Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Landscape marks

Where the wild things live, Detail
Where the wild things live, Detail
Soft pastel on Arches paper, 58x39cm

I have been going back to my copy of Wolf Kahn's Pastels rather frequently, soaking up some of the markmaking and palette choices of his.

I was intrigued to read more about his approach to landscape as a subject - it resonated on a number of levels, some of which I mentioned before briefly.

1. Landscapes as creating space (I am tempted to talk about the production of space, but then I'm firmly in academic jargon, so I leave that for a moment).

Barbara Novak, in her Introduction (p. 7) talks about it as:

Kahn's art represents the most difficult of closely negotiated mergers between the dialectics of abstract form/color nurtured by [Hans] Hofmann's tutelage and his own pragmatic observation of nature in the 'raw', if not the wild...

Kahn's work is very subtly positioned, perhaps through part of what he calls 'strategies', midway between the demands of nature and those of art.

Bend in the River by Wolf Kahn, 1984
Soft Pastel, 22x30 inches, location unknown

She lists a wide range of key influences including
  • George Innes
  • Albert Pintham Ryder
  • Edward Hopper
  • Mark Rothko
  • Martin Johnson Heade
  • Winslow Homer
  • Paul Gauguin, and
  • Vincent Van Gogh,

and continues that

The nature of this space is disturbing in its imbalances, impressive in its effects and probably the result not only of artistic intention, but of a subtle push-pull between natural and pictorial spaces that must be mediated. (ibid)

This creating and making of space on a two-dimensional surface is infused by a

2. Sensitivity to mood, climate, light and place - I called that romantic love of nature landscapism before.

- so, the German romantics figure prominently, notably Friedrich Schelling's philosophy and
Caspar David Friedrich's paintings - fertilized, as Novak (p. 11) calls it by Hans Hoffmann's teachings and Kahn's own admiration of modern masters such as Giorgio Morandi, Mark Rothko and Pierre Bonnard. These names suggest

... clues to what [Kahn] is after in his own work: stillness, what he calls 'radiance', and a coloristic experience that, as he says 'ups the ante'. Place becomes meaningful for him when returns to it again and again, to 'deepen the experience'.
Here, soft pastel provides a medium with which to record immediate experience and ability to rely on process - to be worked up later in a more formal process with oil paints. The medium enables Kahn to grapple at once with the subject of nature and its pictorial solution.

  • See my previous posts discussing Wolf Kahn, here
  • One of my previous posts on concerns over landscape, here

Oh, and then I had an image of myself staring back at me in a weird place on the sidebar, having momentarily forgotten that I had sent it to Casey at Pastel for a guest spot. So, Casey will host a post about my fields, ponds and various reflections shortly, but has announced it yesterday. I am very excited about this - Casey's own work as well as his discussion of Kahn and other Colorists has been hughely important for me to get a sense of the possibilities of pastels.


Lindsay said...

This is a wonderful post! I love the words used to describe the relationship between the landscape and the art making.
congrats about your cross post.

Casey Klahn said...

I think you've created a clear perspective for us on W Kahn - and the list of his influences is dizzying, as well.

Truly his take on the landscape is in the romantic tradition, and to me very moving.

Casey Klahn said...

And, this makes me feel like my recent studies/copies of his work have been ended too soon. I want to do more.

Kelly M. said...

I have the Kahn book and re-read it frequently. Novak is a wonderful art critc also; one of her best is on the American Luminists of the 19th-century, and I think that's where she links Kahn's quest for the essence of light: radiance. His landscapes escape a particular time and place, perhaps evoking more "landscape as personal epiphany?"

Anonymous said...

I admire your talent with a pastel in your hand, I'm completely "faded" with pastels. but I relatye to your thinking of "sensitivity to mood and climate, light and place", which is what makes a painting work for me, pastel, oil, whichever medium or style.

Brian McGurgan said...

Great post, Gesa. I enjoy reading your distillation of Kahn's art and am gaining much from your observations. I'm also enjoying your recent drawings in pastel - the oranges, reds, and purples in this detail are stunnning.

Jala Pfaff said...

Hi Gesa.
I remember when I first saw some Wolf Kahn reproductions (in a book) and my first thought was, "What's the big deal? It looks like something a child would make." These days, I find that quality admirable. Interesting, hm?

Gesa said...

Hi, and thanks everyone - sorry for being so slow with reply but struggling with a nasty cold :(

Jala: yes, that is fascinating - Lyonel Feininger was the one with whom I had similar thoughts; and just recently someone said the same about Rothko.

Brian: yes, the oranges and magentas are a cool new acquisition, cheers :)

Kelly: I don't know the Luminists (was about to type Illuminists there, lol) - but radiance is a fascinating concept. CD Friedrich uses that as well to great effect; yes: it hits you - it's an elevated, mystical sense of conjuring up essences. It intrigues me, just as much as I'd like to unpack - it's a funny torn-between romanticism and scepticism; and it depends on the mood of the day which side wins - I think that's also a response to Casey and Ronnell: the sensitivity to mood etc... yes, definitely, but I'm also tempted to lift the veil off that assumed (?) immediacy; kind of going: but guys, I'm playing tricks here and so do you in staring at the paintings ... if that makes sense?

Yes, I agree with you Lindsay and Kelly: some great descriptions of Kahn's landscape art by Novak; the only other artist which grabbed me like that is de Stael - I need to go back to that book soon - it's very different, far more dramatic, breathtaking, dangerous - not with Rothko aiming for radiance. And I don't think he was a romantic.

Thanks again!

Jala Pfaff said...

Yes! And I also felt the same way when I first saw Giorgio Morandi's work. Now I'm in awe.

Gesa said...

Ha... snap! Yes, same here. But that very quickly turned into me laughing along quietly with Morandi at this apparently sedate, almost monochromatic assemblage of the same vases, bottles and jugs to a masterpiece in surrealist playfulness of intermingled spaces on a flat canvas.

Irene, who runs the Saturday classes I go to, absolutely loves Ben Nicholson. I've got a book of his work; I love the white sculptured surfaces, and kind of 'get it', but it hasn't clicked into place for me with him yet. Am looking forward to the day it does, though :)