kahn

Profile for LewAllen Galleries

Wolf Kahn: Pastoral Reflections  

Wolf Kahn: Pastoral Reflections