Life in the Box: Wolf Kahn Colors
In turbulent times, I find myself looking for softness. Soft music, soft clothing, mushy comfort food. So I was delighted to find, among art papers in my basement workshop, some beautiful Wolf Kahn colors. They were torn from a 2011 calendar that I loved and couldn’t completely part with. Back then I was working in a dull grey cubicle, and this calendar was a comfort for my heart as well as my eyes. Is it possible for paintings (or in this case images from paintings) to soothe a soul?
I vote yes.
Knowing that others are far more qualified to write about art, especially on Escape into Life, I must qualify my statements as plebian. I write as a person curious about how my surroundings and I interact.
I could equally write about how I surround myself with instrumental music that ranges in all styles, but for me, at least this year, music must be non-irritating. So it’s in a range of emotions from soothing to upbeat. But never do I long for screeching, screaming, red-hot anger, contempt or rage in my music. I have enough of that in my life from just listening to the news. I’m not saying I want my music choices to be boring, though. They are varied enough to keep my ears interested.
In the same way, I want my visuals to keep my eyes intrigued. I long for lavender. For soft yellows adjusted on a blue field with just a touch of green. Kahn’s paintings accommodate my desire to sink into a warm bath of color that washes away haunting images of pollution, corruption and despicable untruths. His color play intrigues me enough to redirect my brain to see something else in the world.
I doubt that Kahn sees his work as a healing balm. His press releases say he’s spent 60 years playing with color. Who does that? It takes guts. His dad was a musician, so maybe that’s where Kahn found permission to explore his own artistic brain’s appreciation and exploration of color. For decades, he’s played with lavender lakes and yellow-orange skies; he’s set out white trees, solid blue barns and purple-red contours. He’s a guy that can even paint with pink.
Many have written about this artist. For a 2011 exhibit at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (Brattleboro, Vermont) chief curator Mara Williams wrote, “His images are palpably about place, and yet they transcend mere description. For more than half a century, this modern master has balanced the sensuous qualities of color and light with a relatively stark geometry of form, giving free reign to complex investigations of perception and of place.”
In Kahn’s 2017 exhibit catalogue, John Yau notes that Kahn’s paintings serve as a means to “explore color relationships that range from moody, dark, subtly shifting tonalities to jarring collisions of saturated intensities.”
Okay, I have to admit that’s a more precise description than I could come up with. All I know is I just adore his images.
Now, as I get to know more about Kahn’s works, I find that his colors are sometimes dashing and unearthly. Sometimes unsettling. They aren’t always those soothing but vivid combinations I first embraced. But even with his darker expressions, I feel somehow connected and even peaceful. He doesn’t seem interested in the broken-ness of the world. He’s talking to me in a non-word way, looking at light and color and form.
Spending time with his visual messages makes me wish I could speak that language–and I intend to spend more time with my own photographic imagery and perhaps embrace more of my own abstract concerns.
At 90 years old, Wolf Kahn continues creating images, using oils and pastels. He’s showing recent works at the AMERINGER | McENERY | YOHE gallery in New York City from November 17 through December 23 this year (2017). If I lived in New York City, I would be totally be there!
Images courtesy of the artist and Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe New York, NY. From top to bottom: (In TV) “Green Top, Green Bottom,” “The Interior Light of the Forest,” “Empty on the Right,” “Dense Plantation of Silver Birches,” “Provence Blue.”
Nancy Heather Brown is a retired, Emmy Award-winning television producer whose career has included interviewing, writing, narrating and editing for a span of four decades. Today, she enjoys learning new things and reflecting upon the creative process and life issues, both inside and outside the box. Her opinions are her own, and are not necessarily those of this web site.