Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Wolf Kahn In Person
Yakos Barn, 2005, Oil on Panel, 12x16
On Sunday, we drove south on 91 heading towards Massachusetts. I wanted to stop in Bellows Falls to visit Spheris Gallery. I had sent them one of my info packets about a year and a half ago. They politely rejected me (It's fine, I understand and I am not upset at all. Really. I mean it.) but I really like the artists they represent and so I wanted to go and visit the gallery in person. Alas, because I was trying to not be so defensive, I listened to Doug when he told me there would be another exit and waited patiently for the next one. Which was at the next town about 10 miles past Bellows Falls. We didn't feel like backtracking, so I decided that I wanted to at least drive through Brattleboro, having heard that it was a nice town. We drove through the main street area and came upon the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, where there just so happened to be an exhibition of works by the artist who is my painting soul mate, Wolf Kahn. I have discussed this issue here before.
Despite the fact that viewers often say that my work reminds them of his, I have never seen his paintings or pastels in real life, only as reproductions. Doug and I went to NYC for a few days last winter and tried to see one of Mr. Kahn's shows at Ameringer-Yohe Gallery, but unfortunately the gallery was closed the days that we were there, and the show ended soon after. I seem to keep just missing the opportunity to see his work. Anyway, I have read a bit about him and I know that our processes are completely different, but still I do see that eventually we do both come to a similar place. However, as I had suspected, his work has so much more and many different things going on it than mine does. The first thing that amazed me was the scale. Many of the pieces in this collection were very large, 52x66, 50x66 etc. I knew that he often works on large canvases but naturally I didn't get the whole effect of that until I actually stood in front of them. They were also much more abstract than they appear in reproductions. There were splashes and drips and washy and opaque segments of seemingly random color all of which was endlessly fascinating to me. His use of color is better than I could have even imagined, full of subtleties as well as bold juxtapositions, ones I would never consider doing. There were a variety of oil paintings ranging from a self-portrait, painted in 1954 to the "First Barn" painted in 1966, to several smaller pastels done in the last few years. There were also two short documentaries that played in one of the exhibition rooms, one filmed mainly at his Vermont farm and studio about 15 years ago and the other filmed just this year during a project where he visited Niagara Falls, discussed Frederic Church's famous painting of the Falls and then sketched and eventually painted his own vision of the falls. I found his words about his art and his purpose to be really inspiring and I really liked being able to see his studios and his painting process. It looks as if he does small pastel sketches on site and then works from those in his studio to create the larger oil paintings. He also mixes his paint on the painting instead of on a palette, which I often do too, so I loved seeing that.
I know that he is often looked down upon for among other things, licensing his images for use on cups, calenders, bags etc., (and honestly I probably would choose not to do that with my work, but it is America, and artists can do what they want with their images) but I don't really care much about all of that. I like his work and seeing it made me feel really good.
And by the way, just in case anybody out there knows somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody who knows Wolf Kahn, please ask them to let him know that I am totally willing to drive four hours each way to buy him a cup of coffee and have a chat about art and painting.