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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Wolf Kahn

Self-Portrait, 1954, Wolf Kahn
Although it's not so critical in art, one of the problems of studying computer sciences is that the education you get has a shelf-life of...ohh...say...fifteen minutes? No, it's not quite that bad, but things change so fast that in as little as fifteen months, unless the individual keeps up on things, he or she becomes a technological Neanderthal. Other practitioners from doctors and to auto mechanics have the same problem except not on quite such an accelerated timeline. For artists, the situation is a somewhat less critical, though not without it's similarities. Tools change; so do materials, techniques, styles, tastes, and marketing practices. Fifteen years ago, computers, for instance, were an anathema to most artists, the very antithesis of what it meant to employ the human touch to the creative act. Today, many artists would sooner give up their brushes than part with their beloved bucket of bugs.

Green Tangle Pastel, 2004,
Wolf Kahn, styles change, so
do artists.
Imagine the plight of an artist during the 1950s, studying in Europe, soaking up the great Abstract Expressionist theories and techniques, immersing himself in color, Italian Futurism, and the centuries of artistic beauty associated with the city of Venice. Now multiply that times two as that artist marries another artist. When they return to New York about 1960, they discover, to their dismay, that their cutting edge Abstract Expressionism is suddenly so dated that critics wouldn't even look at it, much less write about it. It would be enough to make one start to think about painting canned goods or fast food. That was the plight of Wolf Kahn and his wife, Emily as they faced the desperate realization that Pop was popular and their giant, abstracted, color, nature studies were dead in the water.

Mineral Spirits, 1993, Emily Mason Kahn
However, as any truly dedicated artists would, they persisted. Working well outside the mainstream, Wolf's work became more about nature, less abstract perhaps, but nonetheless eternally about color harmonies, and disharmonies. Eventually, some degree of success came along, gradually outstripping that of his brother, Peter, who was also a noted painter, but whose interests were more broadly focused on several other of the arts. Wolf's nature paintings were not landscapes in the traditional sense. They were not so much depictions of nature, but more accurately distillations. Emily's work remained quite abstract and gestural, her colors slipping and sliding across the canvas like oil on water, glistening and glowing ephemerally. Emily's creative efforts also include work that previous generations of female artists seldom experienced--raising a family. She notes that in the past, "...women painters did not have children, or if they did, they were not taken seriously." Emily and Wolf have two daughters. Cecily is a painter (the most avant-garde in the whole family) while Melany is a filmmaker. In that Wolf's mother was also a painter, the girls make up three generations of creative efforts in the arts.

The work of Cecily Kahn can be seen at:

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