Art 1 – Wolf Kahn landscapes – Due 4/1


Wolf Kahn review

Read the review linked above and the article  linked below. Within the site below, watch the two videos (note especially, in the second video, the path of his career and his comments about painting.)

Wolf Kahn studio visit

In your comments, include the following:

What do you find as the most interesting art historical fact and why?

Does his personal history in Nazi Germany and “Kindertransport” refugee change the way you view and interpret his work?

What insights about painting your own landscapes do you gain from listening to him, looking at, and reading about his paintings ?

In your sketchbook, do a 1 hour landscape, observed from real life, inspired by Wolf Kahn’s work. Try to convey the facts, essence, and spirit of the place.

This will be the plan for your painting when you get back.  (You may want a back up photo for when you paint although most of your painting will come from the preparatory drawing.)


32 responses »

  1. I find his personal history fascinating, the way he overcame his hatred of himself through art. It was almost like his paintings of nature were pulling his gray and bleak past out of himself. His paintings are his way of protecting himself from painful memories, the bright colors of nature in stark contrast with kindertransport, his grandparent’s deaths, and Nazi Germany. It makes me respect him even more as an artist, almost as though I’m listening to someone with a ton of life experience tell his story through the bright colors of nature: tiny bits of beauty in a hopeless world.

    The thing I can learn most from him is his quote about 80% of a painting being color. Sometimes I get so caught up in making things muted that I forget how to utilize bright colors. He sends out bright, almost radiant splashes of colors. I need to focus on the colors more than the bleak, gray abandoned places I’m used to painting. Even though my subject matter doesn’t have to change, and I don’t have to alter the generally hopeless nature of my art, I can use colors to brighten it up and use it in juxtaposition with my duller colors.

  2. I think that it is interesting how he was so scarred by his experiences as a jew in nazi germany but he was able to recover and express his feelings through painting. Knowing about his past makes me see his paintings in different ways. Like the article pointed out, I can see that although he is just drawing a landscape, he is able to portray darkness and emotion because of his imaginative thoughts. When listening to him and reading about his art I can see how the painting of landscapes can be more than just a view. A landscape can be thought provoking and expressive just like any other piece of art.

    • I think his landscapes can impact our emotions with the immediacy that music does by the way he uses color. But, just as in music, not everyone will have exactly the same emotional experience.

  3. The review read like a terse psychological examination, describing Khans story in terms of “searching for a father figure” and “identity confusion.” I reject the idea that it’s possible to trace a causal relationship between his childhood trauma in Nazi Germany and any particular facet of his art. Why did Khan use a stark background of pink in a given painting? It wasn’t because of a lack of a strong father figure, he just “liked pink.” So can we stop with the witch-doctoring that is art criticism? I’ve had enough of arrogant prats who use fancy words to draw un-probable and unprovable conclusions about something as inherently unknowable as art. I wish I could un-read that un-credible excuse of a contribution to society.

    Oh, I liked Khans more impressionistic pieces. I think I’ll try to imitate that style because it seems easier than trying to incorporate detail.

    • A lot of art criticism can be too heavy-handed but often, the artist can be the one who leads the discussion in a certain direction by revealing some very personal details or feelings.
      And usually, reviews are built upon other descriptions (by the artist, other critics, dealers, museums….) This makes it a kind of collective vision of the artist’s work. The best way to present another view is to tie it to what the artist says about his work and other works in the artist’s development, like building a case through the evidence of the work itself.

  4. I found it very interesting that as a landscape painter, Kahn worked predominately in his studio, not observing from real life.

    For me, his personal history in Nazi Germany and “Kindertransport” refugee doesn’t much change how I view his work. Everybody has a past, and although his was more tragic than most, I don’t see it as a filter through which to view his art.

    Reexamining my own work, I notice that Kahn’s use of impressionism and realism in the same piece of work would be a beneficial addition.

  5. His personal history in Nazi Germany doesn’t change the way I view Wolf’s work because its in his past. His past is sad and it adds somethings to his art but its not everything. Wolf’s art helps him tell his story and express who he is which is what art is suppose to do. When I was painting my last landscape all I was thinking about was the picture. And trying to get it to match and be perfect. But reading and looking at Wolf’s work it makes realize that its more than that. I need to stop thinking about the picture and be thinking about what my picture means. And what message I want people to see in my landscape.

    Wolf said “Sometimes it’s very good to make a bad painting. In fact, sometimes I try to get into some real trouble while painting and look to the work itself to show me a way out. …” I think that is a good advice to new artist because a lot of us try to make things perfect. We want our pictures and drawings and pretty much everything to be perfect. But what we don’t realize is that a mistake can sometimes be the best thing. A bad painting, or something we thought was bad, can be good. You just have to work with it and let the painting speak to you. To me the painting is in control and the artist just has to go with the flow and deal with what the painting gives them to work with.

    • These are great insights into the personal experience of evaluation and how it shapes the development of your work. The idea that painting has a role in the conversation is similar to the way Zen master artists worked with the “Chi” or life force of the nature of the materials and practice of painting..

  6. In my opinion, I found that artist’s life experience will influence his/her arts. They will put their thoughts and feelings to their arts, make their arts more lively. Like Kahn’s personal history in Nazi Germany and “Kindertransport” refugee not only make me admire more, but also make his paintings full of more stories… What’s more, when he knew he had the macular degeneration genetically, he made the disadvantage become advantage. As he said, this affliction actually improves his art, because his reduced vision makes it impossible to obsess over insignificant details.

    After enjoying his paintings, I found out that his arts always combine the dark part and the bright parts. Also, he more focus on the tree trunks instead of the leaves, so the trees in his arts always makes me feel the trees are so tall and lively…

    • Great observation about the role of the tree trunks and the structure they provide in the painting in contrast to the fluidity of the foliage. There is an interesting conversation developing among the comments about important the role of biography and personal history is to the interpretation of art.

  7. I find his past interesting but his art just seems so different from it that I have a hard time making a connection. To me, it seems like Nazi Germany influenced paintings would be harsh and pointy. His art is, well, pink. Pink and swirly. Of course, it might be a reaction to not being able to see nature and being stuck in the harsh, pointy place that made him go to swirly pastels. I like his idea about not focusing on the details but I think I might also have to develop an eye condition to achieve that.

    • Yes, the pink swirly part hardly seems connected to his tragic past. However, the interpretation probably came from a context of looking at many works, not the pink swirly one, so we should really look at lots of his works to evaluate this more.

  8. The most interesting thing I learned was that he fled Nazi Germany and came to the usa as a teenager. This obviously affected his life immensely and I think its amazing that after that type of emotional trauma he became so successful. In a way, this does affect how I interpret his work. I read in the first article that his art can be menacing with shocks of bright light. After learning about his past I interpreted that as his coming to the usa form Germany. Germany is the dark and escaping is the light. He could also be expressing was he feels like inside….. Form his paintings I learned that I need to let go and not be as carful when I paint.

    • This is an interesting interpretation of the light in his work. It makes sense because he certainly came from a dark place into a completely lighter sense of himself. Not everyone would agree. For some, the art is purely aesthetic with no biological connection.

  9. The most interesting art historical fact to me was that he felt he wasn’t strange enough to be an artist, he went to college and was a logger! He had the typical starving artist thing going on for a while but the rest of his history before becoming famous was not what I was expecting at all.

    His personal history with Nazi Germany and the KIndertransport doesn’t change the way I look or interpret his work, it just makes me a little surprised at the positive, light feel that I get from a lot of his art. He mentioned he just tried to forget it and escape from his Jewish identity, so maybe that’s why. I guess it would only make sense that his artwork would have a sadder more intense feel if that’s what he was reflecting, but since he really isn’t in that place, it’s not there. I think it was a hard time in his life but he chooses to pretend it’s not a part of his history. That’s probably how he stays positive.

    What is so special about his artwork is that he manages to keep the form and the basic structure of a landscape, but make it abstract and carefree looking. I really love it. I think it will be fun to play around with that in our painting next week and what I took from it, especially the part where he talks about his disease being an advantage because he can’t focus on the details, is that it doesn’t have to look exactly like the scene. That you can use it as a reference but that there’s lot’s of ways to recreate that scene and paint it.

    • I often think that the logging experience, even though it seems far from being an artist, gave him a deep connection to the woods. It will be interesting to see how everyone translates the landscape they have observed into imaginative color.

  10. It seems that Khan was very influenced by his harsh past as a German-Jewish. It caused him frustrated sometime and has significant impact on his Life and panting. Which would separate him from dreadful thought. Some of his points is interesting like drawing in a way less detailed but abstracting, though it may due to his muscle condition. His art, is kind of gray and abstract. I like his way that makes the painting messy… but looks clearly in color.

  11. I also found the artists personal history not only intriguing but compelling. Unlike Little C knowledge of Kahn’s personal history really effects the way I view his art. Just because his experiences in Nazi Germany were in his past, a past that has undeniably faded with age, that doesn’t mean it isn’t the major thing that effects who he is as a person and his artistic style. The things that went down in Nazi Germany were some of the most horrible and sickening acts that have ever and hopefully will ever happen and because of this, to have lived through and experienced these acts would change a person irreversibly and effect them for as long as they lived. So although it is unfair to define Kahn by his experiances in Nazi Germeny, to deny that they have a decisive effect on his life is an expression of ignorance to how unspeakably terrible those acts were. Basicly, his experiances with the Kindertransport were probobly the most powerful in his life and because of this they had a great effect on his life and so we can see it in his paintings.

    From now on I will try not to be obsessed and concentrate to much on details. I like this kind of painting because there is more room for interpretation and to add meaning to a painting. However I am kind of confused. We just spent the last three semesters learning to do all this detail work and than we figure out it’s not important. I feel I was tricked, nay BETRAYED! BETRAYED!!!

    • Not a trick at all! Introducing you to lots of ways of making art and tuning you into your powers of observation and connection to the real physical world is a gift. Build on that experience as you draw from your imagination now.

  12. I thought it was very interesting that when he first tried to become an artist, he was disappointing in himself and gave up. Being disappointing in oneself isn’t so unusual, but the fact that becoming a lumberjack was what re-convinced him of his artistic talent is somewhat unique.
    His personal history in Germany doesn’t appear to have any major ties to his art at all. There are, of course, speculations one could make about emotional links, but these would rely on a purely Freudian psychological orientation, which in my opinion, as well as those of many others, is completely false. It simply cannot be said that childhood experiences govern all of ones life, and I truly wish that people would finally realize this.
    The largest inspiration I took from this was to focus less on details and more on the actual message of the painting. I always spend too much time criticizing my own work over one little thing.

    • You are not the only one to dislike the Freudian overtones in the article; check out the other comments. That is not to say though that biography does not play some role. It just may not be so simplistic.

  13. I think his past in Germany does effect him as a person and as a artist. His life will be changed because what he has done and saw and his artwork will be based off of what he saw and did. Just Like “your neighborhood art connoisseur”I really like that he gave up on being a artist and they became a lumberjack and That inspired him to become an artist again. I learned to get the whole image and what it is supposed to mean instead of just the little details.

  14. I think Wolf Kahn’s “precariously happy” childhood in Nazi Germany most definitely influenced his art. He was denied many things as a Jewish child, such as experiencing nature. Now, as an adult, Kahn paints mainly landscapes, and his work is plagued with complexity and contradiction, much like his life. I found this aspect of contradiction especially captivating. Kahn juxtaposes a lot of lights and darks, and I love the effect this has.

    I also like Kahn’s advice to look for chaos in a landscape. I find chaos is more interesting than order, and chaotic scenes can lead to more emotion in a painting–tension, rage–there are many possibilities.

  15. I really enjoyed the video and the artwork done by Wolf Kahn. I learned a lot about him and his styles, and also landscape painting in general. Although he recovered significantly from his childhood Nazi experiences, I think this still influences his artwork. I liked the contrast found in a lot of Kahn’s artwork and I think some of the dark sides of his work may have been influenced by his childhood. Another aspect of his artwork I noticed is how things are generally blended together. There isn’t much distinction between some features of his artwork, such as the trees may blend in with the grass. The artwork looks a little chaotic in this state. One thing I learned from his artwork that I’ve been trying to learn more of, is that art doesn’t have to be an imitation of something. It can be your own style or technique. That’s still something I’m trying to develop.

  16. I think the most interesting fact in the article is how Wolf has intended to imitate Rothko. Being that he is probably my favorite or second favorite 20th century artist, I immediately looked at Wolf’s art in a different light, where colors are expressing pain, or as the article mentions, dread. I think his background in Nazi Germany clearly had an effect on his art (artists don’t just decide to paint a certain way; they are influenced from factors they cannot control).

  17. I found the most interesting fact was how he considers his childhood a fortunate one for being a Jew in Nazi Germany. His past does affect my view of his art because it gives it more emotion. He lived much of his life not being able to enjoy nature, so his art of nature expresses and is filled with his absolute love of it, which I might not have seen as much without knowing about his past. What I took from him, was to not always focus on every tiny unimportant detail. His vision problems, as he said, turned from a disadvantage to an advantage because they caused him to focus only on what is important in the landscape, and to leave out all the unnecessary details. I think I will try that more often.

  18. I agree with Frodude that, while it’s impossible for his experiences in World War II to not make an impact on his artwork, he and his artwork should not be judged/defined by those experiences alone. I think the most interesting historical fact is how, because he was not allowed to leave Germany in the summer due to a Nazi decree, when he came to America, he appreciated nature so much more (most likely influencing his decision to paint landscapes). I think what I took away from Kahn’s paintings is that, although he’s painting a real life landscape, his paintings are less realistic and more open to interpretation. I think that it’s important with the landscape to paint not only what you see, but also the essence of your surroundings.

  19. What do you find as the most interesting art historical fact and why?
    I think it’s nice that through self-acceptance and hard work, he was able to overcome so many different problems and recover, and lead a happy life. He discovered himself and who he wanted to be, and strived to reach it. He learned how to live his life through trial and error, and the explosions of color that are his paintings really reflect that. The best part is he learned to accept that life is complicated, and you shouldn’t focus on the little details.

    Does his personal history in Nazi Germany and “Kindertransport” refugee change the way you view and interpret his work?
    Like I said above, it sheds a light on the chaos of his paintings. They are complicated and crazy, but passionate and full of intensity, just like him. His entire life has been one crazy and very intense event one after another. It’s a wonder he has his mind intact at all, let alone /happy/!

    What insights about painting your own landscapes do you gain from listening to him, looking at, and reading about his paintings ?
    I think that it’s important to remember that the paintings you create are your own, and you can’t disconnect yourself from them. They aren’t machinery you’re creating, they’re a reflection of yourself. And so you should pay attention to them!

  20. The most interesting historical fact I found was that he was able to flee from Germany and that at first he wasn’t the greatest. I feel the fact that his history with the Nazi regime makes his art have more of a powerful message behind it. His art work shows simple beauty, and I like to think that simple beauty was what he dreamed of whilst he fled the Nazi. What I learned from him, and hope to incorporate into my own artwork was to not get nit picky (which is an issue for me). I like how he seemed to admit that perfection was a problem for him, and that his impaired vision forces him to just let the painting be what it will be, and not get to bogged down by the details.

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