By Mark Jenkins
January 3, 2014
“Landscape maestro Wolf Kahn, a German-born artist who fled the Nazis as a child and arrived in the United States in 1940, is best known as a painter whose realism is informed by color-field abstraction. But of the current paired Kahn exhibitions, oils and pastels at Addison/Ripley Fine Art and prints at Neptune Fine Art, it’s the print selection that shows him at his most assured.
The artist has employed various printmaking techniques, including drypoint, etching and aquatint. The show’s oldest items, two crosshatched 1969 images of barns, are lithographs. Many of the pictures are monotypes, drawn directly on a plate and printed a single time. These have a soft texture akin to pastel, which Kahn also used to finish “Mount Pinatubo,” a lithograph that depicts the Philippines volcano in suitably igneous tones.
Kahn usually paints scenes closer to his New England home, and he doesn’t need brash colors to hold the eye. “Springfield Memorial Bridge” is black and white, and more precisely rendered than the color pieces. And one of the show’s marvels is “How Low the Mighty Have Fallen,” a lithograph of lavender tree trunks — all but one upright — against a pale-green field. The spring-like colors are hardly literal, but the sense of a hushed, moist forest is altogether real.
Now 86, Kahn is still working steadily but with mixed results. The 30 pictures at Addison/Ripley, about half of them from 2011-13, are notable primarily for their vivid use of color. Often depicting stands of trees, the compositions pit vertical lines against areas of bright foliage, both in unexpected hues. In “Magenta and Silver,” the backdrop is the former color and tree trunks the latter, and reddish purple also grounds “Yellow Top Yellow Ground.” The brush and line work is less effective, however. If Kahn’s balance of realism and abstraction hasn’t really changed, his eye now seems keener than his hand.”
Wolf Kahn: Printmaking With Line and Color
On view through Jan. 25 at Neptune Fine Art, 1662 33rd St. NW; 202-338-0353; neptunefineart.com